B2Gold is moving forward with a landmark solar project which has significant bottom line and social license benefits for this leading gold producer. The 7 MW solar power plant is currently being installed at the company’s Otjikoto mine in Namibia with the aim of reducing the operation’s reliance on heavy fuel oil.
“We carried out a lot of financial modelling and have a quick [project] payback,” says Mark Dawe, Managing Director and Country Manager for B2Gold Namibia. Otjikoto mine will be producing for approximately ten years and the project has a payback of 4.3 years. But apart from the fuel savings, one of the most attractive financial benefits for management is reducing the mine’s exposure to oil price volatility, Dawe adds.
Having worked in Namibia for 30 years where he twice served as President for the Namibian Chamber of Mines, Dawe is well acquainted with the power cost and supply issues local mines face. “The energy challenge is not as severe as two or three years ago because a lot of our power is imported from South Africa and, whereas in the past they weren’t investing in power plants and alternative energy, South Africa now has an excess of energy, mainly generated from green power initiatives,” says Dawe. “For now, power constraints have eased for local mines, but energy remains very expensive.”
With the second best solar resource in the world, alternative energy makes good business sense for Namibian mines and B2Gold’s project will undoubtedly become a model for others in the region. The mine is initially moving forward with a 7 MW solar plant for which Barloworld Power, a Caterpillar distributor, is providing the engineering, procurement and construction. The microgrid system including solar modules and a microgrid controller will be supplied by Cat Microgrid Solutions, a division of Caterpillar.
The company may explore the option of linking the mine to the grid and in order to use grid electricity at night. “There is a possibility of installing storage capacity as well,” adds Dawe. “We need very constant power and the intention will be to use off-peak tariffs at night and, during the day, solar power will be used combined with heavy-fuel oil. It will be the first large-scale three-way hybrid plant in the world.”
The project is also viewed as contributing significantly to the mine’s corporate social responsibility initiatives. Specifically, the project may continue to provide power to local communities after the mine has shutdown.
Additionally, B2Gold is planning to assist in the creation of a new national park and may use the proceeds from the solar project to support the park and other CSR initiatives. This is seen by B2Gold as a novel way of ensuring that the company’s CSR activities continue long after the mine has been depleted. “This contribution alone will actually provide a massive contribution to the environment and the communities that depend on it,” Dawe comments.
Looking forward, Dawe sees a bright future for solar for mines, especially in combination with energy storage. “Battery technology is fast becoming viable and this will allow companies to remain island producers,” he predicts.
Indeed, the Otjikoto solar project may incorporate battery technology in the future which would further reduce the operation’s reliance on heavy fuel oil. “The important thing is the spinning reserve on our engines,” comments Dawe. “If you can incorporate battery storage to overcome dips in the solar power supply as a result of a rainstorm or a cloud that comes past, you don’t need to keep engines running to maintain a minimum spinning reserve. This alone will result in huge fuel savings as you can shut the engines down and rely on the batteries when the solar power lags behind the [power] demand.”
Editors Note: Mark Dawe will be presenting on this project at the Energy and Mines World Congress, November 27-28, Toronto