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How does one get from an economy based on petroleum to one based on hydrogen?

How does one get from an economy based on petroleum to one based on hydrogen?

By Josef Kefas Sheehama.

There is a dependence on fossil fuels that is destroying the planet. The time is right to tap into hydrogen’s potential to play a key role in a clean, secure and affordable energy future.

According to James Mnyupe, Namibian Presidential Economic Advisor and Hydrogen Commissioner, dClimate’s data platform promises to capture accurately the country’s effort to fight climate change and enable monetizing green hydrogen in a scalable manner.

Today, the world is witnessing an increasing interest in investing in clean and renewable energy sources that will change the global energy landscape in the next ten years, especially for countries looking to quickly recover from the impact of COVID-19 by shifting from fossil fuels to environmentally-friendly and relatively low-cost energy sources.

Green hydrogen is a promising and environmentally-friendly source of energy. It is usually produced by water electrolysis. Green hydrogen represents one of the pillars of a sustainable future that depends on accelerating the transition to carbon neutrality to support a green economy.

We can transform ourselves in ten or fifteen years. A disruptor is needed and green hydrogen can be it. This supports its strategy to build an economy based on renewable energy sources, which helps increase foreign investments and scale up high-end partnerships. Our efforts to diversify energy sources and promote investments by supporting innovation, research and development in energy storage will pave the way for building an economy based on clean energy. This includes green hydrogen which plays an important role in the global energy mix and in fighting global warming.

Green hydrogen can play a vital role as an energy carrier and could be one of the promising links in economic transition for Namibia. This will have a significant impact on the energy mix of the country and its energy consumption. The transition process demands strong political and social commitments, high-level knowledge transfers from university to the industry and business sector, and willingness from the commercial and business sectors to diversify their income with green hydrogen.

Hydrogen is a key to maintain a high level of economic activity based on structural changes in the economy and the impact of new technologies. A hydrogen economy, the long-term goal, can potentially confer energy security, along with environmental and economic benefits. However, the transition from a conventional petroleum-based energy system to a hydrogen economy involves many uncertainties, such as the development of efficient fuel-cell technologies, problems in hydrogen production and its distribution infrastructure, and the response of petroleum markets.

The Russia-Ukraine unrest is a wakeup call. We need to educate our people and move away from importing almost all consumables. With Brent above US$130 per barrel, we are facing what is likely to be a global game-changer in terms of the energy transition. Volatile energy prices are here to stay with Russia’s war on Ukraine set to be a defining moment for this century.

The war in Ukraine thousands of kilometres away could drive the local fuel price up to R40 a litre, while a fertiliser shortage and associated high prices could affect South African and Namibian farmers and, consequently, food security, experts say.

A hydrogen supply system could have greater flexibility and be competitive with a more conventional all-electric delivery system. Technological improvements could make hydrogen as an energy source an economic reality. It is my opinion that the various energy planning agencies should now begin to outline the mode of implementing hydrogen energy delivery systems as part of the energy mix. Thus, it is essential that the analysis and technological feasibility of a hydrogen energy system be considered now. It is of vital importance to the nation to develop some general-purpose fuel that can be produced from a variety of domestic energy sources and reduce our dependence on imported oil.

Energy professionals are aware of the significant challenges involved. Some 71% believes current hydrogen ambitions tend to underestimate the practical limitations and barriers, while only 43% believes that the majority of national and organizational hydrogen goals are realistic.

Profitable business opportunities are the biggest driver of involvement in hydrogen, while infrastructure and costs are two of the biggest hurdles. Repurposing existing infrastructure has a key role to play, and the right regulations are deemed to be the most powerful enabler, followed by carbon pricing specifically. Some 80% says the hydrogen economy needs effective carbon-pricing regulations before it can scale-up.

In conclusion, we can say that if we can create clean energy in Namibia, the future will depend mostly on hydrogen. However there are several factors that need to be overcome. Such as, clean hydrogen technologies are available but costs remain challenging. Policies that create sustainable markets for clean hydrogen, and also innovative technologies and ideas should be welcomed by the energy experts in our country, for the sustainable production and implementation of a hydrogen economy.


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A Guest Contributor is any of a number of experts who contribute articles and columns under their own respective names. They are regarded as authorities in their disciplines, and their work is usually published with limited editing only. They may also contribute to other publications. - Ed.