In south-eastern South Africa, the eThekwini Municipality has an ambitious strategic target of reducing its reliance on the national grid. The eThekwini’s strategic direction seeks to reduce reliance on Eskom by 20% by 2025, 40% by 2030, and ultimately be self-sufficient in 2035. As a region which includes the largest port in the southern hemisphere, aluminium smelting, petrochemical and fertiliser plants, paper mills, and a significant concentration of other heavy industries, it faces growing challenges to decarbonise these critical sectors of the economy as it continues to promote industrialisation. 

As part of a systems-wide approach, we created an energy model to evaluate the roles that different types of energy could play in the economy as eThekwini seeks to decarbonise and improve energy supply security. We identified low carbon hydrogen as providing an opportunity to not only decarbonise the transport, industrial and manufacturing sectors, but also to support a just transition, addressing social and infrastructure challenges including increasing access to water and energy, together with reducing pollution and creating jobs. 

This work is aligned with the South African government’s aims of becoming a major producer and exporter of green hydrogen to support its desire to accelerate a clean energy transition and decarbonise its economy. 

Ethekwini video cover
The eThekwini regional hydrogen strategy identifies future hydrogen hubs and supports the Municipality's vision for a low carbon economy.

Creating a regional hydrogen strategy

We have been working with the eThekwini Municipality over a number of years on projects including creating an energy strategic roadmap (ESR) with climate leadership group C40 Cities. 

The ability to pursue this work further and develop a regional hydrogen strategy was made possible through UK grant funding, which was implemented through the UK’s Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) under its UK Partnering for Accelerated Climate Transitions (UK PACT) programme.

Our work explored the potential for hydrogen use cases in eThekwini and Richards Bay. For example, in trucking and for buses it is ideal for vehicles travelling in hilly or mountainous terrain and over long distances where electric vehicles would perform less well. Hydrogen and its derivatives are also necessary to reduce emissions from shipping, where hydrogen can be used to replace diesel use for port machinery such as cranes and transporters.

As part of a period of stakeholder engagement, we conducted a public survey to establish the awareness of and appetite for hydrogen. This was supported by research into the existing use of hydrogen and its potential for the local economy in 2030, 2040 and 2050. Based on the assessment, up to 260,000 construction jobs, and 11,000 permanent jobs could be created by 2030, attracting up to $23 billion of investment in the eThekwini and Richards Bay region by 2050. 

Along with this, opportunities were identified for repurposing existing infrastructure. Two large local oil refineries which have closed in Durban have the potential to be converted for low carbon hydrogen production. A large proportion of the workforce concentrated within eThekwini already has the skills or could be upskilled to make the transition to hydrogen. 

A clean energy transition

The study considered how waste feedstocks could be used to produce hydrogen and synthetic fuels so that less electricity would be required. This approach would have many other benefits associated with recycling and reuse of resources. Biomass waste, sewage sludge and municipal solid waste were all considered, along with treated wastewater. 

Our aim is to create a virtuous circle for growing the economy and meeting the region’s climate targets. This has many potential benefits, such as removing waste from the system to produce clean energy, repurposing infrastructure such as oil refineries to maintain and grow the workforce to support goals of gender equality and social inclusion, and reducing pollution to improve the local population’s health and wellbeing.

The strategy concluded by identifying where hydrogen hubs could be located, exploring the challenges and barriers to establishing a low carbon hydrogen economy, and capturing actions for the municipality in the short, medium and long term. Areas for further study include examining the regulatory landscape and ways of working with the private sector to identify opportunities to develop the first wave of projects.

eThekwini’s regional hydrogen strategy is the first of its kind in Africa. It will increase the scale of industrialisation and rapidly substantially grow the regional hydrogen economy uptake on the east coast of South Africa. Arup’s team helped us to identify strategic clusters/hubs that are key enablers for regional transformation and will act as a catalyst for hydrogen industry investment. This work will drive decarbonisation across the energy supply value chain including hard to abate sectors of the economy.

Sbu Ntshalintshali

Energy Office, eThekwini Municipality