April 2018

Solar mining in Africa - Solar For Mines

How the mining sector in Africa can benefit from solar energy

The mining sector is one of Africa’s largest, with much of the continent being richly endowed by mineral resources. However, the mining sector struggles in Africa compared to other regions in the world – partly because of economic and political uncertainty.

A key aspect to securing a long-term return in a mining operation  in Africa, therefore, is creating a stable, well-run operation which will encourage investment and diversify economic spin-offs for local communities. Energy supply is a key aspect of this, and it is important that energy supply is both affordable, secure and sustainable.  

Why is solar a relevant consideration for the African mining sector?

Continued pressure on cost minimisation in mining

The mining sector has taken a knock in recent years, particularly due to economic pressures from global markets. This has squeezed resources available for mining operations, increasing the pressure for efficient and slick operations. For energy-intensive mines (many mines spend up to 20% of their total input costs on energy), it is important that electricity supply is as cheap, and reliable, as possible.

Many mining operations in Africa are located remotely, with electricity only being provided by diesel gen-sets. Because diesel not only needs to be bought, but also transported to the site of the mine, this method of providing energy is extremely expensive and encompasses potential supply disruption risks – particularly in Africa, where road infrastructure is often unreliable.

Because of the falling costs of solar PV and batteries, microgrids are seen as a reliable solution for the electrification of Africa.  Microgrids offer a reliable electrical connection where there is no grid available, and/or the existing grid cannot output the required power and voltage. Properly programmed microgrids provide continuous, reliable power by switching sources seamlessly when needed. Over and above this, one of the cheapest microgrids can be formed from solar PV, battery storage, and gas to supplement supply. These microgrids can even be financed by third parties, resulting in immediate savings for the mining operation with no initial capex outlay.

Increased focus on sustainability and environmental impact of mines

Global interest in sustainability has caused reflection in the mining sector, which, despite providing much of the world’s economic activity, often has negative social and environmental impacts. On top of this, recent international codes and reporting standards, such as the Global Reporting Initiative, encourage mining companies to become increasingly transparent about their social and environmental impacts – and report on the “triple bottom line”.

For mining companies, reporting on their environmental footprint will include their greenhouse gas emissions, or “carbon footprint”.  

How companies report on their greenhouse gas emissions

Scope 1 emissions relate to a company’s direct combustion of fuel. In the case of a mining company, this would include any transport fuel used when transporting goods to and from the mine, as well as the diesel fuel burnt, if diesel generators are being used.

Scope 2 emissions relate to purchased electricity. In the case of a mine, any electricity that is generated by the national grid would be applicable here.

Scope 3 emissions relate to the supply chain emissions of the operation – whether incoming or outgoing. In the case of a mining operation, this would include emissions released in the processing, smelting or disposal of the mined products.

Depending on their commitment to transparency, sustainability reports could include reporting on scope one, two and three emissions. On top of this, shareholders expect a commitment to a reduction in the overall carbon footprint. Switching over to green energy is an important step for mining businesses to reduce both their scope 1 and 2 emissions.

Is solar for mines operationally reliable?

Avoiding operational risks is a key aspect of being successful in the mining industry, which is recognized as being traditionally quite conservative and risk-averse. Given that any downtime or disturbance to the operations of a mine can lead to very large financial losses, any risk associated with deploying new or untested technologies is not an option.

As such, historically, unfamiliarity with solar technology has made mine managers reluctant to implement solar solutions that could create significant cost savings. Yet increasingly the “proof of concept” for solar energy and the knowledge of successfully implemented systems is turning mining managers around to the benefits.

Solar is by now a mature technology that has been proven in several mining operational case studies around the world, and reliability of the systems can match and exceed what an existing diesel genset (or grid) offer. For example, a hybrid system in Western Australia has allowed the gold-copper mining operation to save 20% on diesel costs. Even a Russian precious metals mine is converting to solar energy, despite Russia’s low irradiance levels.

Also on the African continent, solar energy installations at mines are becoming more common, with an increasing number of solar systems being installed or considered at mines in Namibia, Botswana, Tanzania and Ghana. Such projects are often offered on a financed basis – for example, for a gold mine in Burkina Faso, signing a 15-year renewable energy Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) for 15 MW of solar power was the best option to save on operational costs.

