The mining sector is one of the most energy intensive sectors. Big mines can be located close to the grid and hence have access to the grid. However, in some places, electricity from the grid may not always be available, especially in areas with weak and intermittent grids. A lot of mines also operate in remote areas far away from the grid and hence are fully off grid. In both cases, mining companies generally have a fleet of large fossil fueled generators to ensure power uptime and therefore mining companies often have a large diesel/heavy fuel oil bill as well.
Technological advancements in the renewable energy sector in areas such as intelligent controllers to ensure seamless integration of solar PV, battery storage, grid and fossil fuel generators, as well as a proven track record of performance from some active hybrid sites around the world, are giving mining companies the confidence to adopt solar PV and more recently, large scale battery storage in their operations. The other main driver of this adoption is the significant operational cost reduction derived from adding these technologies to their operations, aided by the drastic drop in prices of solar panels and batteries over the past ten years. This has made it possible for these technologies to be competitive with traditional sources.
JUWI South Africa, part of the international JUWI Group, which develops solar, wind, and hybrid renewable energy solutions, says more mining companies in Africa and around the world are transitioning to renewable energy to take advantage of the benefits these technologies provide.
According to Richard Doyle, Managing Director, JUWI South Africa, “this increased adoption of renewables in the mining sector is being driven by several benefits including reduced operational costs, price security (hedging of long-term energy price), increased energy reliability, and reduced emissions and environmental impact as mining firms have increasingly stringent ESG targets to meet.” For grid-tied solar PV projects without battery storage, utility-scale renewable energy is now much cheaper than conventional fossil-fuel based energy supplied by the grid.
Doyle says regulatory environments globally are also maturing to complement the inevitable and necessary adoption of these technologies. He says that it is now possible for mines to get a significant percentage (50% – 80% if wind and PV are deployed) of their electricity from renewable energy plants, either on-site, or wheeled through the electricity network, at lower cost than grid-supplied energy. Mining companies do not have to fund the capital for these projects, as a large number of reputable Independent Power Producers are now available to fund the plants and sell electricity to the mine.
The African market for large-scale private and public renewable energy projects is growing rapidly in response to these factors. Based in Cape Town, JUWI South Africa has constructed and is operating over 400 MW of solar PV projects across South Africa, including projects in various rounds of the South African Government’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme. The company provides project development, permitting and licensing, engineering, procurement, construction, and operations and maintenance (O&M) services, and has around 1 GW of utility scale projects in various stages of development for private energy users and mining companies.
A recent example of one of the large mining projects in South Africa is the 10 MW Pan Africa Resources Elikhulu solar renewable energy plant developed by JUWI for PAR’s Evander gold operations. This was the first embedded generation project of this scale to receive full grid code compliance from Eskom, South Africa’s national utility. When the Elikhulu plant was initiated by PAR, the licensing threshold was 10 MW — this means that only embedded generation projects up to 10 MW could be connected to the grid. With the further recent increase of the licensing threshold to 100 MW, the mining company plans to expand the solar plant’s output by a further 22 MW in 2023 to continue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve efficiencies which will reduce the cost of gold production.
Here is a summary of the Elikhulu plant:
- The solar PV plant is providing an estimated 30% of Elikhulu’s power requirement and materially reduces electricity costs.
- It comprises 26,640 solar modules over 20.1 Ha.
- It was built at a cost of R150 million, with cost savings estimated at R100,000 a day, and at current electricity tariffs, payback is anticipated in less than five years.
- It is expected to lead to reduced use of fossil fuel-generated power consumption with an expected reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of about 26,000 t/y, contributing to an estimated 5% reduction in group emissions
Globally, the JUWI Group has installed over 6,500 megawatts of renewables. The company has developed 20 hybrid (renewables with battery) projects globally with a total capacity of 170 MW (130 MW solar + 35 MW wind).
Elikhulu solar plant images courtesy of JUWI
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