Alternative energy resources, such as natural gas, solar photovoltaic, wind, biomass and energy storage, will play an increasingly important role in Africa’s energy future and particularly for mines, states global engineering, procurement, construction and consulting company Black & Veatch.
There is a growing global trend of decarbonisation and enhanced energy efficiency and, as a result, energy efficiency efforts are gaining traction in the mining industry. This is owing to the demand for bottom-line cost reduction goals and environmental targets, says Black & Veatch sub-Saharan Africa regional director Joseph Mahendran.
In Australia, Canada and Chile, natural gas solutions are being explored, while large mining companies in West and Southern Africa are examining the potential of solar power, he explains.
Black & Veatch is also noting advances in power technologies that will offer more options and flexibility for on-site generation using natural gas, renewables and microgrids, Black & Veatch mining business chief technical officer Dennis Gibson tells Mining Weekly.
“There are innovative transmission and distribution projects, as well as power-pooling opportunities, of which the latter can dramatically reshape and enhance regional power markets.”
However, renewable integration in the mining sector is still in “the early stages”, he acknowledges.
“Renewable-energy options are not fully replacing traditional fuels, as reliable baseload fossil fuel power generation remains critical to the industry’s success, particularly with many mines being in remote areas,” Gibson points out.
Meanwhile, energy storage is also coming to the fore regarding alternative energy sources, as it is an important consideration when exploring the viability of renewable-energy sources for heavy industry, he maintains.
Electricity constraints and water shortages are prevalent across Africa and, as these critical resources comprise a significant portion of a mine’s budget, in some cases up to 40%, mining companies recognise the need to use water and energy more efficiently, Gibson highlights.
However, investment in power and water efficiency methods remains a challenge, as the end of the commodity supercycle continues to impact on operators’ balance sheets, and “it can be difficult to overcome historically successful business practices that rely on fossil fuel power, particularly in environments with limited capital resources”, he adds.
Further, policy uncertainty in certain countries, such as South Africa, remains a challenge to investment, as payback periods are calculated in decades, Mahendran points out. “In South Africa, legislation, such as the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act Amendment Bill and the Mining Charter, have been evolving over the past three years without a clear path towards implementation,” he highlights.
Policy uncertainty impacts on mining investment as investors are reluctant to invest, owing to the uncertainty and are less likely to invest in new renewable-energy sources and will continue to use sources that are in place.
The stance of various governments throughout Africa towards establishing and maintaining investment-friendly environments will significantly impact on the pace and trajectory of mining’s growth throughout the region, Mahendran claims.
Coupled with the continuing decline in prices of renewable energy and energy storage, “we expect it will transform the profile of electricity solutions in the mining business over the next decade”, he concludes.