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Magazine feature: Is storage too expensive for mines to consider?

Mining operations use an extensive amount of energy with high intensity and varied energy demand. As such, finding ways to ensure a stable energy supply and lowered energy costs is of utmost importance and battery energy storage systems provide an appealing technological solution. Nasi Hako, ESI Africa Content Specialist, reports.

The mining sector is generally a 24/7 operating environment with unique energy needs in comparison to other sectors. Based on the phase of the operation, this sector uses high energy intensity and with varying energy demand.

A high-level study into energy use for the key mineral commodities of the future, commissioned by The Weir Group, conducted a breakdown of energy consumption at mines. The report finds that the average mine site attributes 25% of final energy consumption to comminution, the process of reducing the size of solid materials from one average particle size to a smaller average particle size through cutting, vibrating, grinding and other processes.

According to mining consultant Andy Birtles, a fellow of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining: “There is some incredible energy usage in mines, often in excess of 10MW.” Birtles also points out that, as a result, power can account for 40% of the mine’s costs, making the efficient use of energy advantageous for cost optimisation, among other factors.

“The technology has demonstrated its potential to enhance the overall efficiency, sustainability and resilience of mining operations in Africa.”

Mines are also generally located in remote areas which may make energy transportation costly or necessitate on-site power generation using diesel generators or renewable energy sources, such as solar photovoltaic power or wind energy, to bridge energy supply gaps.

To address issues of variable energy demand and intermittent energy sources, energy storage solutions at a large enough scale are helpful in bridging the demand or supply gaps during periods of high energy demand or low energy output from renewable generation sources.

An example of a mining site with large battery storage is Centamin’s Sukari solar plant in Egypt. The plant comprises a 36MW solar farm and 7.5MWh battery energy storage system commissioned in late 2022. According to the company, the plant provides a daily saving of up to 70,000 litres of diesel.

Based on diesel prices, this means the plant has the potential to provide annual cost savings of $20 million, alongside an expected reduction in Scope 1 GHG emissions of 60,000 t/y CO2 equivalent and a subsequent reduction in volume of diesel trucked to site.

Hybrid solutions gaining momentum

The global transition towards cleaner energy sources is anticipated to push the demand for battery energy storage as the technology allows for lower emissions production with a more stable energy supply. This ensures the efficient use of energy to minimise costs and is also helpful in complying with the environmental impact assessments associated with energy usage at mines.

More recently, several mines across the African continent have turned to renewable energy and storage solutions for reliable, sustainable or affordable power.

As reported on ESI Africa, in Mozambique, commercial operations at the 19MWp Cuamba Solar PV and 7MWh battery energy storage plant began in early November 2023. In Madagascar, the Molo graphite mine completed the construction of a solar and battery energy storage hybrid power plant in July 2023. The project consists of a 2.6MW solar farm and a 1MWh battery energy storage system.

In South Africa, mines are actively embracing renewable energy. A mine in Limpopo began construction of a 68MW solar PV plant which is due to be completed in the first quarter of 2025. Meanwhile, the Tharisa mine in the country’s North West province is scheduled to begin construction of a plant in 2024 to generate up to 40MW of solar photovoltaic power.

Though implementing battery energy storage systems requires careful planning and consideration of specific mine requirements, energy consumption patterns and regional energy policies in general, the technology has demonstrated its potential to enhance the overall efficiency, sustainability and resilience of mining operations in Africa.

About the author

ESI Africa
Content Team
ESI Africa is the global leader in disseminating African utility, energy, power, mobility and water market news and insights. We provide over 50,000 professionals with renowned high quality and insightful editorial, equipping them with essential information to drive their own businesses.
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