GREEN ENERGY SUMMIT
SA’s burgeoning hydrogen sector touted as potential creator of 30,000 jobs
In a country grappling with unemployment, green energy may help to turn the tide.
The hydrogen sector has the capacity to create more than 30,000 jobs by 2040 — or so the Green Energy Africa Summit heard this week.
Merita Wickens, the project director at Turner & Townsend and workstream lead of operationalisation of the Hydrogen Society Roadmap (HSR), told delegates that the hydrogen sector was targeting 10GW electrolysis capacity in the Northern Cape by 2030, with plans to increase that to 15GW by 2040.
“If successful, that would mean we could create more than 30,000 jobs by 2040,” she said.
Although South Africa’s official unemployment rate has eased to 32.6%, its lowest since mid-2021, the number of jobs going to young people is declining. PwC’s economic outlook for September 2023 reports that, of the 784,000 jobs created over the past year, only 45,000 went to those aged 15-24.
The Hydrogen Society Roadmap
Spearheaded by the Department of Science and Innovation, the HSR sets out a strategy and policy directives to unite stakeholders to drive hydrogen technology forward, as well as accelerate the country’s economic growth.
One of the key aims as outlined by the HSR is for SA to produce 500,000 tonnes of green hydrogen a year. Key projects include the Sakhumnotho Power partnership with Keren Energy at a site supplied by Namaqua Engineering in Vredendal in the Western Cape. This project is expected to demonstrate the feasibility of producing green hydrogen using solar energy as the energy source. The generated H₂ will be used in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
The second key project will be an industrial cluster, bringing various hydrogen applications together to form a Hydrogen Valley. The SA government is working with Anglo American Platinum and Engie on this programme.
According to the roadmap, the development of hydrogen applications that require platinum group metals (PGMs) could be a welcome boost for job creation. The PGM industry employs about 160,000 people, and two to three indirect jobs could be created in other industries for each direct job.
Nine hydrogen projects
The government has already identified nine key hydrogen projects, which are being fast-tracked. These include the Prieska Power Reserve in the Northern Cape, the Sasolburg Green Hydrogen Project in the Free State, a green ammonia plant in the Eastern Cape, and the Atlanthia Green Hydrogen Project in the Western Cape. The Prieska Power Reserve alone is expected to create about 10,500 jobs during its initial construction and operation phase.
Moderator Simon van Wyk, a director at Deloitte Africa, noted that, by 2030, 75% of the workforce is expected to be made up of millennials. “Their choices will influence the tech we need to move forward,” he says.
A Deloitte discussion paper on Africa’s energy outlook, which was released at the Green Energy Africa Summit, states that green hydrogen is seen as an alternative, cleaner fuel for emission-intense industrial processes such as steelmaking, as well as the mobility and aviation sectors.
“South Africa’s green hydrogen potential is underpinned by the country’s strong renewable energy capabilities, which are vital to power green hydrogen production,” the report states. However, notable challenges include corruption, poor policy implementation and inefficient cooperation between the public and private sectors.
“It’s more than just cooperation between public and private sectors. Government departments that work in silos don’t enable integration. Political will is going to be critical when it comes to creating a hydrogen valley,” Van Wyk said.
When it comes to job creation, Viren Sookhun, the managing director of Oxyon, points out that SA has a large proportion of unemployed young people who are ideal candidates to upskill for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) as well as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.
Marthle du Plessis, the PwC Africa Workforce of the Future platform leader, said increasing youth employment required skills development.
“However, for millions of young people in SA, these skills are hard to come by, as countless communities lack access to crucial opportunities, which makes preparing for the world of work an almost impossible task.
“Bridging the skills gap is a complex problem that requires all stakeholders — the government, the private sector, education institutions and community organisations — to work together and make the country a more resilient, inclusive and entrepreneurial economic space,” she said.
No silver bullet, but a mix of energy required
Donovan Hart, the sector specialist for oil and gas at Transnet, used the light-hearted analogy of Phileas Fogg and Around the World in Eighty Days. “Just as Fogg had to make what seemed like an impossible journey at the time, our target of net zero by 2050 may at times feel equally impossible.
“In the 20th century, our predominant energy source was coal and with it still accounting for more than 65% of South Africa’s energy, the needle hasn’t shifted much.
“However, just as Fogg used new and old technology to make his journey, we [SA] have to use a combination of different tools. There is no silver bullet. The reality is that we need an energy mix that is going to be flexible, adaptable and resilient,” he said. DM