GREEN ENERGY TRANSITION
Solar plant at Gold Fields’ South Deep mine expected to save millions
It’s a tale of red tape in a failing state, but it also underlines how fast companies can transition to green energy. The R715-million, 50MW Khanyisa solar plant is expected to save R123-million in costs a year.
It took Gold Fields years to get regulatory approval for a solar plant at its South Deep mine in western Gauteng. After it was finally nailed down, construction began in October last year and it began feeding power to the mine in August.
The R715-million, 50MW Khanyisa solar plant is expected to save R123-million in costs a year and deliver about 24% of the power that South Deep needs.
It’s a tale of red tape in a failing state, but it also underlines how fast companies can transition to green energy. The Minerals Council SA has estimated the mining industry is intent on building at least 2GW of renewable energy.
Eskom is simply too costly and unreliable and companies are under pressure from shareholders to clean up their act. So, expect a lot more solar panels to be erected around South African mines.
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The decayed state can still throw up obstacles. DM168 exclusively reported in November last year that the project was the target of the shadowy “procurement mafia” that bedevils much of the mining sector in the absence of a police “force” that can actually do its job. Such elements seek to threaten mining companies for procurement contracts.
Martin Preece, the executive vice-president of Gold Fields SA, told journalists on a recent visit to the site that the company had drawn a line in the sand.
“We didn’t succumb to the pressure. We involved local businesses in the building, we found a local entity that supplied panels and the problem went away after a couple of months,” he said. “Collectively, as business, we’ve got to stop it. Once you reward the behaviour, then you will never get out of it.”
As a publicly listed company, it’s also not the kind of thing shareholders are likely to approve.
The plant itself is a sight to behold, with row upon row of solar panels covering a landscape that was shimmering in the heat on the day of DM168’s visit.
The scale is huge: South Deep holds a weekly 5km fun run around the perimeter. And it’s providing power to a mine that extracts gold 3km below the surface. It’s cool to think of the sun doing such work in a place where it never shines. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.