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SA’s mining sector fuelling renewable energy options

South Africa’s mining companies are currently facing major financial losses due to on-going power outages. The challenges brought on by load-shedding, which were highlighted at the 2015 Mining Indaba, coupled with rising administered costs and on-going wage disputes, highlight the need for the industry to look at how best it can increase profits to ensure a sustainable future.

In order to cut back on costs the industry should look to renewable energy options, such as photovoltaic (PV) solar energy, as an alternative to power mining sites. In the long run significant costs can be cut by not relying on fossil fuel power solutions, such as diesel-fired generators.

At the Renewable Energy and Mining Conference that took place in Toronto in 2013, it was discussed that mining houses typically spend about 30% of the operating cost of a mine on energy, operating a typical diesel-powered generation set would cost about US$0.28/kWh to US$0.32/kWh, compared with the current average operating cost of solar power being at about US$0.17/kWh. Looking at the 2015 World Bank report entitled “Power of the Mine: A Transformative Opportunity for Sub-Saharan Africa” mining’s demand for power in Sub-Saharan Africa will likely triple between 2000 and 2020 to reach over 23,000MW.

The mining process, which consumes a profuse amount of electricity, involves the hauling, grinding and processing of minerals to supply both the energy and raw material needs of the modern world. Using less electricity by the use of modern energy efficient concepts such as PV solar energy means that every kilowatt-hour saved goes straight to the bottom line.

With the rising costs of traditional energies and the waning costs of renewable energies, renewables are increasingly more resourceful. It is evident, however, that South Africa’s mining sector, a major user of electricity, can be more efficient in terms of energy consumption by including emerging renewable energy strategies, and automated renewable energy technologies such as PV solar modules, into their business models.

In doing so they will promote continuous improvement in energy usage, security of energy supply and long-lasting contributions to the environment, thus covering the increasing energy demand in an proficient and profitable way without increasing carbon emissions.

Large megawatt-scale PV power plants are already providing mining companies with reliable, steady and emission free electricity during the day, that is decoupled from inflation, to reduce electricity consumption used for underground mine refrigeration, ventilation, grinding and more.

One of the world’s biggest gold miners, Barrick Gold, currently has two demonstration sites for solar power in Reno, Nevada, where the company had been in discussions with solar developers interested in using the legacy mine site to develop a solar farm, as well as a small test solar farm in Chile.

In South Africa the Cronimet’s chrome mine in Limpopo has integrated a 1MW off-grid solar PV facility into the electricity supply system in an effort to reduce its reliance on diesel generators.

With many mines being situated in remote locations in the country which have to source their electricity from diesel generation, it makes good business sense for them to make use of PV solar energy supply, especially as the country has abundant solar energy supplies, to reduce risk and costs of diesel fuel transport to remote operations.

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