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“Green hydrogen will really help us decarbonise the hard-to-abate sectors”

Exclusive interview with Joyce Kabui, Africa Manager, Green Hydrogen Organisation, GH2. She is confirmed to speak in the green hydrogen session at the next Africa’s Green Economy Summit in February 2024 in Cape Town. 

Let’s start with some background on you.

My name is Joyce Kabui and I’m the Africa Manager for the Green Hydrogen Organisation. I coordinate the Africa Green Hydrogen Alliance.

Tell us more about the Green Hydrogen Organisation and the projects that you are working on.

The Green Hydrogen Organisation is a nonprofit that is working to accelerate the production and use of green hydrogen globally. Some of the work that we’re doing here is really working around contracting and supporting governments as they get into agreements with private sector developers and understanding the best way to ensure that the contracts they are getting into are realising early benefits for both governments and the private sector players.

We also have the Green Hydrogen Standard that seeks to define the threshold for emissions as well as other sustainable measures in the production of green hydrogen and ensuring that there is environmental safeguarding. The green hydrogen ensures that we are truly producing green hydrogen and not any other hydrogen, just to ensure that we are contributing to the decarbonisation agenda. We also have the planning for the Climate Commission, and this work is around reducing the amount of time it takes to permit projects to ensure that we are getting the green hydrogen economy up and running sooner rather than later.

We bring together leading CEOs in the development of green hydrogen to discuss some of the issues pertaining to the production of green hydrogen as well as the large-scale renewable energy projects required to get the economy up and running. We also do quite a bit of work on financing green hydrogen—this is on blended financing and quantifying the amount of resources required to get green hydrogen up and running.

How will the Green Hydrogen Standard help build confidence in the green hydrogen market?

The Green Hydrogen Standard, for one, creates a definition for what is truly green hydrogen, what’s the emissions threshold and how will it contribute to sustainable development goals as well as environmental protection. And so it creates a basis for national level formulation of the policies and also certification standards. It also helps build investor confidence, because currently most of the projects are not yet at development stage, we have the rapid assessment tool that helps you do a quick assessment of your project while it’s still in the formulation and in design phase, and you can take this analysis to an investor and say this is what the project is promising and it helps you then attract the investments that are required. And at a government level, we see the standard truly influencing, whether it’s the policies or incentives that will be given to green hydrogen producers.

We are actually working with national governments to help in the development of national level standards, because we’re seeing at a standard level it’s truly then going to be sovereign, and also on the basis of our standards, being able to ensure that there is harmonisation. If you’re going to trade between Africa and Europe, at least the standards in the two regions need to be speaking to each other. And so it’s really exciting to see countries like Egypt starting discussions on what does a national level standard look like or certification of a green hydrogen standard, which currently has been left to the project developers to figure out. What we’re seeing is that governments are increasingly engaging in this issue.

What is your vision for the role that green hydrogen could play in the future?

Green hydrogen will really help us decarbonise the hard-to-abate sectors. We’re looking at mining and we’re currently in the process of designing one project around hydrogen for mining. It will also help us in decarbonising long-haul transport sectors, such as shipping, aviation and tracking as well as green fertilisers and contributing to food security, particularly here in Africa. What we see is most of the countries are looking at the options of sustainable aviation fuels, synthetic fuels as well as green fertilisers. And with this, we’ll be able to realise early benefits.

Additionally, the green hydrogen sector, according to a study that we did and launched at COP27, will create about 2–4 million jobs by 2050 as well as increase the GDPs of countries with about 6–12%. Already we can see the impact that countries are going to feel. It also truly shifts the energy map, because we’re seeing countries that have not originally been known to be large energy producers can now contribute to this energy space, such as Namibia, which is one of the leading countries in the production of green hydrogen.

What are the main challenges that you face in the work that you are doing?

The main challenges that we’re facing in this sector is: First, we can say there is really no agreement on the definition of green hydrogen. The sector has not yet agreed that this is the threshold of emissions, and these are the other aspects that we need to consider, such as the environmental protection and also contribution to the sustainable development goals. So that already begins sort of a scepticism on where we should stop the colour coding and just produce great hydrogen, as hydrogen is good for the environment. So that lack of agreement on the definition is one of the main challenges that we’re experiencing.