SOLA has designed and constructed hybrid solar-battery-diesel systems that have a wide applicability in the mining sector. Should you be involved in mining operations or its financial management, we are keen to meet to discuss your requirements on-site and execute a thorough feasibility assessment, and create a system design tailored to the specific operational conditions of your mine. Feel to reach out to our team members dedicated to mining here. SOLA has also developed a solar mining tool to assist mines with creating a high-level assessment of the business case for solar at their operations. Click here to access the solar mining tool.

Africa has immense solar PV potential. Source: Global Solar Atlas, owned by the World Bank Group and provided by Solargis.

5 African countries that are perfect for solar PV

Although Africa has historically been labelled “the dark continent”, actually nothing could be further from the truth. Africa has fantastic solar resource, and, unlike the finite fossil fuel resources which have historically been extricated from the continent, solar energy renews every day, and can be used directly where it lands. Coupled with the dire need for affordable, decentralised energy to enable economic growth, solar PV is the perfect resource to facilitate Africa’s progress. Along with this, the falling costs of solar PV are set to be a positive boon for Africa.

The following blog post explores 5 countries that are perfect for solar PV deployment – and why it makes sense for commercial and industrial businesses in these areas to adopt solar in their operations.

What is irradiance or solar yield?

When thinking about solar PV, the terms “irradiance” or “insolation” are used to describe the amount of potential solar power received by an area. In other words, its the amount of solar energy that is hitting the earth over a period of a year. When converted into electricity via solar panels, the resulting output is called the “solar yield” and this underlies the business case of a solar system at a given location. For example, if the solar yield is calculated to be 1250 kWh/kWp for a given site, it means that for every kilowatt of solar installed (roughly 3 panels) at that site, 1250 kWh of solar energy could be generated per year.

Note: the solar irradiance maps used throughout this article are provided by the Global Solar Atlas, owned by the World Bank Group and provided by Solargis.

1. Kenya

Nairobi is a perfect city for solar PV

With Kenya’s large population of 45 million and its booming industry, it is one of Africa’s economic powerhouses. Kenya is known particularly for its industries in small-scale consumer goods (plastic, furniture, batteries, textiles, clothing, soap, cigarettes, flour), but it has several other industries, including: agricultural products, horticulture, oil refining, aluminum, steel, lead, cement, commercial ship repair and tourism.

Part of what makes solar coupled with storage so appealing for commercial and industrial businesses in Kenya is the fact that they are frequently exposed to power outages – often for an extended periods of time.

Kenya’s government has also created a New Energy Policy, which highlights the need for more rural electrification and private or community-owned renewable energy providers.

Kenya solar irradiance levels. Source: Global Solar Atlas, owned by the World Bank Group and provided by Solargis.

Irradiance in Kenya

Kenya gets great solar irradiance levels, making most of the country perfect for solar PV. In Nairobi, the solar yield can be as high as 1520 kWh/kWp. This is more than 50% higher than Germany, one of the countries with the highest installed solar capacities in the world, which only has an average solar yield of 950 kWh/kWp. It serves as a powerful reminder of the huge potential for solar in Africa.

2. Namibia

Namibia has huge solar PV potential

Desert in Namibia

Known for its large, open deserts, Namibia is perhaps one of the most quintessentially solar-friendly countries. From an irradiance perspective, Namibia generates 2047 kWh/kWp of solar in their capital, Windhoek,and its lack of cloud cover make the solar power generation very reliable. Add to this its pristine natural environment, and using the quiet, emission-free power of solar PV makes it a no-brainer for the southern African country.

More than just a desert, though, Namibia’s major industries include meatpacking, fish processing, dairy products, pasta, beverages, and mining (diamonds, lead, zinc, tin, silver, tungsten, uranium, copper). In fact, mining is the largest contributor to the economy and provides 25% of the country’s income.

Because the mining industry has emphasised the incorporation of sustainability in its core operations, solar PV is a great choice for mining companies in Namibia. The remoteness of many of the mines means that many of them rely on diesel generators to function. Mines using this method of electrification lend themselves perfectly to solar PV and energy storage  microgrids, which are cheaper and much cleaner than diesel (just have a look at our blog post on why Robben Island will save through its PV and battery storage microgrid).

