Renewable Energy in Mining: The Adoption and Impact of Energy Solutions in Mining Operations

Renewable Energy

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The Tanzanian mining industry, rich in resources ranging from gold to gemstones, has been a robust pillar of the nation’s economic growth for decades. However, the energy framework supporting this sector has predominantly been dependent on fossil fuels, highlighting a potential shift towards renewable energy in the future.

According to the Tanzanian Ministry of Minerals, as of 2020, the mining sector was responsible for consuming about 15% of the nation’s total energy. A significant proportion of this was derived from non-renewable sources, particularly diesel and coal.

This reliance on non-renewable energy has had multiple implications. Firstly, the environmental footprint of mining activities has been significant. Large-scale mining operations contribute to economic output and have also led to sizable greenhouse gas emissions, given their dependence on fossil fuels.

Secondly, the cost implications are noteworthy. With fluctuating global oil prices, the operational costs for mining companies can vary greatly, affecting some mines’ overall profitability and economic viability.

Also read Tanzania Renewable Energy: A Blueprint for a Sustainable Future.

The gradual transition towards renewable energy in Tanzanian mining is not just a whim but a response to a combination of global pressures, economic realities, and strategic foresight. Let’s explore the main driving forces and the supporting data behind this pivotal change:

Environmental Concerns

The global community’s push for more sustainable practices is palpable. The Paris Agreement, to which Tanzania is a signatory, emphasises a collective commitment to limit global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

Given that the mining sector is a significant contributor to Tanzania’s greenhouse gas emissions due to its dependency on fossil fuels, a switch to renewables aligns with this global commitment.

A report by the World Bank indicates that Africa’s GHG emissions are set to increase by 70-130% between 2010 and 2040 if no proactive measures are taken. With Tanzania being a considerable player on the continent, it’s imperative to address these concerns at an industry level, starting with sectors like mining.

Economic Incentives

Beyond environmental reasons, economic factors are steering the shift. Globally, the cost of renewable energy technologies, particularly solar, has been plummeting. According to IRENA (International Renewable Energy Agency), between 2010 and 2020, the global weighted average cost of electricity from solar photovoltaic (PV) fell by 82%.

This downward trend makes renewables, especially solar, a competitive, if not cheaper, alternative to traditional fossil fuels. Furthermore, in its “National Renewable Energy Action Plan (2017-2025),” the Tanzanian government highlights the potential for reducing energy costs through renewables, with projections indicating potential savings of up to 30% for industries.

Energy Security

Like many other countries, Tanzania knows the risks of heavy reliance on imported fossil fuels. With the volatility of global oil markets, energy prices have inherent unpredictability.

Renewable energy, mainly domestically harvested sources like solar and wind, offers consistency and predictability. The Tanzanian government’s energy policy in 2015 underscores the significance of promoting domestic resources to achieve energy security, emphasising the role of renewable energy in this strategy.

Social Responsibility and Corporate Image

In the modern era, a company’s environmental and social responsibility is pivotal in shaping its image. Mining companies operating in Tanzania are increasingly aware of this global sentiment.

A survey conducted by Ernst & Young in 2020 highlighted that “license to operate” through sustainable and socially responsible practices topped the list of business risks for mining and metals companies. Adopting renewable energy isn’t just about operational efficiency; it’s also about being perceived as a forward-thinking, responsible entity in a global marketplace.

In mining, the adage ‘more for less’ resonates deeply. While incorporating renewable energy sources is a giant leap towards sustainable operations, the journey continues.

Enhancing energy efficiency in mining processes ensures that every unit of energy—whether from renewables or traditional sources—is utilised to its fullest potential. Here’s a more detailed look at the advancements and the accompanying data supporting this shift:

The electrification of mining equipment is an emerging trend. According to a report by the Rocky Mountain Institute, electrifying mine haul trucks and other equipment can reduce the mining industry’s overall energy consumption by about 10%. In Tanzania, some forward-thinking mining companies are exploring or piloting electric and hybrid vehicles, driven by the dual benefits of cost savings over the vehicle’s lifecycle and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Efficient water management and recycling play a significant role in energy consumption. In mining processes, treating and transporting water can be energy-intensive.

Adopting systems that recycle water can considerably reduce the energy footprint. According to the World Bank’s report on minerals for climate action, the mining sector’s water efficiency measures can lead to a potential 10-15% reduction in energy consumption.

Training and Workforce Engagement

A workforce that’s educated about energy efficiency can make a considerable difference. Regular training programs and incentivising energy-saving measures have led to a more conscientious use of resources.

The Energy Efficiency Council asserts that an engaged and trained workforce can improve energy efficiency by up to 17%.

Despite the progress, challenges remain. Setting up renewable energy plants requires substantial infrastructure. Tanzania still needs more investment in this sector to realise its potential.

The initial investment for renewable projects can be high, deterring many potential investors. However, a more supportive regulatory environment could fast-track the adoption of renewable energy in mining.

Also, underground mining requires effective ventilation systems to ensure the safety of the workforce. Traditional ventilation methods are often energy-intensive. However, energy usage can be optimised by employing intelligent ventilation systems that adjust based on the number of workers present or the amount of machinery operating.

Studies from the International Council on Mining & Metals (ICMM) suggest that ventilation on demand can lead to energy savings of up to 25-50% compared to conventional systems. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is making inroads into mining operations. By analysing patterns in energy consumption and predicting future needs, AI systems can optimise energy usage in real time.

A study by McKinsey & Company indicated that adopting AI in mining could lead to a 10% reduction in energy consumption, owing to optimised equipment usage and predictive maintenance.

In conclusion, there’s a visible transition on the horizon. While the figures from the past show a heavy lean towards fossil fuels, more recent data paints an optimistic picture. Reports from the Energy Access Situation Report 2019/2020 highlighted a notable shift, with the renewable energy contribution to the national grid witnessing an 8% increase in just a short span.

This is a strong indication that the mining sector and other industries are warming up to the idea of renewables as a viable energy source.

A skilled business writer who uses her background in business to explain tough ideas about economics and finance in easy-to-understand ways. She approches writing as a way to make a difference in the world, pushing for positive changes in society through her articles. Besides her work, Tumaini loves to read. She enjoys a variety of books, from imaginative novels to fact-filled history, which helps to give her writing fresh and interesting angles. Most of all, Tumaini believes in always learning and improving. Her tireless effort to know more and do better has earned her a respected place in the field of business journalism.

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