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Challenges of permitting green hydrogen and ammonia projects in South Africa

Stuart Heather-Clark Power Sector Leader - Africa
Stuart Heather-Clark

Stuart has over 23 years of environmental and social consulting experience in Africa. His key strength is identifying and managing ESG risks for major capital projects from the concept phase through to the pre-feasibility, feasibility and implementation phases. Through leading Environmental & Social Screening Studies, Environmental & Social Impact Assessments and Environmental & Social Due Diligences for major capital project in over 13 African countries. Stuart has worked for and with a variety of firms to identify and manage ESG risks of their investments in Africa. He has an integral knowledge of the Equator Principles and IFC Performance Standards and understands the expectations of lenders and financial institutions when it comes to managing ESG risks. 

The significant reduction in the costs of generating electricity from renewable energy, combined with the obvious benefit of zero carbon emissions, has made the production of green hydrogen undoubtedly an attractive option. The Green Hydrogen Economy has gained significant momentum at a global scale, with South Africa well positioned to take advantage of the opportunity.

However, with this opportunity comes some intricacy, and it’s clear the key to facilitating a smooth introduction of new green technology lies with understanding the environmental permitting complexities of these renewable energy projects.

The use of electrolysis to produce green hydrogen and the Haber-Bosch processes to produce ammonia, as a way of storing and transporting hydrogen in a more efficient manner, presents new risks and environmental impacts that renewable energy developers are often not familiar with. Equally, engaging with developers on the need to assess these additional impacts for their proposed projects is not always easy.

While other renewables projects around wind energy and solar, for example, have had a chance to mature their practices and policies, the green hydrogen and ammonia projects are new from an environmental permitting perspective. There are many potential environmental and social impacts to consider which are not typically issues when developing wind and solar PV projects.

Stuart Heather-Clark (SLR’s Africa Power Sector Lead) has prepared a technical article which unpacks several of the permitting challenges associated with these green energy projects in South Africa, covering aspects such as water supply, reverse osmosis plant and brine discharge, and risk assessment. The article goes into detail about the main inputs and outputs which help determine potential environmental and social impacts, with figures to demonstrate the complexities. You can read the full article here.

The introduction of green hydrogen and ammonia into the global and South African economy is an exciting development. Decarbonising our economy is now within our reach as technology continues to deliver. However, understanding the environmental regulatory environment is essential to ensure these projects are not unnecessary delayed, but are quickly brought online to deliver the obvious benefits both locally and globally.

SLR has developed tailored approaches to support our clients in de-risking their projects from early concept phase, through detailed feasibility, construction and ultimately operation. For the concept phase of new green technologies, we have developed screening capabilities to assist with identifying regulatory and environmental and social risks at the earliest stages of the project. In this way we work with our clients to manage these risks and to develop appropriate strategies that will facilitate an uninterrupted permitting process. 

For more information or to discuss how SLR can support your project, please get in touch.

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