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Nigeria’s prospects in the hydrogen economy

By Mohammed Dahiru Aminu As countries undergo a transition to clean, low carbon sources of energy at a record rate and scale, new technologies are…

By Mohammed Dahiru Aminu

As countries undergo a transition to clean, low carbon sources of energy at a record rate and scale, new technologies are required to replace fossil fuels in an effort to shift in the direction of a carbon neutral economy at the earliest. Being ahead of this transition is a matter of strategic importance for all countries, especially Nigeria, which is one of Africa’s largest economies and anticipated to rank among the top ten economies of the world by 2050. Besides, it is not in doubt that energy resources are among the most important assets of any nation.

It is recognised that high rate of industrial growth is a function of the amount of energy available and the extent to which that energy is utilised. In total, Africa’s electricity consumption from 1980 to 2001 grew on the average by 3.1 percent per year. Africa’s per capita demand for electricity has declined in comparison to the ones achieved in North America and the Middle East; making Africa have the smallest per capita consumption of electricity in the world. Considering these, Nigeria is pursuing an energy transition plan to promote economic growth and encourage investments in renewable energy to reduce carbon emissions while utilising hydrocarbon resources such as natural gas as the transition fuel.

Nigeria has made a commitment to achieving net zero by 2060. Our net zero pledge should include actions that control all the greenhouse gas (GHG) we produce. This will require major changes in our energy production and use, with increased removal of GHG from the atmosphere. The most feasible pathways to achieving lowered emissions would include the following strategies: generating electricity without emissions; using vehicles and equipment that are powered by electricity as opposed to fossil fuels; more efficient use of energy; and deploying carbon capture and storage and direct air capture. Also, one of the most viable technologies for cleaner energy production which is at the centre of the net zero target is the utilisation of hydrogen as an alternative fuel. There are existing technologies that can support all these strategies, but they will need to be implemented rapidly at large scales nationwide. This will not only require new policies which are already in place in Nigeria, but also investments as well as cautious attention to the socio-economic realities and trade-offs involved. It will also require participation and commitment by government, businesses, and individuals especially in creating additional innovations which can further improve technology solutions and reduce costs across the value chain.

For example, it was the French author, Jules Verne, who nearly 150 years ago said that “Water is the coal of the future” and that “The elements, hydrogen and oxygen, decomposed by electric current, will in the future supply the Earth’s energy”. As the world has started discussing the prospects of utilising green hydrogen in the context of energy transition, we are obviously living in that future that was envisaged by Verne. While hydrogen alone will not serve as the silver bullet that stops climate change, we are certain that hydrogen is useful as an energy source/fuel due to its high energy content per unit of weight, which is why it is used as rocket fuel and in fuel cells to produce electricity. It is only foreseeable that hydrogen has the potential for even greater use in the future. Thus, Nigeria should recognise the need for the country to position itself at the technology frontier to take full advantage of the opportunities that lie in the energy transition. These opportunities are in production, transportation, storage and use of low carbon hydrogen. As green hydrogen is produced using renewable energy and electrolysis to split water, we can say that Nigeria is well prepared to produce and utilise green hydrogen. Nigeria is blessed with renewable energy resources like wind, solar, biomass and hydropower. Hydropower has the greatest renewable energy potential in Nigeria, from which we could harness up to 10,000 MW for large hydropower and 734 MW for small hydropower. Further renewable energy sources include wind energy with potential of 150,000 terra joule per year, which can be generated by an average wind speed of 2.0 to 4.0 metres per second; solar radiation estimated at 3.5 to 7.0 kilowatt-hours per square metre; and biomass at 144 million tonnes per year. These resources are yet to be fully explored.

Nigeria is also rich in water resources such that many of its 36 states are named after rivers. In addition to the surface water found in nearly every part of the country, we have enormous groundwater resources capable of providing millions of gallons of water per day to people across the country. Nigeria’s water resources are a lot higher than many African countries, especially those in the southern and northern regions of the continent. With the abundance of renewable energy and water resources in Nigeria, the country is naturally well gifted with the feedstocks for hydrogen fuel cells. This is an opportunity for Nigeria to generate alternative energy to cater for its growing population by complementing the existing technologies to attain energy sufficiency and economic growth. But beyond the potential for clean hydrogen being a game changer for the Nigerian economy, it will also create enormous amounts of good paying green jobs.

But there is also the need to promote private sector exchange to support the energy transition. This is because the success of the energy transition will involve all of us working together. To get the hydrogen technology standards to an industrial level and actively shape the market throughout the entire value chain would require robust public and private sector partnerships. It will also entail courage and drive along with a strong belief in the ultimate success of the energy transition. The South American country of Chile is perhaps one of the best-known examples of how partnerships among political leaders, businesses and society can work together to achieve the world’s first integrated commercial large-scale project called Haru Oni. The Haru Oni project is often cited as an outcome of work driven by dedicated partners who never collaborated in this way before. Nigeria can turn big ideas into concrete actions when we work together across borders. The task ahead is to continue to find ways in which to scale up the industry for the economic production of hydrogen from renewables and water. And all signs seem to be pointing towards the right direction as the costs of renewable electricity needed to produce green hydrogen are falling and so are the cost of electrolysers that split water into hydrogen and oxygen. These are all opportunities that Nigeria can effectively utilise to stabilise its economy, and march into modernity with the rest of the world.

 

Aminu (mohd.aminu@gmail.com) holds a PhD in Carbon Capture and Storage, and lives in Abuja, Nigeria