The first "green hydrogen" power plant being built in Africa is expected to begin producing electricity in Namibia in 2024, an official from France-based HDF Energy told Reuters news agency this week.
That presents something of a dilemma for Namibia, which is championing the clean energy but also said this month that huge oil deposits had been discovered off its coast after many failed attempts at drilling.
Green hydrogen is produced by using renewable energy — like wind and sun, both of which Namibia has in abundance — to power the electrolysis of water. A plant producing green hydrogen, a clean power source that can potentially be used for industry and electric vehicles, is due to open in less than two years.
But at the same time, oil companies Shell and Total recently discovered the oil deposits, estimated to amount to more than 1 billion barrels, about 290 kilometers off the Namibian coast.
Herbert Jauch, the head of a local nonprofit, the Economic and Social Justice Trust, wants Namibia to forsake oil drilling and focus on green hydrogen, a much-touted energy source of the future.
However, Jauch said, it's "tricky" for Namibia to give up possible oil revenues when advanced nations are still making heavy use of fossil fuels, even as carbon admissions cause global warming.
“The oil discovery coincides with what needs to be the end of fossil fuels, and therefore it is quite tricky for Namibia to move into that direction, to go into large-scale oil exploration," he said, noting the potential for ecological danger in drilling and the effects of climate change in many countries. By accenting solar energy and green hydrogen, "Namibia could become a front-runner in renewable energy."
Maggy Shino, the petrol commissioner at the Ministry of Mines and Energy, cautioned that there was still a long way to go before Namibia could become an oil-producing nation.
“We need to understand that for us as explorers, we have a very long journey ahead of us before we can be able to change the narrative to say that we are an oil-producing nation," Shino said.
"We are oil finders, we have oil accumulation, but we are not yet an oil-producing nation. For us to get to that stage, a lot of work still needs to be done,” added the commissioner.
Minister of Mines and Energy Tom Alweendo said even if Namibia did begin to produce oil, it would have competition from other African countries, and citizens should not expect a financial windfall from oil revenue.
“We just came from an oil and gas conference that was held in Senegal," he said. "Senegal has discovered a lot of oil; so, has Ghana; Uganda has oil, although they have not produced yet. So has Equatorial Guinea, so has Angola, so has Nigeria."
The southern African state is aiming to become a green hydrogen player by 2026 and has selected a preferred bidder for a multibillion-dollar project.