Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation

The Hydrogen Factor

An international IRENA report - Lead author Thijs Van de Graaf, University Ghent-Belgium -  (15/1/2022-Excerpts Karel.U)

Green hydrogen, the missing link to a climate-safe energy future, which does not endanger industrial growth and social development.

Africaand its abundance of low-cost renewable power, is endowed with 33% of world technical potential for producing green hydrogen under USD 1.5/kg

World Solar Technical Potential

Annual average global horizontal irridiation

kWh/m² (IRENA)

Technical potential for producing green hydrogen under USD 1.5/kg (in exajoules)

Africa 33%; Middle East 14%; North America 14%; Oceania 13%; Latin America 12%; Asia 9%; Europe 1% (IRENA)

Developing countries in the tropics have a natural competitive advantage in solar energy. Even some of the poorest countries in the world may be able to exploit their renewable energy potential to produce green hydrogen locally, generating economic opportunities and increasing energy security.

Africa’s vast renewable potential opens new opportunities for the continent’s development to a net-zero world. Countries with an abundance of low-cost renewable power could become producers of green hydrogen, with commensurate geoeconomic and geopolitical consequences, using their potential to attract energy-intensive industries. Supporting the advancement of renewable energy and green hydrogen in developing countries is critical for decarbonising the energy system and can contribute to global equity and stability. The developing world now has a unique chance to leapfrog fossil fuels in the power system. Investment will flow in to countries showing a low-cost potential for green hydrogen.

Opening a new development pathway

  • Many factors drive location choice for general industrial relocation to renewables-rich areas:  the cost of transporting energy and the stickiness of existing industrial facilities including human capital, infrastructure and labour costs, but the cost of energy can play a decisive role.
  • For energy-intensive industries such as iron, steel, cement, chemicals, petrochemicals, non-ferrous metals, ceramic materials, the input cost of fossil feedstock energy represents a major share of total production costs.
  • Clean hydrogen can offer new industrial opportunities for the production and use of commodities, such as green steel. 
  • Such potential can be realised only through an international effort to channel resources, share technologies and transfer know-how to developing countries.
  • Without hydrogen, agricultural productivity would plummet, jeopardising food security for millions of people. These effects could be especially relevant for Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Energy-intensive industries like cement, steel and chemicals remain wedded to fossil fuels. The falling costs of renewable technologies like solar PV, wind and batteries are opening a new development pathway.

Western industrial countries

  • As more countries commit to net zero economies and impose carbon-reducing policies such as carbon pricing, the input cost of fossil fuels will rise even more. Many of these industries will need to consider access to low-cost, clean energy to remain competitive.


  • The cost of transporting renewable energy, whether in the form of electricity or hydrogen, remains relatively high. The cheapest way to transport energy is in materials and products.


  • Germany has already engaged several African countries to explore and develop a hydrogen economy that makes use of the continent’s resource potential to support sustainable economic development.


  • Industrial countries may be better off replacing ageing infrastructure with net zero compatible solutions designed for the economy of the future.

Global governance

  • Clean hydrogen will be essential to achieving deep decarbonisation. By reducing the threats caused by climate change, it may contribute to geopolitical stability.
  • Supporting the development of hydrogen industries in developing countries with abundant potential can achieve multiple objectives. It could open new partnership possibilities to set up local value chains, stimulate industries, and create jobs in countries rich in renewable Thus, clean hydrogen can also be an avenue for greater equity.
  • Realising the full potential of hydrogen to decarbonise the global energy system is not only a matter of fairness. A diverse hydrogen market creates new opportunities for trade and co-operation, reducing supply chain risks and improving energy security for al.
  • Governments have a unique opportunity today to shape the advent of hydrogen, avoid the flaws and inefficiencies of current systems, and influence geopolitical outcomes.
  • In the interest of geopolitical stability and a just energy transition, future importers should promote diversification by enabling renewable-rich countries in the developing world to set up local value chains and job-creating green industries.
  • Pursued with due care and caution this suite of energy technologies also offers the opportunity to demonstrate the positive forces of disruption, enhancing national and regional sovereignty, resilience, and co-operation.
  • International co-operation will be essential to effectively navigate the unknowns, mitigate risks and overcome obstacles in the years ahead.



PS. Coal-burning blast furnaces, source of up to a tenth of global carbon-dioxide emissions. Direct-Reduced-Iron technology can use hydrogen and renewable energy and mark a revolution in steelmaking…








  (Jan 29th 2022 edition)

Lakshmi Mittal transformed steelmaking. Can his son do it again?

About half of ArcelorMittal’s steelmaking revenue comes from Europe. The region is laden with coal-burning blast furnaces, the carbon-heaviest of steelmaking technologies, source of up to a tenth of global carbon-dioxide emissions. Some firms are opting to replace these with new direct-reduced-iron (DRI) and electric-arc-furnace (EAF) plants. Blast-furnace steelmaking is doubly carbon-intensive: it uses coking coal to soak up oxygen from iron ore, as well as dirty energy to heat the furnaces. DRI-EAF technology can use hydrogen and renewable energy instead. It could mark a revolution in steelmaking

In the long run subsidies for electric vehicles may curb emissions by less than curing the steel industry’s coal addiction…


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