ALASTAIRE DICK of Carbon War Room’s Sunshine For Mines will be speaking at Energy Revolution Africa, a co-located event to African Utility Week, on the business case for clean energy in global mining. Here, he goes into detail on just how such large power users can benefit by going green.

Carbon War Room enjoys the high-level entrepreneurial and market-facing attributes of co founder Richard Branson, while scoring from the scientific depth of the Rocky Mountain Institute. Combined into a global ‘think-and-do tank’, the initiative’s independent non-profit status opens doors into mining and allows a focus on a joint carbon-reduction goal.

Mining firms of today face multiple challenges, from falling commodity prices and ore qualities, fossil-fuel dependence and rising energy costs, to the need to operate in ever-more remote areas and growing pressure to operate sustainably. Efficiency measures have been pursued at numerous mines around the world, yet few companies have invested in on- or off -site renewable generation to improve energy security and lower their carbon footprint.

Renewables installed to date by the mining sector total 943 MW – a good start, but we are eager to see the industry cross the 1 GW threshold later this year on its way to truly rethinking energy use in a major way. At Sunshine For Mines, our strategy is to break down the market barriers that have made renewables integration challenging – with the goal of gaining exponential growth to at least 8 GW of power by 2025.

Energy costs in the industry can range from 22% of operational costs for some gold mines, to as much as 40% of operational costs for more remote sites. Additionally, traditional diesel and fossil-based electricity procurement is exposed to fuel-related price shocks, supply risk and negative consequences for surrounding communities. While mines have traditionally enjoyed resilient access to electricity, energy security is at risk in the 21st century. In tandem with this, the global emphasis on carbon reduction and dramatic drops in renewable costs are enabling new energy strategies.

Mine operators have the opportunity to think differently about energy today. The business case for renewables integration offers the chance to reduce energy spend, provide greater price certainty, reduce carbon footprint, plan long-term and gain the approval of local communities. Sunshine For Mines is aware of the need for more global price points on renewables integration to build the business case for scaling technologies like wind or solar power; while it is also intent on convincing mining companies to look beyond producing commodities and to envisage the potential of renewables to improve their bottom line.

All mining operations are unique – an optimised renewable energy solution considers the available power infrastructure, future mine growth and closure requirements, as well as social licence for a tailored energy strategy. For now, renewables penetration of between 15 and 40% is already cost competitive with fossil fuel prices, with this percentage expected to grow as renewables and energy-storage costs steadily reduce.

At Energy Revolution Africa and African Utility Week, I hope to open minds to the business case for renewables and to break down barriers to its implementation and scaling. Shifts in the energy sector are coming into alignment with the needs of the mining industry. Thanks to massive cost reductions, the technology for renewables has become viable over the past 10 years. In fact, I suspect that in another decade or less, most mining operations will take renewable energy and its storage technology for granted.

Mines of the future will take a systems approach to maximising operational efficiencies and leveraging technology. Operational changes will embrace extreme energy effi ciency that take full advantage of the sun, while fully electrified haul fleets, hydrogen and fuel-cell technologies – even drone-based asset inspection services – are distinct possibilities. Let your imagination soar…

Large-scale mining also has the potential to play a critical role in reaching the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)2. Governments can assist by streamlining environmental approvals, while utilities can support by anticipating how renewables will offset their supply.

In collaboration with the Rocky Mountain Institute and Carbon War Room, Sunshine For Mines seeks to rapidly accelerate the penetration of cost-effective renewables into mining – reaching a global penetration of 15% by 2025, where adopting mines are generating more than 35% of their energy from renewables.

Environmental benefits will include a lower carbon footprint, reduced water consumption, lowered air pollution and reduced dust. Multifaceted economic benefits will be there for the taking, with renewables reducing in cost each year.

Additionally, energy-storage costs are going down and, together with solar, can off er 24/7 power at prices competitive with diesel. Renewables can also provide long term price certainty through contracts with independent power producers. On the social front, communities will benefit through job creation and skills training, social upliftment and availability of excess power for local initiatives; consequently, improved social licence will be achieved for each mine.

Once the market has seen suffi cient pilot examples that prove the economics and feasibility, the industry will certainly see a ripple effect. We are working hard with pioneer mines by offering high-level feasibility screenings at low cost and portfolio analyses for selected players that prove the business case detailed above. It’s early days, yet this opportunity is too good to pass up – for better economics, improved social standing and, of course, the critical need for major carbon reduction in mining.

Feature Image Source: Goldfields