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14 September 2022

African energy firm plans hydrogen to power project in Namibia

By Bogdan Avramuta

HDF Energy, an African electricity producer, has unveiled details about its first hydrogen power plant. The plant, which will be constructed in Namibia, is expected to become operational by 2024 and will cost around $180 million.

Nicolas Lecomte, HDF’s director for Southern Africa, claims that the plant will be capable of producing 142 GWh of electricity per year, enough for 142,000 people, in a “conservative” prediction. To put this in context,

Namibia used to consume around 4,000 GWh of electricity per annum before the Covid-19 pandemic, so this plant would account for maybe up to 4% of the country’s total electricity usage.

The importance of HDF’s technology, although not innovative, is that it aims to deliver non-intermittent electricity to the Southern African country’s grid using a combination of electrolyzers run on solar PV, with hydrogen storage and fuel cells. As part of the project, 85MW of solar panels will be used to power electrolyzers and the resulting hydrogen will be stored and in turn used to power fuel cells which will complement renewables in the evening and night-time, until the solar farm kicks back up again in the morning.

The continent as a whole is well known for blackouts and unreliable electricity grids and although not all the hydrogen used to power the HDF 1.5MW fuel cells will be green at first, acclimatizing African countries to the hydrogen market in exchange for a more reliable grid will come in handy when steam methane reforming falls in the shadow of electrolysis powered by renewable energy from solar or wind.

And this is true for the entire continent. Africa generates 45% of its energy from biofuels (basically burning wood) and waste, 22% from burning oil, 16% from gas, 14% from coal and small amounts from nuclear, hydro, wind and solar.

In a continent rich in renewable resources like solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower, hydrogen has the potential to thrive and propel the African economy forward and raise living standards.

Out of 53 African Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) from the Paris Agreement, 45 contain quantified renewable energy targets which acknowledge the abundant opportunities offered by Africa’s vast indigenous resources.

According to reports, Africa could meet nearly a quarter of its energy needs from clean renewables by 2030. Such a transition would require annual investment of $70 billion to 2030, resulting in CO2 reductions of up to 310 million tons a year. At the moment, Africa accounts for only 6% of the global energy consumption but the vast majority of it comes from polluting sources.

In 2021, Namibia announced an estimated $9.4 billion green hydrogen project, scheduled to enter production in 2026. Its initial target is to generate 2GW of renewable electricity that will ultimately be available for regional and global markets. Additionally $8.5 billion has been promised at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow to support South Africa’s transition towards a low emission development path, and one of the specified goals of the scheme was centred around the use of green hydrogen. Furthermore, the president of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, announced earlier this year that the South African government has plans to develop a pipeline of green hydrogen projects worth around $17.8 billion. Similarly, Kenya, Morocco and Nigeria are at various stages of developing plants to integrate hydrogen into their energy mixes.

Hydrogen still has a lot of hurdles to pass when it comes to scalability in African countries, due to various economic and political factors, but the potential cannot be ignored.