According to the World Economic Forum, the significant and on-going increases in energy costs are among the top five concerns of major global enterprise CEOs and MDs – especially in the mining sector which is one of the most intensive energy consumers on the planet. Although energy efficiency measures have already been implemented in the sector, energy optimisation experts Ensight Energy Solutions believe they can further save at least 10% of its energy costs without additional capital requirements, which not only adds profits to the bottom line but can potentially increase production throughput and efficiency as well, writes LAURA CORNISH.

The South African government has agreed to adopt the Paris Agreement/Accord on climate change which stipulates that the country must become a zero gas emission region by 2050. And while this may still be 30 years away, it is necessary to start adopting practices to work towards achieving this now.

The mining industry is however suffering the aftermath of a major recession which has heavily squeezed profit margins. Consequently, it remains focused on its primary objective – operational efficiency and production throughput. But Ensight Energy Solutions CEO Francis Barram highlights that his company is able to improve energy productivity without massive, or in fact any, capital investment. “Environmental responsibility is not a costly exercise if approached correctly,” he emphasises. “If your approach is based on economic performance from the outset, then implementing energy-saving projects can in fact save you money.”

Barram has specialised in energy cost saving initiatives for more than 20 years and established Ensight Energy Solutions in 2012 to focus on the industrial sector in South Africa. The company has achieved numerous successes over the past five years and has saved R550 million for its client base. The CEO attributes the company’s successes to its business model and approach which focuses on improving bottom line profits while simultaneously contributing towards improved environmental footprints.

An unconventional approach

Ensight Energy Solutions’ approach is generally considered unconventional – because it focuses on rands and cents and because it is able to “reveal” hidden opportunities that require no capital for noticeable financial savings to materialise, creating a power business case to act.

“From the offset we look within our clients’ businesses to find a champion: someone that is keen to explore alternative approaches to achieve profit increases through energy cost savings and who understands that there is always room for improvement. This person must be willing to embrace our vision and be a driving force behind change,” Barram explains.

The next step sees an Ensight team of experts spending a week on site to understand the operation and devising a strategy to achieve its energy-saving goals – functioning as a third party catalyst that looks at operational performance from an outsider’s perspective.

We know that the time spent on such initiatives and the savings achieved must be worth the effort and we aim for a minimum of 10% savings.”

A three-step action plan is required to reach this stage and involves a Desktop Review to identify the potential ‘prize’. A Diagnostic Review follows from this: it takes the findings of the desktop review and filters the list of conceptual energy-saving opportunities with the aim of defining the specific scope of work to be undertaken in the execution phase of an Energy Leadership Program (ELP).

The ELP focuses on a whole-of-site energy transformation programme. Project execution is supported by a close working partnership between Ensight’s multidisciplinary team of engineers and client staff. The programme is underpinned by business cases backed up by high quality financial analysis to reveal previously unaccounted for energy system losses and water waste. This leads to the elegant redesign of industrial energy systems to deliver energy services essential to cost efficient business operation at lower costs. “Simply put, opinion-based engineering does not work. Our approach is based on proven facts and figures that will deliver results. Nonetheless, it still requires adoption by all stakeholders to work.”

Importantly, Ensight’s business model is also based on success – and it only shares in the cost savings achieved (around 20% for large-scale users) once the projects it has implemented deliver, which can take between six and 12 months.

Beyond energy efficiency

In addition to evaluating energy efficiency initiatives, Ensight is looking to commercialise some of its initiatives. For example, it has been assigned the right to purchase Richards Bay Minerals’ waste gas which it is looking to sell and distribute to other end users in the area.

Barram is also a big fan of biomass to methane gas projects – noting that a 1 200 ha bamboo farm can produce 67 MW of thermal power and offers the additional benefit of job creation for local communities and residents and substantial greenhouse gas emissions savings. The company is working with Richards Bay Minerals to deliver such a project and is actively investigating biofuel initiatives (for mines specifically) in conjunction with the University of Cape Town.

Another carbon footprint reducing option Barram is highly in favour of is using high density CNG (compressed natural gas), as opposed to diesel, to power vehicles.

This can reduce on site emissions by 27% and diesel costs by around 20%. Some heavy vehicles used in the coal mining sector in Australia have already been converted to CNG, with astounding energy and cost savings results.

“And one should not underestimate the potential water savings and production efficiencies that often result naturally from the implementation of our projects.”

The proof is in the pudding

Ensight’s clients include Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), Chevron, Rio Tinto, Santos, BHP, Palabora Mining Company, Richards Bay Minerals and Energy Resources Australia.

“We have already proved we can deliver on our promises and save substantial volumes of cash while taking better care of the environment,” Barram reiterates.

One of the company’s first successes was with Richards Bay Minerals, where energy saving interventions implemented by their team were able to save the mining company R274 million from inception to date. Through one project alone, devised to control slurry density, they achieved energy savings of 88 395 MWh which equates to R56 million and water savings of 3 646 Mℓ.

Furthermore, throughput increased by 20% and maintenance breakdowns decreased by 50%. It also saved 164 000 t of greenhouse gas emissions.

Ensight has saved about R50 million in energy costs across Amplats smelter operations in South Africa and continues to deliver energy solutions resulting in cost and carbon emission reductions and increased profit for the company.

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