The dramatic decrease in renewable technologies, especially solar panels, is opening up a myriad of opportunities for mines to power their operations

Mining companies that are embracing the opportunities that technological advancement presents when it comes to powering operations are already reaping the rewards financier, developer and operator of power projects in Africa.

Mining Review Africa interviewed Ignite Energy MD, GRANT BERNDSEN, for his views on the topic.

Mining companies in Africa face a myriad of challenges as a result of decreasing ore grades, fuel cost spikes and having to operate in remote locations.

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 1, 2019

To ensure sustainability, mines have to continue to find innovative ways to cut operating costs, of which power supply is typically a significant overhead.

“Mines generally default to well-established power generation technologies for their operations. New technologies present unknown and perceived risks to miners, but these are unwarranted,” says Berndsen.

“Rapid technological advancements in energy are transforming the options available for African mines, and forward-thinking companies are waking up to these. In time, utilising innovative technology to achieve cost-effective, reliable power will become the new normal.”

Berndsen says that the challenge lies in keeping pace with the technologies on offer, and in knowing how best to integrate the likes of solar PV, battery storage and HFO into a solution that will achieve optimal cost savings and reliability.

“Financing of the power solution is another key consideration. If a mining company is able to avoid upfront capital commitments, this will alleviate balance sheet constraints and enable it to focus instead on its core business,” he says.

Flexibility is key in a fast-paced world

Ignite Energy partners with mines to develop bespoke power solutions that take advantage of technological advances and alternative financing options.

This is making reliable, cost-effective and lower carbon power solutions a reality for mines in even the most challenging environments.

Unlike other companies, Ignite it is not tied to a specific product or technology. 

“We allow the application to dictate the technology used, with cost and the availability of primary energy being key deciders,” says Berndsen.

The Ignite team has decades of experience working on the ground to bring power to mines in remote locations in Africa, and an intimate understanding of the complexities involved in powering mining operations.

The team has also been involved in some of the largest renewable energy projects built in Africa to date.

“Our team have developed, executed, operated and financed power projects in excess of 3 GW throughout sub-Saharan Africa. This, coupled with our strong relationships with technology suppliers and providers of financial capital at a local and global level is enabling us to develop the most affordable and innovative power solutions available today,” says Berndsen.

Resolute strikes gold with 40 MW solar hybrid power plant

Ignite Energy is developing a new 40 MW independent solar hybrid plant for the Syama gold mine in Mali. This follows the signing of a joint development agreement with ASX-listed gold miner, Resolute Mining in November 2018.

The Syama power plant will combine solar, battery, and heavy fuel oil (HFO) technologies. The innovative project is expected, when constructed, to be the world’s largest off-grid, fully integrated hybrid plant for a stand-alone mining operation.

The new power plant will replace the existing historic 28 MW diesel fired power station at Syama and is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2020.

“A reduction in the cost of solar and battery storage, as well as growing improvement in the efficiency and reliability of control technologies has made a hybrid solution for a project of this scale and complexity possible,” says Berndsen.

“A watertight technical and commercial structure aimed at giving both Resolute and funders the necessary confidence in the feasibility of the project has been central to us reaching this significant milestone.”

The new Syama power solution will be funded and constructed under an independent power producer model whereby Ignite Energy, under the terms of an exclusive power purchase agreement, will be responsible for the design, construction, ownership, funding, and operation of the new solar hybrid facility on an exclusive basis and will supply power to Resolute on a guaranteed basis subject to a maximum tariff over a term of between 12 and 20 years.

The plant is expected to generate savings of up to 40% on the current operating costs of power at Syama.

In addition to higher efficiencies of the solar hybrid solution, the replacement of Resolute’s existing diesel generated power plant will reduce reliance on, and exposure to, diesel prices.

The new power facility will also provide significant environmental benefits including lower carbon emissions as a result of solar power generation and the greater efficiencies of integrated battery storage hybrid technology and improved engine technologies.

The project also offers exciting potential for the electrification of a local community where grid connection is an unlikely option for the foreseeable future.

“Resolute aims to be a leader in mining innovation and to promote responsible and sustainable positive economic growth in Africa,” says Resolute MD and CEO John Welborn.

“The project is entirely consistent with our ongoing efforts to use innovation and technology to optimise and enhance our Syama operations and deliver exceptional outcomes for our shareholders,” says Welborn.

“In Resolute we have found a partner that is innovative and forward thinking, and together we have developed a solution that will enable Resolute to make substantial electricity cost savings while at the same time reducing carbon emissions and operational risk,” says Berndsen.

You can read the full digital magazine here or subscribe here to receive a print copy