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Solar price signifies renewables’ viability

With solar, you are able to create resilient plans because the sun will be highly predictable over the next 20 to 25 years

DOMINIC JOSÉ GONCALVES With solar, you are able to create resilient plans because the sun will be highly predictable over the next 20 to 25 years

14th February 2020

By: Mamaili Mamaila



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Although renewables were perceived as expensive a decade ago, the same cannot be said today, says energy company Abengoa.

The sentiment that renewable energy is unreliable and provides power only intermittently – when the sun shines or when the wind blows – has also since changed, says Abengoa South Africa business development VP Dominic José Goncalves.

He tells Mining Weekly that, in the past eleven years, the price per kilowatt of solar energy has dropped by about 90% and has now become the cheapest form of energy for many mining locations.

Moreover, battery storage prices have also dropped by about 85% during the same period, but their reliability has increased.

These very rapid technological changes – resulting in decreases in costs, while enhancing reliability and effectiveness – “basically mean that solar power coupled with battery storage has become in many locations the cheapest and most reliable energy solution for mines”.

By incorporating renewables, mines can reduce fuel expenditure while reducing emissions, he avers.

“Renewables are making a huge difference for many mines, specifically those with isolated grids or in isolated locations, where the cost of fuel or electricity is typically quite high and there can be logistics challenges and cost fluctuations for getting the fuel there.”

Citing the “many mines globally that are starting to use solar”, he suggests that the swift adoption of renewables in the sector can be attributed to a sharp reduction in cost, as well as the ever-increasing pressure on mining companies from funders and key stakeholders to reduce carbon emissions.

“If you couple solar with batteries and consider incorporating wind, you can achieve up to about 60% renewables penetration. This means that you can reduce your operational costs and fuel consumption considerably.”

Further, in addition to what is considered “traditional renewable-energy technology”, some mines are considering emerging low carbon technologies, with some already at an early adoption stage.

Goncalves notes that these emerging technologies include hydrogen as an emission-free fuel, produced by renewable sources such as solar and wind. This clean hydrogen can then be stored to generate power when required.

Consequently, the company has adapted its concentrated solar power technology, of which it has installed 1.7 GW globally, to produce high-temperature solar process heat for industrial and mining applications. With many mines requiring high-temperature processed heat and steam, Goncalves highlights that this type of solar technology can produce heat in the range of 200 ºC to 600 ºC.

“That high-temperature thermal heat can be used in mining locations instead of using fossil fuels, such as diesel, to produce heat or steam. It essentially cuts out a few stages in that process by using concentrated sunlight directly. Furthermore, we have reached 17 hours of thermal energy storage using this technology, meaning it can provide 24/7 production.

“Many mining applications require significant quantities of heat and steam, and this technology is able to provide that thermal energy using renewables, even through the night, at a competitive levelised cost of heat,” he enthuses. “The technology can therefore provide industrial decarbonisation at an affordable cost.”

Goncalves points out that South Africa has adequate resources for solar and wind. He states that solar, specifically, offers a “simpler and more reliable solution” for mines, which leads to savings in fuel and associated costs.

“However, mines will still require backup fuel for redundancy,” he warns, adding that mines will, nevertheless, be able to reduce the rate at which they are running their engines by replacing them with 60% renewables. “Hybridising solar and batteries with engines has therefore become a competitive solution for mines globally.”

Goncalves stresses that this approach is not only crucial but also sustainable, especially in the South African context where there is frequent load-shedding.

Goncalves concludes that renewables and clean energy can improve a mine’s bottom line and the reliability of its energy supply, as well as reduce its emissions – a key message that Abengoa would like to promote.

Edited by Nadine James
Features Deputy Editor



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