SA mines to invest in massive 2 GW of renewable energy

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The mining industry is seeking to procure 2 GW of renewable energy.
The mining industry is seeking to procure 2 GW of renewable energy.
Mainstream Renewables
  • Members of the Minerals Council of South Africa plan to invest in 2 GW of supplementary renewable energy; this as Eskom can't meet the industry's energy demand.
  • This could cost between R30 billion and R40 billion, according to the council's CEO Roger Baxter.
  • The industry has also been experimenting with alternative fuels to power operations, like hydrogen, he said.

Mining companies plan to invest in 2 GW of supplementary renewable energy, as Eskom can't meet the industry's energy demand, according to Minerals Council of South Africa CEO Roger Baxter.

"Our members have already indicated that they are planning to invest in about 2 GW of renewable energy, supplementary embedded generation. That is going to cost something between R30 billion and R40 billion," Baxter said on Thursday, during a virtual panel discussion hosted by the Presidential Climate Change Commission. The council represents the majority of the industry.

"… Eskom simply can't provide that extra power, we have had the discussion with them. That power will obviously not only assist the national grid and ourselves, but also contribute towards the decarbonisation of the economy over time," he added.

Given that 1 MW can power 650 homes on average, 2 GW could power the equivalent of a whopping 1.3 million homes.

Baxter said that the mining industry wasn't "sitting on its hands" and just talking about issues, but working toward solving them. As an example, it gave extensive inputs that led to the licensing threshold for generating facilities to be raised to 100 MW. "The 100 MW is not something that government just suddenly came up with. There was a lot of activity via the industry and the minerals council to make sure we could demonstrate this would be a game changer for South Africa going forward," he said.

Government recently announced new targets to reduce South Africa's emissions, called the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), Most recently they have been revised to 350 megatons to 420 megatons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030. Previously the NDC had an upper limit of 614 megatons for 2030, Bloomberg reported.

While ambitious targets are welcomed, Baxter said it is important to make sure there are practical plans in place to support the transition, specifically to ensure electricity supply is not disrupted.

The supply of reliable and base-load capacity is critical for industrial sectors, he explained. Enough capacity of renewable energy will be required to meet these base-load demands.

Green hydrogen economy

Apart from renewable energy, the industry has also been supportive of the development of green hydrogen as a fuel for energy intensive industries. While South Africa is generally "behind the curve" in terms of developing green hydrogen, some companies in the mining industry have experimented with incorporating this power source.

At its own offices, the council - in partnership with the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, the Industrial Development Corporation and Egoli Gas - installed Africa's first base-load hydrogen platinum fuel cell in 2014. It has been operating since.

Impala Platinum has a hydrogen forklift programme and Anglo has one for dump trucks, said Baxter. The green energy industry also presents opportunities for mining - as minerals required for these green technologies include manganese, platinum and lithium.

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