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‘Too early’ to celebrate green hydrogen

2022-01-11  Maihapa Ndjavera

‘Too early’ to celebrate green hydrogen
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Despite recent exuberant pronouncements on green hydrogen in Namibia, director of VO Consulting, Detlof von Oertzen said celebrations that green hydrogen is set to transform Namibia’s economy remain premature. 

“Realism is needed to change Namibia’s notoriously slow delivery on promises that are essential for expansionary programmes. 

Unshackling bureaucratic hurdles, fast-tracking the delivery of suitable land for development, creating access to water and many others are examples of issues that must be urgently addressed. 

Unbridled optimism needs copious able heads, hearts, and hands to bring real progress, one step at a time,” he said in a report that outlined the challenges and opportunities to develop green hydrogen in Namibia.

Von Oertzen is a technical and management consultant. As a trained physicist with a finance and management background, he has in-depth knowledge and experience of energy-, management- and environment-related topics, and business development. 

He believes the time has come that grand fabulations about green hydrogen’s miraculous impacts on Namibia, while possibly enjoyable, are replaced by realism and a fact-based commitment to actions to shape the common future.

He outlined that producing green hydrogen by electrolysis of water, on viable scales, necessitates ready access to large tracts of low- or no-cost land, an abundance of cheap electricity, and one or several low-cost clean water sources. 

Essential processing facilities include low-cost electrolysis plants, water desalination plants if seawater is used, as well as hydrogen processing, storage, and transport facilities. 

“If the synthesised product is to be further converted, for example to ammonia or synfuels, additional production facilities are required as well. If products are to be exported, adequate pipeline and/or port infrastructure is a requirement too,” said Von Oertzen.

He noted a sharp increase in the demand for land that is to be used for large-scale hydrogen and derivative production will increase the demand and competition between resources. He added this competition also introduces difficult trade-offs between the conservation goals of hypersensitive areas and the prospects of creating much-needed jobs, new income opportunities and new long-term development prospects.

“To date, Namibia imports more than one-half of its annual electricity requirements from southern African countries. Evidently, Namibia does not have spare electricity generation capacities let alone generation plants using renewables to be used to produce hydrogen, other than to power a pilot plant. Water is an essential input for hydrogen production by electrolysis. Namibia is a water-scarce country, having an overall water risk classification of extreme,” he added in his findings.

Furthermore, he said one option that could provide input water is the desalination of seawater drawn from the Atlantic Ocean: “There are no major technical obstacles to desalination to deliver potable and process water”.

He further recommended that a suite of support activities be crafted to enable Namibia’s water, electricity, agricultural and mining sectors to support and benefit from local hydrogen-related activities and outputs. On funding requirements associated with the creation of hydrogen production and processing infrastructure, he believes it is evident that considerable funding challenges exist in 2021, even those required to continue the execution of the government’s primary functions and responsibilities. 

“This implies that approaches other than those reliant on Namibia’s small tax-payer base are needed to fund ambitious infrastructure projects. Any reliance on budgetary allocations from State coffers is considered unrealistic. It is therefore essential that international funding opportunities are tapped into,” advised Von Oertzen.

2022-01-11  Maihapa Ndjavera

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