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Miners increasingly focusing on green energy

An image of SRK Consulting South Africa MD and principal consultant Andrew van Zyl

ANDREW VAN ZYL There is growing optimism surrounding the adoption of renewable-energy sources across Africa

14th July 2023

By: Donna Slater

Features Deputy Editor and Chief Photographer

     

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Miners operating in Africa are increasingly shifting their focus towards improving their environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices, including endeavours to incorporate renewable-energy solutions into projects and operations, says independent international consultancy SRK Consulting South Africa MD and principal consultant Andrew van Zyl.

SRK clients and mining companies are increasingly recognising the importance of sustainable operations and are, as such, actively seeking ways of enhancing their ESG performance – a shift that signifies a notable achievement as a broader commitment to responsible mining practices and the reduction of environmental impacts.

Having attended the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Mining Week, held earlier last month, in Lubumbashi, Van Zyl adds that renewable-energy solutions, such as solar and hydro power, were highlighted as viable alternatives to conventional energy sources for mines in the region, and that there was a focus on their potential to contribute to a greener and more sustainable mining sector.

“The integration of renewables into mining operations marks a significant achievement, as it not only reduces greenhouse-gas emissions but also enhances energy efficiency and reduces operational costs in the long run.”

He notes the growing optimism surrounding the adoption of renewable-energy sources across Africa, with green energy solutions, such as solar, hydro and wind power, being increasingly recognised as preferable solutions based on their improved availability and cost effectiveness, as well as their efficient delivery and installation processes, surpassing the capabilities of conventional alternatives.

“A key achievement thus far has been the successful integration of various renewable-energy sources into Africa's energy mix. “Hydroelectric power, with its long-standing presence on the continent, has played a pivotal role in supplying clean energy . . . solar power has emerged as a standout renewable-energy solution, presenting great potential for widespread adoption in Africa.”

Further, Van Zyl avers that, with the global energy transition gathering pace, it is “imperative” that African mining keeps up with the rapidly growing demand for commodities to responsibly develop Africa’s economies and avoid the negative impact of market imbalances.

“It is clear that several key energy technologies are mineral intensive and demand considerably higher production levels of many commodities.”

However, while mining countries could reap the benefits of this demand, there can also be negative impacts from failing to do so or doing so without implementing best practice, he notes.

“There is likely to be considerable price volatility from rapid changes in demand, but mineral-producing countries would be shielded, to some extent, from this.

“Ensuring an adequate supply of minerals would need all mining’s stakeholders to understand the importance of constructive engagement, to create a conducive environment for mining’s growth.”

As an “indispensable” element in the global energy transition, mining is steadily finding solutions that could pave the way to improved production and a lower carbon footprint: “In South Africa, it is important that the sector leverages and protects those resources that we have in abundance, such as our sunlight, human talent and biodiversity,” Van Zyl adds.

Legalities

Permitting processes and the effectiveness of local content requirements “garnered significant attention and scrutiny” during the DRC Mining Week, says Van Zyl.

In terms of meeting international mining standards, African mining companies show a mixed performance, with some companies keeping up with international standards, while others lag behind, he adds.

“Tier 1 companies, which typically include larger and more established mining companies, are making significant strides and are increasingly aligning themselves with international standards. Many of these companies, and our clients, are actively pursuing certifications, such as the Copper Mark, which sets a benchmark for responsible copper production.”

However, Tier 2 companies, often including smaller or less-established mining operations, “have some ground to cover” to meet international standards, states Van Zyl.

While there has been noticeable improvement in the Tier 2 segment, such operators still face challenges in various areas and have to catch up with their Tier 1 counterparts.

Nonetheless, some areas where African mining companies are performing well include implementing environmental management systems and conservation practices, adopting more sustainable mining techniques, and engaging with local communities to mitigate social impacts, he adds.

Van Zyl also points out that many mining companies have made progress in implementing health and safety measures to ensure the wellbeing of their workforce, thereby decreasing fatalities and injuries.

However, some African mining companies still face challenges and need to improve in certain areas such as labour practices pertaining to ensuring fair wages, safe working conditions and respecting workers’ rights.

“Additionally, transparency and governance practices, including reporting and adherence to anticorruption measures, are areas that require attention and improvement,” concludes Van Zyl.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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