The Emergence of Hydrogen Legal Frameworks in the Global Energy Transition: What can South Africa learn from the US and Germany?


This study provides an in-depth look at two of the most robust and prominent hydrogen energy-friendly jurisdictions, namely Germany and the United States of America (USA), and compares their situation to that of an emerging economy nation, South Africa, and its nascent embrace of this form of energy in the context of its own energy transition, in particular away from coal-fired thermal power generation. As new technologies emerge, in countries where governance structures are sufficiently responsive, State strategies, policies and regulation can adapt and change to reflect new realities and possibilities. This study focuses on one case study: hydrogen energy regulation in South Africa, as informed by German and USA experiences.

The author notes that it may be remiss to believe that hydrogen can be facilitated by the State similarly to natural gas or alternative energy sources. Indeed, there is a slew of additional variables to consider when developing a robust regulatory strategy, and the situation of hydrogen energy may be different than for natural gas or coal. The vibrancy of a new hydrogen energy economy is already evident in many nations, as is the abundance of innovations associated with the hydrogen economy. However, this study also underlines the reality that development is not uniformly distributed around the world. Fledgling levels of hydrogen energy development and nascent legislative and regulatory frameworks continue to be the norm in many nations, whereas other jurisdictions are rapidly transitioning into an enabling environment that would provide a stable investment climate for the hydrogen economy.

The first five chapters of this dissertation consist of: an introduction; the hydrogen phenomenon; a Germany case study; a case study of the USA; and consideration of South Africa’s hydrogen energy landscape. The sixth chapter comprises discussions on the challenges related to the hydrogen economy and recommendations for the countries concerned. The last chapter contains a conclusion that seeks to give a brief exposition on the study’s findings.

The research methodology applied for this dissertation aimed to comparatively examine whether exemplary national hydrogen strategies formulated by leading economies such as Germany and the US could serve as models for an emerging economy such as that of South Africa. The examination was illustrated through the analysis of various national hydrogen acceleration efforts deployed by the aforementioned countries, such as inter alia, available regulatory frameworks and financial pledges generated towards adopting a hydrogen economy.

This study further examines future commercialisation prospects and the barriers that must be addressed in an effort to accomplish regional and global targets. It finds that hydrogen energy lies at a complex confluence of energy and climate regulations, a nexus of competing and complementary global energy futures.