How to get our heads around the very big $$ in green hydrogen
H2 could transform the continent, say its supporters. But big investments have yet to hit the ground. We probe the bellwether of Africa’s green economy.
1. The rising hydrogen tide won’t lift all boats
Another week, another billion-dollar green hydrogen investment. South African solar developer Phelan Green Energy will pour $2.5 billion into H₂, the company announced on Monday.
Production is expected to start in 2026, creating more than 250 jobs.
Why it matters: Multiplying African hydrogen projects tells us two things:
Green investors see great opportunities on the continent.
But only a few African countries will benefit.
The spike: Recent billion-dollar announcements (see map above) have stunned observers.
Last week Egypt inked hydrogen investments worth $14.75 billion.
That’s equivalent to the annual GDP of Mauritius or Rwanda.
The snag: Investment is pretty much limited to a few countries.
Near Europe: Egypt and Morocco are the main sites.
Near the Cape: South Africa and Namibia are catching up.
A few more like Kenya are riding the coattails with green fertiliser.
Green hydrogen, huh: Hydrogen is an input in heavy industrial processes, ammonia production and a long-term store of energy.
It can be either consumed in Africa or exported.
It’s considered “green” when made with renewable electricity.
Good match: Africa is well suited to green hydrogen production thanks to:
Lots of local solar, wind and geothermal power
Lower costs: Up to 75% cheaper than in Europe
Potential to leapfrog to clean industrial processes
Investor stampede: Africa’s hydrogen potential is eulogised by McKinsey.
The sector could be worth $1 trillion by 2035, creating 4.2 million jobs.
It is projected to cut carbon emissions by 830 megatonnes annually.
Hydrogen production might consume 24% of all energy in Africa by 2050.
Ok but: To participate in this bonanza, countries need a complex mix of ingredients.
Abundant clean energy sources
Transport and production infrastructure
Access to large-scale water resources
Supportive regulatory frameworks
Skilled labour pools, especially technical
Access to local or foreign market demand
Reality check: The conditions for large-scale green hydrogen production currently exist in few African countries.
The industrialised north and south may be ready. The rest have homework to do.
Nigeria struggles with fuel cartels that limit adoption of clean energy alternatives.
Ethiopia has lots of clean energy but being landlocked lacks export & seawater access.
Complexity challenge: Even countries with all the necessary ingredients will struggle.
Like a puzzle, having all the pieces is not enough. One has to fit them together too.
Officials, industry & investors need to collaborate closely; that’s historically a challenge.
What’s next: Insiders say Europe wants to buy substantial quantities of African hydrogen.
Richard Kiplagat, chair of the Africa Hydrogen Taskforce, says, “Over the next 24 months, the hydrogen landscape in Africa is set for transformation. We're moving from MoUs to finalised financial agreements, signifying substantial sector growth.”
But he also says, “Hydrogen is the world's most abundant element and relatively straightforward to produce through electrolysis. However, the real challenge lies in optimising and scaling up production.”
2. New norms may threaten growth in clean cookstoves
Manufacturers of clean cookers fear that proposed standard changes for earning carbon credits could undermine their business model.
The news: UNFCCC, an intergovernmental body, has published new ways of calculating the climate impact of using traditional versus clean cookers.
It’s down to how much of traditional fuel comes from non-renewable biomass.
For example, are trees cut down or to what extent are cooks merely burning fallen branches?
Why it matters: The question may seem academic but could have a major impact on the commercial viability of the fast-growing cookstove sector.
Manufacturers want to shift hundreds of millions to clean cooking fuels.
This would reduce global emissions equivalent to the aviation sector (2% of the total).
Credit boom: Manufacturers scale impact by subsidising the sale of stoves with carbon credit revenues.
Koko Networks has reduced stove costs by 85% and fuel by up to 40%
Burn Manufacturing provides a subsidy of up to 95%.
Biomass calculations: The new UNFCCC norm could shrink the claimed emissions savings from 3 tonnes of carbon dioxide per household per year to 1 tonne.
Manufacturers will potentially lose a majority of their carbon credit revenues.
Shared goals: So what’s behind the revision by the UNFCCC? After all, it aims to save the planet as much as the manufacturers do.
Current standards are overly optimistic, meaning favourable to manufacturers.
This contributes to growing distrust around carbon markets, driven by scandals.
Over time, reformers say, the manufacturers will benefit from higher integrity.
The debate: All very well, say manufacturers. But the numbers don’t work.
The sector needs $10 billion for universal access to clean stoves.
Currently, it sees annual investment of around $130 million.
Take away the credit revenue, and emission targets become unachievable.
Pro tip: That may mean manufacturers need more equity and debt funding.
Carbon credits were low-hanging fruit but may now become rarer.
Their own words: Manufacturers write in an open letter, “While we welcome a revised approach, we share concerns regarding certain data inputs and assumptions.”
What’s next: The UNFCCC is holding a public consultation.
Which side of the fine line between adjusting and crushing a market will this fall?
3. PROFILE: Climate leader with answers
Kenyan marine scientist David Obura has become the first African to chair the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)
As a boy, David Obura made a pact with his mother whenever they went on holiday to their cottage at Tiwi, on the Kenya coast. If low tide happened to be in the middle of the day, he didn’t have to come in for lunch. Foraging in rock pools, looking for corals, hermit crabs and tiny vivid tropical fish were what he enjoyed most. He said, “What was the point of coming in to eat?”
Now 53, Obura always knew he wanted to be a biologist. His mother, a fervent educationist, encouraged him. Partly Irish and Welsh, she moved to Kenya when, just before independence in 1963, she married Obura’s father, the first Kenyan dentist, whom she had met in London.
While her husband, who’d grown up in the Migori sugar area of Western Kenya, built a private practice, Mrs Obura became fascinated with the Kenyan outdoors and took her three children on safari whenever she could. St Andrews Turi, with its scouts and camping, was followed by…
4. Media monitoring
Carbon integrity: Verra halts credits issuance and launches investigation into Kariba REDD+ project following allegations.
Investment: BII and ILX will co-fund $500 million of sustainable development across Africa and beyond.
Infrastructure: The EU allocates $158 billion over four years for African infrastructure development via the Global Gateway program.
UN SDG report: Climate change may push up to 158 million more women and girls into poverty.
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Thanks to the Green Rising team for putting this together.