The key drivers of an increased uptake of renewable and alternative energy sources by mines in Africa are an increasing oil price and the steadily decreasing price of renewable technologies, claims renewable-energy supply company juwi Renewable Energies.
This drive for renewable energy corresponds to the drive by mines to reduce their blended levelled cost of electricity measured across different sources of energy generators, says juwi Renewable Energies CEO Greg Austin.
“Mines will typically have on-site diesel or heavy fuel oil-derived electricity at or above about $0.20. In many instances and, depending primarily on the remaining life of the mine, solar PV can produce electricity at less than $0.15.”
Having more affordable, cleaner production of energy is a “big win” for mines, as it not only saves money but also helps them meet their targets that focus on being environmentally sustainable, claims Austin.
Consequently, he notes a significant swing from mines towards the adoption of renewable energy, particularly in terms of solar, in Africa, in conjunction with fossil fuels and energy storage systems.
However, among the main challenges to implementing renewable energy at mines in Africa are the regulatory and operational challenges, states Austin.
“Regulatory obstacles include require- ments to have certain local-content requirements.” This is challenging, as not all African countries have the means or factories to produce, for example, solar modules, he points out.
The requirement to have a solar project that uses solar modules that are 100% locally produced, can, unintentionally, block investment in energy solutions, Austin adds. Meanwhile, batteries are becoming a viable option.
“We are seeing a fast reduction in the energy density, or the physical size of batteries, in relation to the energy they can deliver, as well as the cost,” Austin enthuses.
Further, there has been significant development work on the control technologies, control software, and integration systems that integrate different generation technologies, batteries and the grid.
Mines are also exploring the reuse of brownfield developments that are being used as mine dumps, and repurpose the “otherwise ‘useless’ land for power production”, Austin states. Such options are being explored in Australia.
The advent of redeployable solar photo- voltaic systems is another technical advancement that is gaining traction in the mining power sector. For mines that have shorter life spans, less than seven years, however, investment in renewable power production is not viable.
“A solar system deployed at a mine, if it is movable, can be redeployed for a different offtaker under a different business case – and this makes the combined opportunity [for mining and renewable power investment] interesting,” he concludes.