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Op-Ed: The power priorities of mining decision-makers

By John Lewis, Managing Director, Aggreko Africa

The mining sector is one of the most energy-intensive industries in the world, accounting for an estimated 6.2% of the total global energy consumption.

It has also historically been a disproportionately large contributor to global warming, through the intensive use of fossil fuels to power operations. But now there is a spotlight on the sector, with increased pressure to move towards renewable energy.

While developments have been made, there remains increased pressure to reduce emissions. Just last week, consultant McKinsey reported that mining companies need to go further to diversify their portfolios in order to meet Paris climate goals.

Coupled with this pressure, there has been a period of significant volatility in commodity prices which has resulted in miners needing to keep down costs and improve efficiency.

Overcoming this challenge in a context of ongoing decarbonisation is no mean feat, but adopting a rental model could be a way of harmonising balance sheets and keeping operations running smoothly.

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Priorities: Decarbonising versus cost

Aggreko recently conducted a global survey to better understand the priorities of decision-makers in the energy sector.

Of those surveyed, 50% said that cost is their primary consideration. But with the need to also meet carbon emissions targets, inaction isn’t a possibility. The knock-on effect has been a reluctance across the sector to invest in new green power sources with concerns it could soon be out of date as the pace of change seems to only be accelerating.

Mine operators are therefore facing a dilemma: how to integrate renewable energy into power solutions, which require significant CAPEX investment when there’s a backdrop of commodity price volatility making investment unattractive.

The Syama gold mining complex in southern Mali was able to balance this well. Aggreko having recently signed a contract with Resolute has been able to support its ambitions to reduce carbon emissions and improve overall efficiency for the site. Once installed, Aggreko will operate and maintain a 40MW thermal power plant and a 10MW battery storage system, with a further 20MW of solar power planned in 2023.

The hybrid solution will reduce Syama’s power costs by an estimated 40%. Once all the renewable power sources are fully installed it will also reduce carbon emissions by approximately 20%. By using a rental option, Syama was able to de-risk the investment into greener energy due to not having to invest capital into the power solution.

Read more on decarbonisation here

Long term role of mines versus cost

Advances in technology are also driving change for the mining industry in terms of the pool of metals and minerals that are considered to be a worthwhile investment. The growing popularity of electric vehicles is leading to an increase in the need for cobalt, lithium and nickel, which are important component parts of lithium-ion batteries.

But, while this presents opportunity for miners, this also means capital investment opportunities in some mines, such as coal, has become more difficult. There’s also risk in investing in the latest technologies as and when they emerge due to the market changing regularly.

The Tasiast mine, one of the largest open-pit gold mines in Africa, located in the remote north western region of Inchiri in Mauritiana, was facing this dilemma.

Its off-grid mine was powered by an inefficient fuel source and prone to regular breakdowns, incurring huge maintenance costs.

Read all about the off-grid market here

The life expectancy of the mine was expected to last another decade, and with the added consideration of diesel price volatility, Kinross needed to think about power for the mine longer term, as well as what they could do to alleviate the cost implications they were suffering short-term.

To address their immediate issues, Aggreko offered a solution that was easy to integrate into their current power mix. Kinross now has reliable, guaranteed power 24/7 to ensure its gold production is unaffected by power issues or further shutdowns.

Given it was a rental solution, it also gave them the necessary breathing space and time to review longer-term power options for the remaining life of the mine.

Managing capital and project risk

It’s clear that mining is a sector undergoing deep transformation as a result of the energy transition. The use of hybrid power solutions at mines is only set to increase, while investment will continue to be driven by innovation in green technology.

Mining companies are in the unique position of needing to deploy green energy sources whilst also being a key component in the supply chain for new low-carbon technology. Finding nimble solutions, such as hybrids or microgrids, provides companies with the agility needed to respond to the quickly-evolving energy landscape.

What’s more, a rental power model allows mine operators to do all of this whilst keeping energy costs competitive and only require an outlay of OPEX, rather than CAPEX. This means that companies have greater flexibility to respond to the rapidly-evolving market while keeping costs down.

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