B2Gold’s Fekola mine in Mali ranks as one of the biggest gold mines in Africa, producing around 600 000 oz of gold in 2020.

It is powered primarily by three Heavy Fuel Oil generators but these will soon be supplemented by 36 MW of solar power.

This article first appeared in Mining Elites in Africa 2021
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The solar project, which will include a significant battery storage component of 17 MW, is costing approximately US$38 million and will result in one of the largest off-grid hybrid solar/HFO plants in the world.

“Very impressive technology and scale.” – Andrew van Zyl

When B2Gold announced last year (2019) that the project had been approved, it said the new installation – which will have over 92 000 solar panels and more than 1 100 trackers –would allow the HFO generators to be shut down during daylight hours, resulting in a saving of just over 13 million litres of HFO per year and a reduction in processing costs of approximately 7%.

“92 000 solar panels in Mali! State of the art solar forecasting to ensure stable power supply.” – Marcus Courage

Among the companies contributing to the project are Suntrace and its partner BayWa r.e, which have been contracted to assist B2Gold during the implementation phase with detailed engineering, procurement support and support during construction and commissioning.

The Finnish technology group Wärtsilä has been selected to design and engineer the cutting-edge storage system which will be based on the company’s GEMS energy management solution, now in its sixth generation. The GEMS technology will not only control the energy storage system but the 36 MW solar plant.

In addition, it will continuously optimise energy production for the entire mine to ensure the lowest Levelised Cost of Electricity (LCOE) while at the same time securing grid stability and maximising uptime.

Solar forecasting is an important aspect of the project and this service will be provided by French company Reuniwatt. The forecasting system will continuously provide forecasts of the solar plant’s power output using data from a locally installed high-class sky camera and advanced satellite-to-irradiance technology.

The sky camera will be able to forecast sudden drops in solar radiation, allowing actions to be taken to ensure a stable power supply.

B2Gold was planning to have the solar project commissioned in Q3, 2020 but the project was delayed by a few months as a result of COVID-19.

Remobilisation of the solar plant construction group began in mid-September 2020 (following a temporary suspension of construction activities in April 2020 due to COVID-19) and will continue to ramp up as camp space becomes available.

The target date for completion of the solar plant is the end of the first quarter of 2021.

The new hybrid plant at Fekola will be B2Gold’s second in Africa. In 2018 the company commissioned a 7 MW solar plant in Namibia, which it described at the time as “one of the first fully autonomous hybrid plants in the world.”