Renewable Energy in the Minerals Sector: Assessing Opportunities for Africa

Renewable energy (RE) is becoming an increasingly visible component of the global energy supply mix. As a large consumer of power globally, the mining industry has historically relied on grid power or diesel generators for remote sites. While there is a range of RE technologies, wind power and solar power (particularly that generated by photovoltaic panels) are most prominent in current mining applications. The intermittent nature of RE production makes it ill-suited to the continuous power demand of mining operations without the use of hybrid systems and/or energy storage. There is general clarity on the environmental benefits of using RE, especially as far as reduced emissions are concerned, but it has been assumed that the cost of adopting these technologies is prohibitive. However, the data challenges this assumption and shows that RE is frequently an affordable option. RE is a higher capex/lower opex system relative to grid power or diesel generators. The lifespan of RE installations is currently in excess of 20 years, which has been a disincentive, especially for short-life, remote mines. However, there has been progress in making RE systems portable. In some instances, RE may be a suitable post-mining land use. This paper reviews 51 published examples of RE systems for mines. Nearly 86% of installed capacity is solar PV with the remainder being wind power. Most RE-powered mine sites are in Australia and Chile, but more countries are installing capacity. Most RE systems are at gold mines, followed by copper and iron ore. As RE is becoming more efficient and power requirements in mines are increasing as grades drop, it is likely that it will become a key part of energy supplied to the sector.