HomeEnergyMining giant launches major new solar farm in Africa

Mining giant launches major new solar farm in Africa

B2Gold Namibia has celebrated the opening of the B2Gold Otjikoto Solar Farm. The event was officiated by the Ministry of Mines and Energy, Tom Alweendo.

In 2017, B2Gold broke ground on the construction of a 7 megawatt (MW) photovoltaic (PV) solar power plant at its Otjikoto Mine.

Alweendo states that the Otjikoto Solar Farm is yet another significant contribution in the private sector’s drive for sustainable energy solutions.

“This solar plant will deliver positive economic, environmental and social impacts that is likely to outlive the life of mine.

“I am also informed that this solar plant will be one of the largest installations of its kind in Namibia.

“It will serve as a sustainable power solution as B2Gold works to improve economic returns, reduce impacts on the environment and could potentially be a funding source for community development,” he continues.

Prior to the inclusion of the solar plant to the mine’s energy portfolio, the Otjikoto mine obtained 100% of its energy requirements from 24 MW of installed generation capacity at the Otjikoto power plant, comprising of heavy fuel oil (HFO) diesel generators.

With a consistent demand of 12.5 MW 24 hours per day, the plant consumed 21.7 million litres of HFO during 2017, costing approximately $10.5 million.

In his presentation to showcase the new plant, John Roos, B2Gold Namibia’s manager for projects & compliance, outlined the reasoning for the facility’s development, including B2Gold’s commitment to environmental stewardship, its dependence on a steady supply of HFO, its exposure to increasing oil prices, and the company’s focus to remain a low-cost producer.

“Driven by these challenges, the B2Gold project team embarked upon a detailed financial feasibility study early in 2016 to prove the financial viability of adding a 7 MW solar plant to Otjikoto’s energy portfolio,” notes Roos.

“Based on the results of this study, the project was approved in October 2016 with an estimated project cost of $8.5 million,” he adds.

The project team evaluated a number of potential vendors within a very competitive solar industry in Namibia. CAT Microgrid Solutions, through their local dealer Barloworld Power South Africa, was chosen for the construction of the solar plant.

The decision was principally based on the state of the art technical capabilities of the CAT Master Microgrid Controller (MMC), which has been designed specifically to seamlessly integrate solar PV energy with Otjikoto’s HFO and high-speed engines.

Furthermore, the MMC has the capability to automatically select the cheapest form of energy (from the multiple sources of energy available) with no human intervention.

The solar PV array comprises approximately 62,400 115 watt (W) CAT thin film solar panels, manufactured by First Solar. These panels are mounted on a PiA solar tracking system.

DC power is converted to AC power through 240 Sunny tri-power three-phase SMA string inverters. Energy generated by the solar plant is evacuated to the Otjikoto power plant by a 3.5 km powerline. The CAT MMC (installed at the Otjikoto power plant) controls the flow of energy from the solar to the power plant.

The feasibility studies indicate an expected savings of 20% of HFO consumption through the reduction of load to the power plant as well as savings on maintenance costs on the power plant’s HFO engines.

B2Gold expects it will reduce energy costs by 14% in 2018.

The plant will allow the company to significantly reduce fuel consumption and GHG emissions from the site’s current 24 MW HFO power plant.

This solar plant will become an asset that can outlive the life of mine and will serve as a sustainable power solution as B2Gold works to reduce impacts on the receiving environment and communities surrounding its operations.

As a novel initiative, B2Gold is considering the utilisation of the solar plant as an income-generating asset after the mine closes due to depletion of its reserves.

Funds generated by this asset could be used to support ongoing CSR activities in the region long after the mine has shut down.