On top of this, the government launched a REFIT programme, signing 14 small solar renewable energy projects of 5 MW each, showing its commitment to make full use of its exceptional solar resources and making Namibia arguably the perfect country for solar PV.

Namibia solar irradiance levels. Source: Global Solar Atlas, owned by the World Bank Group and provided by Solargis.

3. Nigeria

Nigeria has great solar PV potential

Lagos, Nigeria

With the largest population in Africa, Nigeria has huge potential for growing its economy. However, the country has struggled with frequent power outages, often over lengthy periods of time. In addition to this, more than half of the population does not have access to electricity, meaning the the generation capacity of Nigeria’s electricity system is underutilized, despite the system failing to meet demand.

Nigeria is home to several booming industries, including crude oil, coal, tin, columbite, rubber products, wood, hides and skins, textiles, cement and other construction materials, food products, footwear, chemicals, fertilizer, printing, ceramics and steel. All of these industries, however, are affected by lack of reliable power sources. This could be why the Nigerian government signed 1 GW of Power Purchase Agreements from renewable sources in 2016 and is planning to grant a further generation licenses.

Because of the grid-reliability issues in Nigeria and the expense of diesel for fuelling operations, going off-grid entirely with solar PV and storage makes the most sense for many Nigerian businesses. Irradiance in the capital city, Lagos, averages 1452 kWh/kWp, adding to this business case.

Nigeria solar irradiance levels. Source: Global Solar Atlas, owned by the World Bank Group and provided by Solargis.

Irradiance in Nigeria

4. Uganda

Uganda has great potential for solar PV

Kampala, Uganda

With Uganda’s rich natural resources and technological innovation, it is one of Africa’s most underrated countries. It’s naturally-driven economy relies on industries such as sugar, brewing, tobacco, cotton textiles, cement and steel production. Much of the country remains without electricity connection, with almost 31 million households not connected to the grid and just under half of people living in cities having electrical connection. The rural location of much of the country’s population and its natural-heavy industries mean that off-grid solar PV, combined with energy storage, is a great option, particularly in the agro-processing of things like sugar, tobacco and textile production.

On top of this, the country’s solar resource is excellent, with an average irradiance of 1330 kWh/kWp in the capital of Kampala. Combined with the country’s target of 1.5 million new grid connections by 2020, solar PV is a great option to fuel production and economies, particularly in the agro-processing sector.

Uganda solar irradiance levels Global Solar Atlas, owned by the World Bank Group and provided by Solargis.

Irradiance in Uganda

5. Ghana

Ghana has great potential for solar PV sources

Accra, Ghana

Ghana has historically been known for its gold production, and subsequently for its production of chocolate – it is still the world’s second largest producer of cocoa. However, the country has  several additional booming industries including mining, lumber, light manufacturing, aluminum smelting, food processing, cement, small commercial ship building and petroleum.

Ghana already has 75% electrification levels – however, recent hikes in electricity tariffs have provided some doubt as to the ability of Ghanaian citizens to keep their connection to the grid – and the damage these might do to its industries.

The average irradiance in Accra is 1410 kWh/kWp, meaning that there is great solar resource, ready for deployment across several sectors. The capital provides a perfect option for embedded generation of electricity, such as rooftop solar PV, either to supplement their grid usage and bring down electricity costs, or to go off-grid entirely.

The government also sees solar energy as an important solution for Ghana’s energy needs. Recently elected President Akufo-Addo has launched a very supportive energy strategy which sees a large role for solar, including both utility-scale solar PV projects, rooftop solar as well as micro-grid systems.

Ghana PV irradiance. Source: Global Solar Atlas, owned by the World Bank Group and provided by Solargis.

Irradiance in Ghana

Conclusion: the Light continent

Although under represented, many African countries are perfect for the harvesting of solar resources. As a cleaner – and often cheaper – form of energy, solar PV deployment in Africa is a great opportunity for African business to thrive.

SOLA believes that the future of Africa is powered by the sun, and is actively pursuing and executing projects in a growing number of African countries. If you require the development of a solar PV project on the African continent, please speak to us.