Green light for a green hydrogen economy in Africa

As the global economy transitions to renewable, demand for green hydrogen is set to grow. Siemens Gamesa’s pioneering wind power technology gives Africa the opportunity to become a major player.


Image : Siemens Gamesa

Today, green hydrogen, powered by renewable electricity makes up 4% of the total global hydrogen production. 

Long-term forecasts from various industry sources point to green hydrogen consumption growing exponentially over the following decades, as transport and heavy industries decarbonise. It would require between 1,000 GW and 4,000 GW of renewable capacity by 2050 to meet the demand, in turn highlighting the vast potential for growth in wind power. 

The current hydrogen market is carbon intensive. This could be a unique opportunity for investors and policymakers to reduce emissions and develop national strategies for hydrogen’s future production based on clean, renewable energy sources such as wind or solar power. 

Siemens Gamesa has taken the lead in the green hydrogen energy revolution through its position as a wind industry pioneer. At the end of 2020, the company launched the first pilot project in the world to connect a wind turbine to an electrolyser with the ability to operate in “island mode”, i.e. driving an electrolysis rig with no link to an electricity grid. 

With the Brande Hydrogen project, Siemens Gamesa is pioneering a major potential future application for both Onshore and Offshore wind.

The pilot is close to the company’s Danish headquarters in Brande, Denmark. Owned by local partner Uhre Windpower, it includes a 3 MW Siemens Gamesa wind turbine that will produce clean electricity to power a 400 kW electrolyser. This machine splits water into oxygen and hydrogen, so that the hydrogen can be stored and later delivered to customers in the mobility sector. The project started production in January 2021.  

Furthermore, the company recently joined forces with Siemens Energy to introduce a game changing, innovative solution that fully integrates an electrolyser into our SG 14-222 DD offshore wind turbine, as a single synchronised system, to directly produce green hydrogen. Both companies agreed to provide a full-scale offshore demonstration of this solution by 2025/2026. 

Opportunities for North Africa

By 2050, Europe’s energy system is expected to be largely based on variable renewables and hydrogen will be indispensable for transport and storage.

Due to its limited size and high population density, Europe will not be able to produce all its renewable energy domestically. Therefore, it is assumed that a large part of the required hydrogen will be imported. To this end, several European countries have launched ambitious hydrogen strategies which will play a crucial role in driving development in Africa. 

There is a high potential for greater cooperation between Europe and Africa in the coming decades, and the two regions could become more interdependent. The launch of the European Green Deal, which focuses on Europe and on external cooperation with neighbouring regions, will benefit Africa.

North African countries could be the early adopters in the African Union to supply green hydrogen to Europe because of their resource’s potential, proximity and existing trade relations.

IRENA’s renewable energy roadmap for Africa 2030 indicates a feasible expansion capacity of 70 GW of wind and 50 GW of concentrated solar power and PV in North Africa. As the market matures, existing pipelines can be converted and new pipelines to transport green hydrogen from North Africa to Europe can be built. 

A joint hydrogen economy between Europe and North Africa can help build a European energy system based on 50% renewable electricity and 50% green hydrogen by 2050. Before 2030, this hydrogen boost will lead to lower electricity production cost from wind power to approximately €10-20 per MWh at sites with wind resources throughout North Africa. 

Another cost-effective advantage is that hydrogen can be imported from North Africa by pipeline, which is cheaper than imports by ship, thus allowing Europe to establish a sustainable energy system.

Furthermore, this North African hydrogen approach would create economic growth, future-oriented jobs and social stability in North African countries. In this region, two countries with ambitious renewable energy targets have already taken concrete steps to enhance the hydrogen revolution: 

Morocco, whose green hydrogen potential could benefit both Africa and Europe, creating an energy bridge between the two continents, has signed a strategic partnership in June 2021 with Irena, with the aim to become a major green hydrogen producer and exporter. The two parties will actively pursue green hydrogen studies and explore policy instruments to engage the private sector at a national level in the green hydrogen economy. 

Similarly, Egypt, which intends to reach 42% of renewable share in its energy mix by 2035 has signed a few Memorandum of Understanding, like Siemens Energy with the Egyptian Electricity Holding Company (EEHC) to jointly develop a pilot project, compromising 100 to 200 MW of electrolyser capacity. With Siemens Gamesa holding 91% market share of Egypt’s installed wind power capacity, this agreement represents another strong commitment of the group’s vision to support the country’s ambitions.

Further, according to the World Bank, the first identified hydrogen markets in the continent include Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Morocco, and South Africa: all locations where Siemens Gamesa is a wind pioneer. 

South Africa could be major exporter of green hydrogen

The International Energy Agency (IEA) states that hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels can transport energy from renewables over long distances, from regions with abundant solar and wind resources.

In that context, one of the potential countries in the south of the continent is South Africa, which already has vast experience in creating approximately 8bn litres of synthetic fuels a year. This existing infrastructure could be repurposed to produce green hydrogen, so that the country holds a catalytic role in building the wind energy capacity needed to fuel a hydrogen economy. 

Siemens Gamesa’s recently completed 140 MW Kangnas and 110 MW Perdekraal wind projects could potentially support this trend if electrolysers are added and connected with the turbines to produce green hydrogen.

This potential capacity could have considerable implications for the future of the South African economy by establishing the country as a major exporter of green hydrogen to the world, while decarbonising large sectors of its own economy.

Perdekraal wind farm in South Africa
Perdekraal wind farm in South Africa. (Photo: Siemens Gamesa)

Contributing to “green recovery” 

As global leaders look to secure a “green recovery,” post-Covid-19, the need to deliver clean, affordable energy solutions is greater than ever before. Green hydrogen has significant decarbonisation potential – particularly within highly polluting heavy industries – providing developing countries in Africa and worldwide, the opportunity to meet their national sustainable energy goals.

Siemens Gamesa’s hydrogen white paper offers not only an overview of what needs to happen to make green hydrogen viable but also outlines how the company’s expertise in generating energy from renewable sources will allow green hydrogen to be produced globally, at scale, cost effectively.

Read more about the future of African energy in our special report.

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