With the promise of significant cost savings, and the security of power supply in unreliable and remote off-grid regions, Africa is putting hybrid renewable energy solutions firmly on the agenda.
In the African mining sector, power supply has typically come from fossil fuels, diesel, heavy fuel oil and is often off-grid due to remote locations. We know that diesel and HFO have traditionally been the primary supply of energy in off-grid areas, however, getting diesel to these areas is difficult, expensive and often carries risk – on both a commercial and environmental level. That’s why the development of hybrid power solutions at competitive costs has become a viable alternative.
As it stands, the mining industry in particular has shown interest in hybrid energy solutions, especially those incorporating alternative- energy sources, such as wind, solar or gas, that have the ability to supply efficient and consistent power to supplement industry needs. Hybrid solutions also offset fluctuating costs and risks linked with a mining company’s reliance on and access to diesel by providing a more reliable supplement such as wind-generated energy.
When it comes to mining in Africa, the electricity costs are around 20-30% of the operational costs, and so by reducing these costs, mines can expect to see a big impact on the bottom line. And while renewable energy has not always been viewed positively by African mines, it certainly now makes economic sense, as the price of renewable energy has come down significantly.
Hybrid energy is now seen as the more attractive solution, as it’s both cost effective and reliable. While this solution would have usually been considered solely from a green perspective, it’s now also about saving cots, reducing risks and boosting the social and environmental license to operate.
What projects are already underway?
An agreement has been signed in Gabon, where eight hybrid solar systems will be deployed – and these solar systems have a combined capacity of 2.2 MWp. This project will contribute to the Gabonese Republic’s proactive policy of using renewable energy to increase the country’s energy capacities. It’s thought that this project will save 2,600 tonnes of CO2 per year, and reduce generation costs by 30%, as the solar energy will be used in eight locations that are currently supplied by oil-fired thermal power stations.
The Syama Solar Hybrid 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 power plant for a stand-alone mining operation, replacing the existing historic 28MW diesel fired power station at Syama. The PPA is expected to be finalised in the first half of 2019 allowing for a staged development of the Solar Hybrid Power Plant to commence in 2019 and be commissioned during 2020 – and the new project is expected to generate savings of up to 40% on the current operating costs of power at Syama.
In what is believed to be both the largest hybrid and energy storage project in the whole continent, this battery storage project will power behind-the-metre clients in the educational sector in Western Africa, with 30MWh of battery energy storage across three sites, including a single battery installation of 17MWh. The microgrid packed with batteries will be able to provide one-day power autonomy to educational institutions, enabling them to run more efficiently and spend more on school programmes. While we don’t yet know which specific country this project will take place in, it’s certainly one to watch.
Admittedly, the adoption of renewable energy in Africa is still in its infancy, however, there has been a dramatic increase in the planning for and investment in hybrid energy projects by mines throughout Africa, and so it will certainly be interesting to see further developments and how this trend has an impact on the continent.