Africa on the front foot in the green energy race

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Over the last 30 years, research and development in Green energy” has exploded, producing hundreds of promising new technologies that can minimize the world’s dependence on fossil fuels, including oil, natural gas, and coal.

The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) describe Green energy as power produced from natural sources such as wind, biogas, solar, geothermal and certain eligible biomass sources. Smaller hydroelectric sources are captured as part of green energy because compared to the larger ones; they have minimal environmental impacts on such issues as fisheries and land use. These sources of energy are easily accessible the world over, including rural and remote locations that do not otherwise have access to electricity. Green energy sources are termed as renewables because they naturally restored themselves over short period of time and do not diminish. In contrast, fossil fuels are described as finite sources that take millions of years to form, and will continue to diminish with use.

Renewable energy sources also have a much smaller impact on the environment compared to fossil fuels that have environmental costs from mining, drilling and extraction. During combustion for power generation, fossil fuels produces pollutants such as greenhouse gases (GHG) as a by-product, thus contributing to climate change.

Technological advancements have lowered the cost of Green energy, as evident in the falling cost of solar panels, wind turbines, and other sources of Green energy, rendering it capable of displacing the finite sources of energy, which are economically and environmentally unfriendly.

 

Green Hydrogen

In spite of its cost, environmental and human health benefits compared to fossil fuels, the full adoption of renewables has not been achieved because of the inherent problem of intermittency, and the problem of energy storage. Different approaches to solve these challenges are being pursued. These include big batteries like those that Tesla is developing to store excess wind and solar energy generated. The approach also include the use of hydrogen as an energy carrier to store large amounts of surplus energy for long periods of time―and even to export renewable energy to different geographies.

A report by the Hydrogen Council suggest, “Without long-term storage, additional renewable capacity above a certain threshold would not be efficient to build.” In this regard, hydrogen plays a vital role as a storage medium that has both the highest capacity and the longest energy release time. An added benefit is that hydrogen can also be converted efficiently into electricity and used flexibly for domestic energy and electricity supply. And so rather than being wasted, renewables’ energy surplus can be used to produce hydrogen from water, which can then be stored, transported and processed for a growing range of applications.

The production of Green hydrogen through a process called electrolysis whereby hydrogen is separated from oxygen in water, is gaining traction in the new Green economy. The best bit is that there are no emissions from this process, compared to the traditional way of producing hydrogen from natural gas and coal. Once produced through electrolysis, the hydrogen can be stored, transported and processed for a growing range of applications. Green hydrogen is a perfectly green cycle; its production can be make everywhere and can be used everywhere.

 

The Green Race

The Green energy race have long started. The race is about transitioning into a green economy to help reboot local economies as they emerge from Covid-19 crisis.

Energy sourced from renewables, be it for power generation, transportation or whatever; is expected to chart the path to recovery. It is viewed as the most sustainable recovery strategy by countries around the world because of the immense benefits it comes from its deployment. Records indicate that with the lowering cost of renewable energy sources, renewable has demonstrated its robustness, stability, sustainability, and cost effectiveness over this malignant Covid-19 period unlike the fossil fuels.

Latest U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data shows that renewables, including hydro, wind and solar, provided 23 percent of U.S. electricity during the April lockdown, up from 17 percent in the same period of 2019.

It is also reported by Ember an environmental group in London that renewable power has beating out fossil fuels in the European Union (EU) for the first time. The report shows that about 40 percent of the electricity consumed in the 27 EU countries came from renewable sources, compared with 34 percent from plants burning fossil fuels.

Countries within EU hope to sustain the Green growth experienced in the first half of the year. They have as a result, hatched a grand plan to meet 32 percent of EU’s energy needs, including transport, from renewable sources by 2030. The EU also intends to import most of its hydrogen in the future.  Germany is playing a lead role in the energy transition drive as it set aside €7 billion of its envisaged recovery money for hydrogen research, promotion, and marketing. EURACTIV reports that on June 10 2020, German government adopted its national hydrogen strategy with plans to ramp up production capacity to 5 GW by 2030 and 10 GW by 2040.

