The Department of Science and Technology says proposals are on the cards to consider using hydro fuel cell technology to power-up some of the agri parks that President Jacob Zuma announced during his State of the Nation Address.
Dr Phil Mjwara, the Director General for the Department of Science and Technology, said this when he addressed the first Hydrogen South Africa (HySA) Technical Meeting at the Radisson’s Park Inn hotel, in Cape Town.
The two-day technical meeting, which started on Monday, discussed, amongst others, the challenges facing hydrogen fuel cell technology and explored possible public-private collaboration in commercialising the technology.
The Director General said the idea to consider hydro fuel cells technology to supply power to the R2bn agri parks, which have been earmarked to transform rural economies, came out of the recent Cabinet Lekgotla meeting.
"I am happy to announce that one of the ideas that are being proposed, that are being discussed is that the agri parks that are led by the Department of Rural Development and Land Affairs and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. We have been asked about the possibility of having these agri parks being powered by locally produced hydrogen fuel cells,” he said.
Mjwara’s announcement comes as the country's constrained power grid has resulted in ongoing load shedding that has affected residential and commercial clients. The energy challenges are also seen as the biggest obstacle to economic growth. Agri parks are seen as land where certain agricultural commodities can be grown with the support that government is giving.
They are also meant to accelerate the country’s agricultural production, with recent data showing that agricultural contribution to GDP has declined. He said the Hydrogen South Africa (HySA) programme attracted a lot of interest at the Cabinet Lekgotla meeting given the country’s energy challenges.
“I think the challenges that we have in South Africa of energy provide us with a unique position to look at this programme differently as we go forward. Because of that, I had an opportunity with the Minister to attend a recent meeting which was a Cabinet Lekgotla meeting. Because we believe in this programme, we stuck our necks out,” he said.
Schools, clinics to be powered by hydro cell technology?
The Director General said the Science and Technology Department was also in talks with the health, basic education and energy departments to look at areas where hydro fuel cells technology can also be used.
“There was a huge interest when we talked about the pilots that we have at the University of the Western Cape as to whether we can identify areas, whether it is schools or clinics, where we can deploy some of these products.
“We have also been asked whether as part of the rural development programmes we can identify areas, be it schools, be it clinics. So we are discussing currently with the departments of basic education and health to identify areas moving beyond the pilot that we are already having in Cofimvaba,” he said.
This after the department, in partnership with the private sector, recently partnered up with the private sector to pilot the roll out of hydro fuel cells technology in three schools in Cofimvaba, Eastern Cape, namely Arthur Mfebe Senior Secondary School, St Marks Junior Secondary School and Mvuzo Junior Secondary School.