Second, the projects are still taking quite a bit of time to get off the ground, which entails our work around planning for the Climate Commission, and we’re seeing that we need to unlock the bottlenecks that are out there to ensure that the projects are coming online faster. Whether it is regarding enabling environments, or the policies and regulations that countries are putting in place, the incentives to ensure that we’re attracting the investments early on, as well as strategic partnerships to ensure that across the value chain we’re moving faster when everybody’s bringing in the best of themselves.

So these are just some of the issues that we’re experiencing in this space as well as the off-take market. This is one of the actual hindrances to unlocking investments currently: who is your off-taker. Your investor wants you to come already with a signed off-take agreement. And it’s actually one of the assignments that we really want to work on, who’s off-taking the market, both at a national level in the countries that are members of the Green Hydrogen Alliance and also at regional and international level, and see how we can facilitate engagement to help Africa realise some of these market opportunities early on.

Kenya recently announced its hydrogen strategy, which other African countries are doing the right things in your opinion?

The Africa Green Hydrogen Alliance has eight members currently. We have Angola, Egypt, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Morocco, Namibia and South Africa. Nigeria and Djibouti have also expressed interest in joining the alliance. These are the countries that are the frontrunners in the development of green hydrogen on the continent. They’re also the countries that have announced projects in one aspect or another, some more than others, such as Egypt and South Africa, and are way ahead. Kenya has taken a domestic markets approach, and Ethiopia has also started engagement on whether it’s fertilisers or sustainable aviation fuels. So these are the countries that are actually leading in the region when it comes to the production of green hydrogen, both looking at domestic markets and the exports to Europe.

What keeps you excited about this industry?

What excites me about the green hydrogen industry is the potential it has to decarbonise the things that we are struggling to understand how do we decarbonise them: anything that can be electrified, very well, then electrify it, but what about the ones that we can’t electrify, such as mining and steel production. So, the research that’s ongoing around the potential of green hydrogen to decarbonise these sectors is promising and exciting. And I also like the fact that it is shifting and changing the narrative from the usual energy players. We’ll find countries that have large-scale renewable energy potential coming on board and saying, “Okay, this is exciting. Let’s do an assessment and see what’s the potential in our country, and what makes the most sense, given our context.” Which is how you will see Kenya ends up saying, “We are a heavily agricultural country, so green fertilisers make sense in our short-term and mid-term as the sector matures. So, the fact that is going to help us realise all these socio-economic benefits for the African region is truly exciting for me and for our organisation.

You are confirmed to speak in the green hydrogen session at the next Africa’s Green Economy Summit in February 2024. What will be your message at the event?

I’m looking forward to speak at Africa’s Green Economy Summit in February 2024. What I’m really looking forward to in this session is saying that the green hydrogen sector is here with us, it’s happening. And it’s about match-making, it’s about the producers meeting with the off-takers and meeting with investors. Us being in that room and engaging and exchanging ideas and bringing these partnerships together. It’s truly exciting that we’re going to be in South Africa for this. I’m really looking forward to just continue enhancing and deepening engagement with partners and stakeholders, and also calling for financing.

During the Africa Climate Summit that took place in Nairobi, we launched a global call for financing, saying that 6 billion US dollars is required every year to get the green hydrogen economy up and running. And so, I’m really looking forward to seeing more commitments at the next summit in February in South Africa, seeing how far we’ve moved in terms of financing and also in terms of project development. And I truly look forward and I hope you’ll join us there.

How important is such an event for the continent in your view?

Such an event is critical, because one thing we realised in a study that we did on Africa’s green hydrogen potential is that it takes about six organisations or six different partners to ensure that green hydrogen projects are successful. This is also really critical in lowering the risks of the project. And so, such events are important, because then we are sharing, imaging early lessons and best practices around policies, incentives, project development as well as market access. And it also truly helps us to network and build these partnerships that will really make the green hydrogen sector a success to realise the benefits that the economy holds as far as jobs, increasing our GDPs, changing the livelihoods of the citizens as well as contributing to the decarbonisation agenda, which is really an urgent call for each and every one of us to contribute towards.

Anything you would like to add?

I’d like to add that the Africa Green Hydrogen Alliance is excited to welcome more members, countries that are already leading in green hydrogen production and large-scale renewables, and we will be happy to have a conversation and welcome you to the alliance where we can learn together and ensure that the green hydrogen economy is truly transforming the African continent. Thank you.

 

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