Business

SA's biggest gold mine to harness solar power – combatting load shedding and saving R123m a year

Business Insider SA
Gold Fields' South Deep solar power plant (Image supplied)
Gold Fields' South Deep solar power plant (Image supplied)
  • Gold Fields' South Deep mine will start drawing energy from the sun before the end of the year.
  • The 100,000-panel, 50MW-capacity solar power plant will occupy an area of 105ha or roughly 200 soccer fields.
  • It's costing Gold Fields around R715 million to build and operate.
  • But will save the mining company R123 million in annual electricity costs and account for almost a quarter of its power consumption.
  • That, in theory, means Eskom will have more electricity for the rest of South Africa.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

South Africa's biggest gold mine is switching to solar power later this year, saving R123 million in electricity costs, lowering its carbon footprint, and mitigating load shedding disruptions.

Gold Fields' South Deep mine will soon draw a quarter of energy from the sun. The mining company got the green light to construct a solar power plant from the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) back in 2021.

The plant was initially planned to have a capacity of 40MW, but four months after Nersa's approval, the South African government increased the embedded generation threshold to 100MW. Following an additional optimisation study, Gold Fields increased the plant's planned capacity to 50MW, with the potential to expand to 60MW.

South Deep's Khanyisa solar power plant will consist of more than 100,000 photovoltaic (PV) panels and, occupying an area of 105ha or roughly 200 soccer fields. When fully operational, the plant will account for 24% of South Deep's annual electricity consumption and reduce the mine's carbon footprint by more than 110,000 tonnes of CO2 a year.

The plant, which will cost Gold Fields around R715 million to build and operate, is expected to come online in the third quarter of 2022.

In addition to reducing electricity costs through renewable energy, aligned with Gold Fields' target of cutting a third of its carbon emissions by 2030, South Deep's plant will also take some pressure off South Africa's embattled power utility Eskom.

The country's mining industry consumes up to 30% of Eskom's annual power supply, according to Minerals Council South Africa. Decreasing its reliance on Eskom will effectively free up more energy for the rest of South Africa, and high-capacity renewable installations could keep mines operating during severe rotational cuts.

But while solar power will answer most of South Deep's electricity needs under the clear midday sun, there are still concerns that peak usage periods – in the mornings and evenings – will remain volatile.

"One of our challenges in interactions with Eskom has been the normal morning and evening peaks and concern raised by Eskom that as the solar comes off everybody is arriving home, cooking dinner, running baths, and similar things… and they get a double spike," explained Gold Fields' Executive Vice President Martin Preece, during a presentation on the Khanyisa plant, back in August 2021.

"So, one of the things we are looking to do, is how do we shift maintenance activities into these evening and morning peak windows to take pressure off Eskom to ensure that we don't add to their woes."

A presentation delivered at the recent Mining Indaba by Gold Fields CEO Chris Griffith noted that the company was "also examining wind power" – in addition to the solar power plant – at South Deep.

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