Transformative investments in green hydrogen development in the global South

Insights/findings of the project 

  • Surveyed grey literature predicts that investments in green hydrogen (GH2) will grow from near zero today to a significant proportion of green energy supply by 2050. Much academic research on GH2 also focuses on the technological opportunities in countries with high renewable potential.
  • Yet in the Global South, this would require unprecedented public-private collaborative efforts to reduce costs, create infrastructure, and train personnel.
  • Knowledge (not hype) on the large scale implications of GH2 in both Global South and North remains limited to few operational projects and actors, suggesting that emerging narratives will play a key role in decision-making.
  • Some NGOs state that hydrogen can only be compatible with a just transition if it is green and second to local energy and water access. Some governments consider hydrogen, even if blue, as a catalyst for local investment & growth. Overall, GH2 is presented as an inevitable (small?) part of the energy transition.
  • Civil voices doubt whether e.g. German engagement with hydrogen imports can be equitably beneficial, as they see neo-colonial dynamics being perpetuated through opaque financing and technology ownership.
  • Other challenges such as possible land conflicts and energy justice are increasingly discussed in academia. Past mega-renewables projects could offer useful learnings to address them.
  • These insights were empirically nuanced and verified through case studies in Brazil and South Africa, in which each local context provides its own challenges and incentives for pursuing hydrogen investment.

What are deliverables?

  1. On 12/12/2022, a small international Energy in Transition workshop with around 30 attendees was organised on GH2 in the Global South, convening notable critical hydrogen experts in both academia and industry from across the world to share knowledge, generate momentum, and collaborate.
  2. On 13/12/2022, a subsection of the attendees founded the Critical H2 Research network, which connects researchers investigating the social development implications of H2 with other disciplines and actors in the emerging space.
  3. The first written deliverables of this project are a final report on Green Hydrogen in the Global South that combines academic and grey literature review insights with empirical fieldwork in Brazil and South Africa, as well as including additional insights from our Energy in Transition workshop.
  4. The second written deliverable of the project is a prospective, globally organised journal special issue addressing the (geo)political, spatial and ecological implications of hydrogen transitions in the Global South. A special issue proposal was submitted to the journal Political Geography, convened by Eric Cezne (UU), Tobias Kalt (University of Hamburg, Germany), Adryane Gorayeb (Federal University of Ceará, Brazil), and Erika Kraemer-Mbula (University of Johannesburg, South Africa). 
    • Eric Cezne will apply for the coming round of the NWO-Veni funding scheme with a proposal on the topic “Green Hydrogen in the BRICS”.

What impacts are created/are expected?

  1. The key impacts of this project relate to increased awareness, research momentum, and knowledge availability surrounding the social and political consequences of green hydrogen investment in the Global South.
  2. First, through the upcoming special issue on these topics, critical energy perspectives will be more strongly woven into academic discussions on (green) hydrogen pathways and investments. As seen in our review, such conversations are currently held primarily through a technical and financial lens. By incorporating an understanding of relevant social and environmental considerations, the feasibility and desirability of different hydrogen pathways can be presented more accurately and holistically. For example, Eric Cezne was recently featured on an EU Politics podcast where he discussed our insights.
  3. Second, the Critical H2 Research Network is a resource that can improve research on the implications of hydrogen investment in the Global South. For example, by assisting researchers that work with local communities across the world to compare their work in progress or study big picture hydrogen trade agreements from multiple perspectives, supporting each other in the process.
  4. Third, the final report is an accessible starting point for those entering or coming across the emerging field of critical hydrogen research. It forms a ‘state of the art’ that clearly indicates what discourse and knowledge was present and from which perspectives (including hydrogen alliances and events) at a specific point in time. Since the boundaries between hype and substance are often blurred in discourse on the subject, this can facilitate more complete and historically informed hydrogen research in the future.


For more information contact Dr. Kei Otsuki, Human Geography and Spatial Planning - International Development Studies or visit this website