South Africa’s Gold fields miners turn to solar energy – Miners in South Africa have started to turn to solar energy to power their operations as the cost of renewable energy has fallen sharply in recent years. The move could help reduce the country’s reliance on coal-fired power plants, which generate most of its electricity.
Gold Fields is the latest South African miner to join a stampede to cut its exposure to Eskom by turning to solar energy, as the state-run utility lurches from one crisis to the next. The new solar power plant at Gold Fields’ South Deep mine near Johannesburg, will supply 24% of its electricity, the South African miner said on Thursday, adding they are also exploring wind power.
The South African gold industry, the world’s fifth largest, is under pressure to cut emissions as the government prepares to sign the Paris climate accord this year. The switch to solar will help Gold Fields cut its carbon emissions by 4%, or around 40,000 tonnes a year, the company said.
Mining companies in South Africa face an uphill struggle to deliver on emissions reduction targets set by the government as the majority of the electricity they source is from coal-generated power stations.
As electricity accounts for a large portion of a mining company’s carbon emissions and annual costs, this puts them at a disadvantage in comparison to their international counterparts.
Coal-fired power stations are the biggest contributors to South Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions – accounting for over 80% of the total. And as the country’s leading producer of coal, the mining sector is a major contributor to these emissions. In fact, 10% of South Deep’s carbon emissions come from electricity consumption.
Eskom, South Africa’s state-owned power utility, is the continent’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. It is also one of the world’s most indebted utilities, with nearly $30 billion in debt. In spite of this, Eskom continues to pursue an aggressive coal expansion program.
Eskom’s coal-fired power plants are a major contributor to air pollution and climate change in South Africa. They also place a heavy burden on the country’s water resources. In addition, the utility’s coal mines are a major source of water pollution.
Investing in renewables is one way miners can cut emissions and save money on power. In South Africa, wind and solar energy are becoming increasingly cost-competitive with coal. For example, the cost of new solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity in South Africa is now below the cost of new coal-fired capacity.
The start of operations of the vast solar plant at Gold Fields’ South Deep mine is a milestone not only for the company, but for South Africa as a whole. It reinforces our commitment to sustainable practices and contributes to a very important global conversation about how we can all play our part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The solar plant, which is the largest of its kind in Africa, will generate enough electricity to power all of the operations at the mine. This is the equivalent of taking approximately 30 000 cars off the road each year.
I am extremely proud of what we have achieved and I believe that this project sets a strong precedent for other businesses to follow.
The solar plant will generate 103 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity a year, about a quarter of the mine’s annual power usage, and a Gold Fields executive said the mine has contacted Eskom about selling surplus power back into the grid.
Construction of the $400 million solar plant, which is being built by a consortium of Saudi Arabian, South African and U.S. companies, is expected to start in the first quarter of 2019 and be completed by early 2020.
“If there’s enough people doing 50 and 100 megawatt plants around the country, you can add five gigawatts of power into the system and there’s less loadshedding,” said Martin Preece, Gold Fields’ executive vice president for South Africa.
“We want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem,” said Preece who, like a rising number of South Africans, avoids blackouts at home thanks to solar power.
As the world progresses, our reliance on non-renewable energy sources must come to an end. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that South Deep is also eyeing wind power, having started the environmental permitting process for a wind farm.
The wind farm, which would be located in the Northern Cape province of South Africa, would have the capacity to generate up to 100 megawatts of power – enough to power around 80,000 homes.
South Deep is already a leader in sustainable energy, having invested in a solar photovoltaic plant in 2016. The wind farm would help to further reduce our reliance on coal and other fossil fuels, and would contribute to a cleaner, greener future for all.
The solar plant should hit its generation peak of 50 megawatts within the next six weeks, Preece said. The start of the summer rains will help, washing off a layer of orange dust the panels have collected over a long dry winter.
Preece said the plant will eventually have more than 80,000 panels, making it one of the largest solar farms in the world.