One of the main topics of discussion at the recent 2017 Mining Indaba revolved around power supply to mines on the continent. With official power distribution grids only covering around 40% of Africa, a substantial number of mining operations are responsible for their own power generation, says fast-track mobile turbine power provider APR Energy Africa spokesperson Colm Quinn.
He points out that even mines located within reach of national power grids do not always enjoy access to reliable electricity. “In some parts of Africa, ageing infrastructure causes unexpected outages. In other parts of the continent, such as hydropower-reliant countries in drought-stricken sub-Saharan Africa, power utilities have been forced to cut power to mines to ensure adequate electricity supplies for residential customers.”
Quinn notes that, in Zambia, for example, government cut power supplies to some of its larger mines by between 20% and 40%, in 2016. He adds that Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo are some of the additional countries where mines report inadequate supply from the grid to run their operations.
Quinn comments that, in response, many mining companies are looking to become self-reliant when it comes to power generation. “The problem here is that mining, not power generation, is their core competence,” he highlights.
Quinn says that by farming out electricity generation to a fast-track power provider – which is a company with mobile power plants that can be transported, installed and operational anywhere in the world in 30 to 90 days – mining companies can eliminate a variety of challenges that take resources away from their core focus of extracting minerals.
Moreover, he remarks that topping the list of challenges that are avoided by taking these measures, is the need to invest large amounts of capital or secure long-term financing to build a permanent power plant.
Quinn elaborates that fast-track power generation is treated as a monthly operating expense that includes a fixed cost for access to the generating capacity and a variable cost for the power consumed. He points out that there is no large-scale, long-term commitment, other than providing the land for the generating equipment and the fuel to run the power plant.
Quinn notes that the hiring and managing personnel to run the power plant is another potential challenge that mining companies sidestep by outsourcing their power generation. “At APR Energy, we provide full staffing to install, operate and maintain our plants, by typically hiring and training up to 70% of our employees from the local community.”
Moreover, he states that, given the growing number of power providers in the generation sphere, it is important for a mine to look for certain important characteristics in a service provider.
Quinn says that scalability should be high on the client’s list of priorities, since all mining operations have a need to be able to scale production up or down depending on where they are in the exploration, development or production cycle. He comments that a power provider with a modular approach to its generation capacity and a large fleet of equipment is therefore vital.
Quinn remarks that the power provider’s ability to offer current technology should also be thoroughly investigated, since outdated generating equipment can be less efficient – not to mention less reliable – resulting in higher fuel consumption and generation costs. He says that newer equipment also offers reduced carbon emissions, which is an increasingly important consideration for mining companies looking to improve their community social responsibility standings.
“Lastly, the speed of deployment is paramount and service providers with a successful track record of delivering reliable fast-track power generation are indeed harder to find,” Quinn concludes.