African mining companies and investors have expressed increasing interest in hybrid energy solutions that show the potential to address off-peak demand challenges, says engineering consultant WSP Africa power director Dinesh Buldoo, who expects this trend to continue.
“We have seen several hybrid energy projects in different African countries coming through the pipeline over the past several years, with significant investor and developer interest in renewable-energy projects.”
Hybrid energy solutions have proven particularly popular in the mining industry, as they aim to reduce the risk of grid power interruptions and the resulting expense caused by the associated loss of productivity.
Buldoo believes that the policy and legislative environment in the African energy sector is continuingly maturing and, as a result, leaders in government and the mining sectors on the continent are realising the potential and return on investment that renewable power will have in the medium and long term. “Microgeneration and hybrid solutions have a key role to play in powering African mines in the future.”
Buldoo points out that the energy-intensive mining sector faces a set of surmountable power generation and supply challenges. Not least of all is the potential shortfall in available grid-based power supply, which adds another layer of complexity for any mining house with a long-term view and strategy. Added to this, as mine sites are often in very remote locations, this frequently also means less certainty when it comes to access to a stable connection to the power grid.
Owing to this uncertainty and the potential shortfall of grid-based energy supply mining houses have become dependent on on-site diesel-generated power to supplement their electricity requirements. However, diesel fuel is not easily available in many African countries and needs to be imported, severely impacting on mine productivity, costs and downtime when there are delays.
Mines aiming to proactively address the potential shortfall of available grid power “will have to make capital investments in off-grid and standalone power-generation solutions that will power their operations when grid power supplies are not available”, says Buldoo.
Therefore, the mining industry has shown interest in hybrid energy solutions, especially those incorporating alternative- energy sources, such as wind, solar or gas, that have the ability to supply efficient and consistent power to supplement industry needs. Hybrid solutions also offset fluctuating costs and risks linked with a mining company’s reliance on and access to diesel by providing a more reliable supplement such as wind-generated energy.
The adoption of renewable energy in Africa is admittedly still in its infancy, but WSP Africa has noticed a dramatic increase in planning for and investment in hybrid energy projects by mines throughout Africa, states Buldoo.
In addition, hybrid solutions that use renewable energy make a positive contribution to carbon reduction efforts in mining operations. This has become a factor of growing concern for the mining industry, as global focus on corporate responsibility reporting, carbon taxes and rising social consciousness on the negative impact of greenhouse-gas emissions has intensified in recent years.
Buldoo emphasises that the expertise to implement hybrid solutions exist on the African continent – where WSP has been involved in grid tied and non-grid tied hybrid power applications. He stresses that it will be the responsibility of mining companies to reinvest in hybrid energy solutions, which will not only drive operational efficiency but also positively contribute to meeting stakeholder commitments.