Gold producer Gold Fields Limited’s Board of Directors have given the green light for the construction of a 40MW solar plant at the South Deep mine in South Africa. This follows the granting of a licence by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa on 25 February 2021. The facility is set to be the biggest self-generation renewable energy plant for a mining operation in South Africa to date.
The 40MW solar plant will generate over 20% of the average electricity consumption of the mine. It will comprise 116,000 solar panels and cover a 118ha area roughly the size of 200 soccer fields and will be on mine property.
We are the first South African mine to build and operate our own solar plant of this scaleGold Fields CEO, Chris Griffith
The estimated capital investment for the plant is R660m, including contingencies and escalation. This will be funded from the mine’s positive cash-flows over the next two years. The use of self-generated, renewable energy will translate into savings of around R120m on the cost of electricity a year. South Deep is currently finalising procurement strategies and contractor criteria for the construction of the plant, which will begin during Q2 2021. The plant is expected to be commissioned during Q2 2022.
The inconsistent power supply from state utility, Eskom, has induced many private companies to consider renewable energy self generation systems to meet some of their energy supply. The government has announced plans to lift the license exemption threshold for self generation systems by up to 10MW.
Solar plant to advance Gold Fields’ carbon neutrality ambitions
The Gold Fields solar plant will ensure greater reliability of power supply to the South Deep mine and reduce the cost of electricity, which currently makes up about 13% of the mine’s operating costs.
“Importantly, it will reduce our carbon footprint by around 100,000 tonnes of CO2 a year, not only enhancing the sustainability of South Deep but also contributing to Gold Fields’ long-term commitment to carbon neutrality,” Gold Fields CEO Chris Griffith says.
During 2020, renewable electricity averaged 3% of Gold Fields Group electricity. Once the South Deep project is commissioned, renewable’s contribution to the Group total will rise to approximately 11%.
240 jobs will be created during the construction phase, while a team of 12 people will be required to operate the plant once operational. As far as possible, goods and services required to build the plant will be sourced locally within South Africa.
“A broad range of stakeholders stand to benefit more from the mine’s activities. A profitable mine and a sustainable business can continue to employ and develop employees, contribute to community development, support the livelihoods of local suppliers and add to the fiscus in the form of taxes and royalties,” Griffith adds
Last year Gold Fields implemented solar and wind power plants, backed by battery storage, at two of its Australian mines, Agnew and Granny Smith, and committed to renewables at its other Australian mines, Gruyere and St Ives, as well as the Salares Norte project in Chile when it starts operations in 2023. All its other mines are also reviewing renewable energy options. The company says its energy policy is anchored on four pillars, “energy must be reliable, available, cost-effective and clean – which promote a shift to self-generation using renewable energy sources.” the company concluded.