Smart energy for miners is no longer a concept as it is here to stay

By Almot Maqolo
HARARE – Solar power may be the necessary option that Africa needs as an alternative that is cheap,easy to deploy, decentralized and effective enough to provide electricity to millions of people in the shortest possible time. Africa has to take advantage of the interesting development that the cost of buying and installing solar power equipment is dropping. Over the last decade, a lot of progress has been made in solar technology, making it cheaper, more reliable, and more efficient. As a result, solar power equipment prices have been falling and are now within the reach of many Africans. The scale and wonder of Chinese manufacturing is also helping to bring down prices. American and European manufacturers of solar equipment have been facing stiff competition from Chinese solar products, which in turn creates a win for ordinary people as these competitive forces push down prices.

In addition to lower manufacturing costs, some African governments have started to remove the high import tariffs and levies that helped to make solar panels and equipment expensive in their local markets.The mining industry is at a turning point in its evolution into being a recognized contributor to the broader clean energy transition as the demand for renewable energy keeps rising. It is hardly surprising that mining companies are looking to renewable energy as one of several options for transforming their sector into one that is more sustainable. The Zimbabwean mining industry took time to adopt renewable energy in their operations.The availability of electricity in Zimbabwe has been subject to load-shedding. Grid power in Zimbabwe is subject to fluctuations in voltage which, if unregulated, damage end-users’ equipment. The majority of miners use diesel-generated electricity to augment power suppliers.

Only 1,103 MW of the 2,045 MW total installed capacity is now operational, compared to a reported peak demand of 2,200 MW, increasing the country’s reliance on imported electricity to make up the difference. The government’s initiative to revive idle mines is expected to increase demand for electricity from mining and industry, which continue to be the leading consumers of the fuel. Recognising the economic, environmental, and logistical challenges of running large-scale diesel generators for extended periods, Zimplats, the country’s largest platinum miner, is working on a 185 MW solar project. “Procurement processes for the US$37 million Phase 1 implementation of the 185 MW solar project commenced during the quarter under review (June 2022 quarter),” the miner said in its latest quarterly report. “Phase 1 is a 35 MW plant at Selous Metallurgical Complex, scheduled for completion in FY2024. Overall, the project has four implementation phases, with the last phase scheduled for completion in FY2027 at a total project cost estimate of US$201 million.”

The world is going through a profound change in energy, and renewable energy has moved to the centre-stage of the global energy landscape. Also, Caledonia Mining Corporation, which owns a 64% stake in Blanket Mine in Gwanda, Matabeleland South province, is just finishing off the first phase of its 12 MWac solar project. It will exclusively supply Blanket with about 27% of its daily electricity usage. In its social and governance report, the miner said 19% of its on-mine costs relate to energy usage. So any reductions in the cost have both environmental benefits as well as clear financial advantages. Zimbabwe is one of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa struggling to generate sufficient power to get its systems working at full throttle despite boasting some of the world’s best renewable energy potential. For instance, with over 300 days of sunshine a year, Zimbabwe can power almost all its activities on solar energy.

The country has enormous solar energy potential that, if fully exploited, can supply 10 000 gig watt hours of electricity per year. Power outages averaging 8 hours a day have taken a toll on the efforts to revive the economy. To accelerate economic growth, government has no option but to ensure that various stakeholders get adequate power supply.As the new Zimbabwe battles forward with its agenda to restructure, reform and rebuild, we must at all times put the long-term growth potential of the Zimbabwe economy at the heart of our plans. And this means expediting more in cleaner and sustainable power projects from all comers of the country.  We have a duty to keep the lights on. We have a duty to power the homes, businesses and the factories of Zimbabwe.  Smart energy is the way.

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