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Alternative energy ensures operational capacity for mining sector

The recent 31.3% electricity tariff hike announcement is predicted to bring yet another challenge to industry amidst the already difficult economic climate, stressing the need for sound back-up electrical utility infrastructure to be top priority.

With South Africa’s industry already drawing 68% of the country’s total electricity supply, mining developers are looking at alternative energy supply that is safe and reliable.

According to Patrick Gaertner of Superwatt, installing high quality systems during mining construction will ensure steady development and will maximise output by avoiding the many power outages that have occurred in the past 18 months.

As the mining industry contributes more than 8% to South Africa’s gross domestic product, it is essential that its production levels are maintained to ensure a healthy economy.  This is particularly important at a time when South Africa is battling to recover from its first economic recession in 17 years.

Superwatt recently installed electrical infrastructure to ensure that Great Basin Gold’s South Gold Exploration project, the Burnstone mine in the Witwatersrand Basin, continues to run reliably and safely.

Safety in mines has become a focus among the media and citizens of South Africa amid recent mine deaths in Welkom. Minister of Mining, Susan Shabangu, and President Jacob Zuma, have both called for further safety measures to be implicated in all mines to avoid such disasters in the future.

Gaertner stressed that sound utility infrastructure in mines is essential as one of the first safety measures that should be considered.

He explained that during the construction phase for the Burnstone mine, an already irregular utility supply was further burdened to capacity by the mine. Burnstone’s electrical supply had been susceptible to outages due to delay in receiving permanent electricity supply from Eskom. This posed a threat to the mine’s income and development, as well as increasing risk to construction workers and in time the miners themselves.

The mine needed an alternative power source that was able to assist with the mine’s initial construction, making the accelerated instalment of the two UK built Perkins units by Superwatt, each 1120kVA, which were synchronised to replace the mine’s recently failed 1.5MVA generator, a necessity. Furthermore, the mine will need a standby system once the new power line is installed by Eskom, for production and safety measures. “In the meantime, work at the mine can continue even though they have only a low capacity and fairly unreliable Eskom feeder,” Gaertner said.

Due to the success of the initial installation, Superwatt has supplied two additional US built Cummins units. These units are set to replace the original two 1120kVA Perkins, as those units will be synchronised with another two UK Perkins generators, supplied by Superwatt, to create a 4MVA system. In addition to this, Superwatt has just been awarded a further contract to supply an additional 6MVA system to the mine.

This complete system will certainly answer Shabangu and Zuma’s call for increased safety in mines, not only during Burnstone’s construction phase, but also as the mine becomes fully functional.