“Businesses must develop a binding energy management plan which should be integrated into performance contracts of those responsible for its execution.”

Charles NtseleInterview with Charles Ntsele, Chairperson of the Association of Mining and Industry Energy Optimisation and speaker at the upcoming Powering African Industry.

What are the challenges around rising energy costs in South Africa?
Fundamentally, the rise in energy costs impacts operating costs negatively. The South African industry in particular is accustomed to cheap electrical energy and its optimal usage was therefore never a norm. This also contributed to equipment design that is not particularly focused on using energy efficiently but rather on durability and capacity.  While the need to optimize energy usage is immediate, changing mindsets in operating and designing equipment such that energy efficiency takes center stage takes time.

How do we overcome the above challenge?
First, mindsets ought to be changed. This can be achieved by making energy efficiency a boardroom agenda with binding outcomes for senior executives and those charged with executing the resulting energy management plan. When such a plan forms an integral part of the businesses key performance indicator it becomes measurable and can then be improved upon. This is one way of normalizing the energy efficiency culture in organizations. Innovative equipment design that promotes energy efficient equipment must be encouraged and rewarded, this again must be driven at the board level where decisions are hopefully based on the understanding of the long terms benefits of such technologies and not the short term thinking that is typified by capital expenditure concerns only.

How has the lower than expected year-on-year electricity price increases coupled with the postponement of the introduction of the carbon tax weakened the impetus of businesses towards energy efficiency?
Since the financial pain is less severe than expected or has been postponed, energy efficiency projects have moved down the priority list and less topical amongst decision makers. This is evidenced in some instances by the reduction in investments on energy efficiency initiatives.  It is noted however that in the mining sector some companies are not only driven by financial implications but also realize that the wellbeing of the environment is intrinsic to their sustainability and they therefore continue to maintain their commitment to the efficient use of energy.

How can companies internalize energy efficiency as part of their business processes in order to stand ready to capitalise on all opportunities when the inevitable happens?
As indicated earlier, businesses must develop a binding energy management plan which should be integrated into performance contracts of those responsible for its execution. Moreover, when the potential benefits that accrue from such an initiative are interpreted into the longevity of the business for the entire workforce, then internalization by all stakeholders becomes feasible.

Expanding on the global energy crisis: How do we incorporate energy management strategies into every nook and cranny of business?
Along with binding energy management plans, companies need to make the impact of energy efficiency accessible to all stake holders, particularly to its employees at all levels of the organization. When the benefits of energy efficiency are clearly articulated and accessible to all only then can energy management strategies be tangible and actionable. When people understand how their actions contribute to the sustainability of the business and by extension their job security, then they are more likely to effect the strategy. This is fundamental for driving any strategy throughout any organization.

How is the South African business sector and specifically the mining sector doing in this regard?
Some industries are doing better than others in this regard, but sadly for many employees this remains a company “thing” and they do not necessarily take ownership.

The mining sector is particularly poor, but there is sufficient evidence that this can be changed. Anyone who has been to an operating mine in recent times will attest to the ubiquitous safety conscience, it is inescapable! So, the same approach can be applied to energy management strategies.

Can you briefly share some innovations and success stories in energy efficiency?
My experience is largely with equipment design for mineral processing applications. During the past decade or so, designers have innovated by extending the use of well know process units from other industries (industrial minerals and cement) to “hard rock” applications. Equipment such as the High Pressure Grinding Rolls and Vertical Mills are continuing to deliver between 20 to 40 percent energy savings compared to conventional crushing and milling circuits.

Tell us about the unique challenges that intensive energy operations have to tackle?
In the South African context, one of the major challenges that intensive energy users constantly have to battle is the fact that whenever electricity reserve margins are critical, they are the first to be requested to cut back on usage. This cannot be good for productivity and planning.

What knowledge is needed to arm managers with the knowledge needed to take energy efficiency to new heights?
At the very least, managers need to understand and know the distribution of energy consumption within every aspect of their operations. This must be coupled with knowledge of best practices within their industry and the available tools such as enterprise energy management software.

Why is the mining industry especially affected by this topic?
Mining operations are in the main affected by rising input costs which amongst others include electrical energy. Electrical energy on average (2013) has increased mine’s operating costs by an average of 11 %. If the impact of carbon tax was to be factored into the operating cost a compelling proposition exists for mining industry to take active interest in this topic of energy efficiency.
About Charles Ntsele
Charles Ntsele was born in Soweto where he received his pre-tertiary education. He went on to graduate at the University of Johannesburg (formerly Wits Technikon) in 1994 where he received his National Higher Diploma in Extractive Metallurgy. A career spanning 20 years has presented Charles with varied experience that includes metallurgical research and development, consulting services, product management and capital equipment sales. Charles has recently completed his post graduate studies in business management and is currently the general manager for capital equipment sales for Metso South Africa.

Prior to management roles, Charles’ experience was focused on comminution, a sub-process in the mineral processing value chain. This is his areas of expertise that led to his passion and involvement with energy efficiency initiatives in mining applications which culminated in his election as chair for the association of Mining and Industry Energy Optimisation (MIEO).

On the social front, Charles dedicated over 11 years of his time with a nonprofit educational project which he co-founded with several of his peers. The highlight of this project was winning the Sowetan Nation Builder of the year in 1993. Charles continues to make time and find ways of impacting and tooling-up of young South Africans as they come into the mining industry and this remains his life-long passion.