Picture: 123RF/ SEBASTIEN DECORET
Picture: 123RF/ SEBASTIEN DECORET

Several articles have been published recently that attack the burgeoning green energy economy. The tone and trajectory of these articles is reminiscent of those published during the “fightback” by the tobacco industry in the 1970s when the seriously destructive effects of smoking became ever more apparent. Numerous articles were published that said the medically demonstrated adverse effects of smoking were either untrue or exaggerated. It transpired that this was largely promoted and financed by the tobacco lobby.

It is also interesting to note that the anti-green energy missives make little or no attempt to propose an alternative way forward, other than to imply that we should stay with our present destructive habit of burning fossil fuels. In the case of an article by the founder of the Copenhagen Consensus, Bjorn Lomborg, African countries were included in a list of those that cannot afford the cost of green energy (“Climate change: solutions might be worse than the problem”, February 25). 

The argument that is presented tends to be based on two issues. On the one hand a spurious claim is made that green energy will be destructively expensive. Even if this were true, which it demonstrably is not, they seem to be arguing that we should carry on blithely to destruction because it is too expensive to stop. It also makes no sense to quote exaggerated numbers and attach these to green energies without balancing this against the immense economic advantages green energy will achieve. Using Africa as an example, the continent will benefit greatly from the economic benefits of generating, using and exporting green energy instead of importing fossil fuels at immense cost — both financial and environmental. Africa could become a net exporter of energy.

In a recent article by the Institute of Race Relations’s John Kane-Berman, the benefits of green energy were brushed aside. He stated that “sun energy and wind may come out of the sky, but the machinery to turn them into energy does not. That machinery requires mining, manufacture, and transport.” Well yes, and the same is true of present energy sources and industries. The cost of the geological research, plus the tapping, processing and refining of fossil fuels, is enormous and will become more so as the resources dwindle. However, once the hydrogen economy is ubiquitous the energy to mine materials, and to manufacture, provide and transport the support equipment, will all also come from renewables via the green hydrogen economy. It should also be noted that virtually none of these materials will be consumed but will be mostly recyclable.

Another objection is raised based on the totally incorrect assumption that the green economy will depend on energy storage in chemical batteries. Kane-Berman seems to be under the impression that the green economy will be based on battery storage of energy to provide power when the sun is not shining or the wind blowing. This is certainly not the case. Yes, there is a rather inexplicable obsession with battery-powered vehicles. This will be largely self limiting for several reasons, including that batteries deteriorate quickly over their lifespan, eventually requiring expensive replacement. (A fact that is either denied or brushed aside by the battery lobby). In addition, apart from being useful for smaller local city runaround vehicles, batteries will never be able to provide viable power for heavy transport, aeroplanes, ships and so on. In addition, as Kane-Berman rightly says, once batteries reach the end of their useful life we end up with masses of toxic unrecyclable chemicals.

The future is green hydrogen. This energy carrier can be generated anywhere, including in Europe. When the sun or wind energy is not available it can be augmented by green hydrogen that is generated in and exported from areas such as Africa, which has vast open spaces and abundant free energy in the form of sunlight and wind. The benefit to places such as Europe is that a fair amount of the energy required can indeed be generated locally by wind and sun, and the gaps in these energy resources can be filled by hydrogen delivered by tanker or pipeline from Africa. Is this a problem? Well, at present virtually all energy in the form of fossil fuels is imported from the Middle East or elsewhere. So the hydrogen economy represents a net gain for Europe as it will only be importing a portion of the energy requirements. There is already a pipeline project under way to deliver hydrogen from Morocco to Europe. 

And at what cost? It is reliably projected that within the next few years, as the economies of scale become apparent, the cost of green hydrogen for motor vehicle fuel, delivered at the dispenser, will be lower per energy unit than petrol or diesel.

The repeated claims that the green economy will be hugely expensive are simply wrong. The technologies required to capture wind and sunlight, to generate hydrogen and then convert it into energy, are all readily available and entirely recyclable. If we just consider the green economy in Africa, the continent will rapidly become 100% independent of imported fossil fuels, saving African economies billions in foreign exchange. As a further bonus, Africa will be able to export, to Europe and other countries, the large volumes of excess hydrogen generated, earning valuable foreign exchange revenues in the process. Far from being destructively expensive, we cannot afford not to convert to the green hydrogen economy. 

There are also issues raised about habitat loss from solar and wind installations. Yes, some areas will be covered by solar panels, but with little effect on habitat, either flora or fauna. Wind generators are not the prettiest objects on the landscape, but nor are the filthy oil wells and refineries associated with fossil fuel. And, with the reduction in noxious and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, there will still be a clear net gain for our planet. 

Hydrogen is the future. This is recognised by that virtually every motor manufacturer is already producing or developing hydrogen-powered vehicles that have the performance and range equivalent to petrol or diesel vehicles. And a hydrogen-powered vehicle can be refuelled in a couple of minutes, unlike the couple of hours required for a battery vehicle after a trip of at the most only a few hundred kilometres.

• Fraser chairs the African Hydrogen Partnership. 

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