By Joe Kirschke

RECENT events demonstrate how clean energy use by the mining industry, which consumes 11% of global energy, can mitigate climate change on a planet where 2000 mechanised mines struggle with fuel prices, carbon emissions and logistical challenges.

A number of mining companies are showing how a business that also represents 15% of all electricity use can prioritise the $13.5 trillion in commitments made at the Paris Climate Conference (COP21) while helping ensure energy security for 1.2 billion.

Mining requires enormous amounts of energy and energy costs can account for up to 30% of overall costs. In isolated areas, worker safety and profits render reliable, high-voltage power an urgent priority while making renewables an opportunity to save billions.

In 2011, the industry first began economising with renewables just before the commodities crash which sent people, equipment and infrastructure deep into far-flung corners scouring for minerals. By 2022, Navigant forecasts the use of clean energy by miners will grow to 8%, or $3.9 billion, from 1.8% today.

IAMGOLD recently signed a $20 million power purchase agreement for a solar installation at its off-grid Essakane mine in Burkina Faso. Elsewhere in Africa, Redavia Solar announced its solar photovoltaic (PV) expansion at Shanta Mining’s New Luika gold asset. The 609Kw installation will yield 950Kw hours annually and on completion, the project will annually generate 1.04 million Kwh.

India is also experiencing a clean energy renaissance, including in mining. Key participants include coal firms like Coal India, which plans to install 600Mw of solar nationwide, along with Neyveli Lignite, which tendered for 260Mw of grid-connected solar PV in two states. Hindustan Zinc has announced the solar deployment of 115Mw. It already generates 474Mw of thermal power and 274Mw of wind.

In other parts of the world the subsector has shown myriad benefits. These include shareholder demands for climate change transparency and, especially, the bedrock ‘social licence to operate’, essential to any mining operation.

These installations create jobs while unlocking revenue for miners to invest in schools, agriculture and medical clinics along with infrastructure. Many solar installations will be left behind for local use once the mine is closed. They also open the door for ‘anchor-tenant solutions’, whereby operating mines share electricity with far-off local communities. This is important for places like Africa, where 80% of new mines will be clean energy-dependent by 2026 and where 600 million live without electricity.

Given that 90% of energy demand will come from emerging markets by 2035, requiring $1 trillion in investments, the potential synergies are endless.

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