Mines need to transition to cleaner, more efficient forms of energy

February 5th, 2019, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: Energize

Speaking at a breakfast meeting at the recent Mining Indaba in Cape Town, Nkululeko Buthelezi, the interim chairperson of the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI), said that South Africa’s economy is energy intensive and since the mining sector is a member of the Energy Intensive User Group (EIUG), it is important that clean energy sources and energy efficiency be discussed.

Nkululeko Buthelezi

The industry needs robust debate, he said, followed by action and implementation to create certainty for foreign investors. With the US$100-billion target that President Ramaphosa has set, South Africa must do more since energy matters affect investment. It is in this context that SANEDI approached all stakeholders in the energy sector’s value chain – especially the mining sector.

Technology development and advancement

SANEDI, together with the Department of Energy, decided to present possible collaborative partnerships in the energy efficiency and renewable energy space, that can establish cleaner technology solutions in the mining value chain, Buthelezi said.

It is important to ensure that production happens in a greener, cleaner and environmentally friendly manner. Industry, transport and the building sectors all affect the mining sector and will need to use more renewable energy coupled with energy efficiency. For instance, some areas of the mining operations have infrastructure such as buildings, street lighting, waste water treatment plants, and use a lot of fuel in their fleets of vehicles.

According to Nkululeko Buthelezi, it will require innovative and novel solutions and lifecycle thinking in an integrated approach if the industry is to reduce consumption, produce more with less and reduce the carbon content of certain products and high emissions. SANEDI can help the mining sector to ensure that the benefits of integrating some of these initiatives are realised through the Energy Efficiency Incentive Scheme. It is critical that we connect the dots and optimise on the synergies presented when working together with local government.

With the Fourth Industrial Revolution advancing faster, South Africa needs to move quickly to intensify the deployment of smart grids, he said. The smart grid represents an unprecedented opportunity to move the energy industry into a new era of reliability, availability, and efficiency which will contribute to our economic and environmental health. During the transition period, it will be critical to carry out testing, technology improvements, consumer education, development of standards and regulations, and information sharing between projects to ensure that the benefits we envision from the smart grid become a reality. The benefits associated with the smart grid include:

  • More efficient transmission of electricity.
  • Quicker restoration of electricity after power disturbances.
  • Reduced operations and management costs for utilities, and ultimately lower power costs for consumers.
  • Reduced peak demand, which will also help lower electricity rates.
  • Increased integration of large-scale renewable energy systems.
  • Better integration of customer-owner power generation systems, including renewable energy systems.
  • Improved security.

In the past four years SANEDI has implemented smart grids in ten municipalities and in the main, this project confirmed that smart grid enhances revenue collection and improved cash flow while immediately detecting theft.

The latest International Partnership on Climate Change (IPCC) report states that Sustainable Development Goal 7 on energy is not on track although it does acknowledge progress. The International Renewable Energy Agency’s (IRENA’s) Global Energy Transformation roadmap 2050 states that while different paths can mitigate climate change, renewable energy and energy efficiency provide the optimal pathway to deliver most of the emission cuts needed within the required time. A decarbonised power sector with a significant quantum of renewable sources is at the core of the transition to a sustainable energy future. Renewable energy and energy efficiency are the main pillars of the energy transition. Together they can provide over 90% of the energy related CO2 emission reductions that are required, using technologies that are safe, reliable, affordable and widely available, Buthelezi said.

Energy supply, optimisation and utilisation

In early 2011 when South Africa started intensifying the diversification of its energy mix by rolling out renewables, most people were concerned about high generation cost which to a large extent made it look impossible, he said. Over time, global energy transformation, economies of scale, technology improvements, greater competition in supply chain and the right policy conditions gradually pushed down the cost to where we are now. With continuous improvement being part of any growing organisation in the light of the unavoidable dynamics of globalisation, the mining sector has to take advantage of proven reliable and affordable initiatives which would enhance the efficiency of its operations such as introducing renewable technologies and industrial energy efficiency initiatives to produce more with less, he added.

According to Buthelezi, the first phase of the Industrial Energy Efficiency (IEE) project, which was piloted through a partnership between the Departments of Energy and Trade and Industry, National Cleaner Production Centre (NCPC) and the National Business Initiative (NBI), focused its objectives on some of the large industries including the mining sector. The positive outcomes were largely well received. SANEDI is ready to take the baton and forge partnerships and go bigger. The Department of Energy and SANEDI encourages the other role players to tap into strong synergies between energy efficiency and renewable energy among the top priorities of energy policy design because their combined effect can deliver the bulk of energy-related decarbonisation cost-effectively over time.

Energy research and development

Buthelezi said that SANEDI’s mandate is to promote relevant energy research through cooperation with any entity, institution or person equipped with the relevant skills and expertise within and outside the Republic. In areas where research and development (R&D) is required in the energy sector, this platform can also serve the research and development needs of the mining sector. SANEDI is ready to explore the best possible approaches and practices to assist the mining sector in the introduction of reliable and affordable sustainable energy while moving away from some of the traditional and conventional practices.

SANEDI was appointed by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) to implement the R&D initiatives identified in the component of the Draft Solar Technology Roadmap undertaken in the past four years as part of its mandate to promote energy research and technology innovation, and to advise the minister of science and technology on research in the field of energy technology.

He said that in addition to its mandate, the areas of possible collaboration with any entity, are in line with providing for training and development in the field of energy research and technology development; establishment and expansion of industries in the field of energy; and commercialisation of energy technologies resulting from energy research and development programmes undertake any other energy technology development related activity as directed by the minister, with the concurrence of the minister of Science and Technology.

Socio-economic footprint and the energy transition

Buthelezi said the role of electricity storage and battery systems has occupied centre stage – from battery storage in solar home systems to those in electric vehicles. Notwithstanding its core operations which have been supported by the introduction of solar PV rooftop technology in past few years, the mining sector has invested considerably in the development of housing for its work force.

Understanding the socioeconomic footprint of the energy transition is essential to optimise the outcome. It is indisputable that the energy transition cannot be considered in isolation, separate from the socio-economic system in which it is deployed. With holistic policies, the transition can greatly boost overall employment in the energy sector. Partnerships will certainly spread into uplifting communities where these projects are implemented.

The Cool Surfaces Project is an initiative that SANEDI is looking forward to rolling out in partnership with various stakeholders in the housing development market, he said. This initiative is in response to South Africa’s need for an energy passive, low-cost, low-maintenance cooling technology for buildings. SANEDI is looking at all materials and technologies used in the construction of buildings to improve thermal comfort, especially surfaces which reflect solar energy and release stored heat energy.

Storage battery technology

According to Buthelezi, an increase in the deployment of storage batteries has started reducing costs and improving efficiency. As a matter of fact, the deployment of these technologies has provided, and continues to provide, some of the flexibility that future electricity systems need in order to accommodate the variability that come with some of the renewable energy technologies such as the fluctuating availability of energy from solar and wind.

In 2017, IRENA released an extensive study on electricity storage in which most of the battery storage technologies were explored in terms of cost and performance. The study reveals that battery storage is multifaceted. While Li-ion batteries have received much attention thus far, other types are becoming more and more cost effective, further confirming that battery storage in stationary applications is poised to grow at least 17-fold by 2030. The mining sector should take advantage of these opportunities.

In conclusion, he said, it is true that while energy transition is technically feasible and economically beneficial, it will not happen by itself. For this reason, SANEDI is positioning itself as part of the equation, together with all the relevant government departments, to provide inputs towards policy development and action needed to steer the energy system towards a sustainable path.

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