By Viren Sookhun, Managing Director at Oxyon
With the world looking to countries that have optimal renewable energy resources to provide the clean energy of the future, South Africa has the opportunity to revolutionise its economy and supply green hydrogen to the world. Growth in the hydrogen sector will result in a significant number of new job opportunities for which new skills, training programmes and qualification assessments will be required. Ensuring an adequate supply of trained and competent individuals for such a rapidly growing sector will become a priority as the hydrogen energy sector grows and we work toward decarbonisation commitments. Society’s decreasing reliance on traditional energy sources such as coal and petrochemicals will result in an employment shrinkage but reskilling these workers from traditional energy backgrounds to transition into the expanding hydrogen sector should be much easier with the training and skills already obtained.
South Africa has what it takes
In developing South Africa’s green hydrogen value chain, we can become a key supplier into the global hydrogen market. Not only does South Africa have optimal environmental conditions, it is also rich in the natural resources required for the hydrogen economy, such as Platinum Group Metals (PGMs). PGMs are used in the electrolysers that produce green hydrogen as well as a fuel in hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles. South Africa holds more than 80% of the world’s platinum reserves and has one of the largest platinum mining companies in the world. South Africa is guided by the Hydrogen Society’s Roadmap which identifies the production, storage, and distribution of hydrogen, while highlighting the importance of research, development, and innovation, alongside the promotion of gender equality and social inclusion in developing the hydrogen economy. By implementing this Roadmap, within a few years it is anticipated that at least 20,000 new jobs will be created annually as part of the adoption of the hydrogen economy.
Challenges to a growing sector
The main hurdle in this industry lies in the fact that it is new. When something is new, it requires extensive research. Here, South Africa will be reliant on global players and multinational organisations to assist with research and feasibility studies through partnership initiatives that focus on upskilling so the skills transfer happens locally and training takes place within our borders.
Ultimately, more jobs will be created in renewable energy and hydrogen than what we will shed in traditional methods of energy so the net effect will be positive. However, this will require extensive upskilling and retraining for the new world in terms of hydrogen fuel. Japan is on the verge of launching hydrogen-fuelled trains, Airbus will be transitioning over the next few years to ensure all their aircrafts are 100% converted to hydrogen fuel, while Turkey and other European companies are looking at hydrogen-powered ships. As for the potential of hydrogen-fuelled road vehicles, such as trucks and buses, these hold much more promise for South Africa from a cleaner mobility perspective. Limitations with battery storage and unreliable electricity infrastructure currently hinders the adoption of electric vehicles, and given that the infrastructure requirements for transitioning from fossil to hydrogen fuels is similar, this makes hydrogen a more feasible option for vehicle power than electricity.
What’s needed to grow the hydrogen economy?
Starting at the top of the value chain, South Africa is going to need scientists, researchers, and highly-specialised individuals who can produce green hydrogen by electrolysing water. Further down the value chain we need to start with training and upskilling people here within South Africa, particularly young, unemployed people, through health and safety courses to enforce the Occupational Health and Safety Act. This will become increasingly important as the hydrogen industry is regarded as a high risk due to the nature of fuel and gas.
Building the hydrogen economy is going to require cooperation and coordination between many stakeholders, particularly in education, training and learnership opportunities. Government entities, educational institutions and the private sector is going to have to come together to handle the increased demand for skills and qualifications in this industry. To make the most of these opportunities, industry would benefit from the assistance of Temporary Employment Services (TES) provider partners, particularly during the recruitment, upskilling and training processes.
New skills for a new industry
Given that labour and human resources is going to be the most important part of growing the hydrogen and renewables economy, the value of using a TES provider lies in their extensive resources, such as training companies, healthcare facilities, along with the staffing and outsourcing side, including recruitment. With all the necessary accreditations, a TES partner can handle the entire labour component, from community stakeholder engagement, to creating training programmes and reporting back to client partners and government to ensure transparency in achieving the desired outcome: an inclusive, sustainable, and competitive hydrogen economy by 2050.