The United Kingdom (UK) may have lost its lead role in wind power and batteries, but it has found Green hydrogen as one eco-fuel that could transform its post-Covid fortunes. Last month, the Norwegian energy firm, Equinor (formerly Statoil) unveiled proposals to install the biggest world facility for producing hydrogen from natural gas, using carbon capture and storage technology to extract and bury the resulting carbon under the North Sea.

Widespread, ambitious and genuine commitment to advancing comprehensive renewable energy can achieve resilient economies with long-term growth, new jobs, cleaner and healthier environments, increased Gross Domestic Product (GDP), improved agriculture yields, and affordable and sustainable energy for all in the long term.

 

Africa’s Advantages

The falling cost of renewable energy coupled with EU’s plan to import most of its hydrogen in the future, present a great chance for Africa to get on the front foot in the Green energy race.

Other reasons for which Africa is better placed in the Green energy race includes but not limited to availability of abundant renewable energy resources on the continent, improving domestic energy security through reducing dependence on fossil fuel imports, increasing concerns over the environmental impact of using fossil fuels, export and job creation opportunities in the deployment of renewables.

Resource abundance: Africa is noted as the continent with the richest solar resources in the world. The continent is also well endowed with countries that receives more wind (onshore and offshore) and more rain to conveniently produce wind and hydropower. Africa’s vast renewables resources can drive double-digit growth in deployment of utility-scale and distributed solar PV, and other renewables. The continent’s existing hydroelectric facilities can easily act as virtual batteries for solar PV and wind electricity storage to manage the problem of intermittency.

Energy Security: Power plants in Africa are mostly fueled by imported oil and natural gas. The diminishing rate of these raw materials and its cost intensive nature is causing a huge gap in the demand and supply of electrical energy. With the reliance on imported oil and fuels towards the generation of power, energy supply cannot be said to be sustainable, equitable and resilient in the future. As a result, reliable, secured, stable, sustainable and affordable energy alternate supply from renewables can be encouraged to fill the gap for the future to come.

Growing Energy Demand: Africa’s ever growing population means an ever-growing requirement for energy. Aside population growth, the demand for energy is growing in response to the expanding growth rate of commercial and industrial sectors together. The continent’s trade and industrialization drive can be anchored on green hydrogen because of it efficiency for industries such as steel, aviation, road and long-haul sea and road transport where there is no known alternative to decarbonize. For the glass and foundries industries that demand high-temperature heat, Green hydrogen presents a chance the substitution of fossil fuel, because hydrogen burns cleaner, leaving only water vapor behind.

Environmental and health concerns: Climate change impacts are posing serious impacts to human health and environment. Greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted from the burning of fossil fuels are having a heavy impact on the continent’s water resources, weather patterns, human health, food security et cetera. Renewable energy deployments are expected to play a leading role in meeting global climate and sustainability imperatives

Job opportunities:  According to the Africa’s Development Dynamics 2018 report, between 2000 and 2014, employment expanded by less than 1.8 percent per annum, far below the nearly 3 percent annual growth of the labor force. By 2030, it is expected that 30 million youth will be entering the African labor market each year. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, while 18 million jobs need to be created annually to absorb new entries in the labor market, only 3 million formal jobs are currently being created. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) finds that jobs in renewables would reach 42 million globally by 2050, additional 21 million jobs through energy efficiency measures and 15 million jobs through system flexibility.

Hydrogen Export: The current slump in world commodity prices must compel Africa to rethink its traditional dependence on raw material exports including oil, gas, and minerals. Africa can shift focus to the rising evolution of the use of “Green Hydrogen.” The European market in particular as indicated by its ambition to consume a large volume of Hydrogen, present itself as a huge opportunity for Africa.

 

The author also known as  Paa Kwasi Anamua Sakyi is with the Institute for Energy Security (IES)

Email: [email protected]

The writer has over 23 years of experience in the technical and management areas of Oil and Gas Management, Banking and Finance, and Mechanical Engineering; working in both the Gold Mining and Oil sector. He is currently working as an Oil Trader, Consultant, and Policy Analyst in the global energy sector. He serves as a resource to many global energy research firms, including Argus Media and CNBC Africa

 

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