Day 2 - 11.00 - Stream 4 - Mining, Critical Minerals & Energy | Energy capacity needs for Africa's booming mineral mining sector
The mining sector is undoubtedly critical to Africa’s future prosperity.
A vital economic contributor, employer and investor in many African nations and communities, the industry was, not surprisingly, very well represented in Nairobi. The viability of mining operations hinges on access to a reliable and sufficient energy supply, and this formed the focus of an interactive boardroom session on day two at aef 2023.
The panel comprised a balance of public and private sector stakeholders, including government representatives from Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as delegates from KenGen, Jinko Solar Global and Hitachi Energy.
Bhavtik Vallabhjee, Head of Power & Renewables at Absa CIB, led the boardroom session, which began with some context setting around the demand for minerals, including how the current sanctions in Russia, home to 14% of the world’s minerals, opens up an opportunity for Africa to assume a greater role on the global stage. In addition, with key energy transition and decarbonisation trends such as the rise of electric vehicles and development of battery storage solutions gathering momentum, the need for minerals to support these endeavours is exponentially increasing.
This discussion, therefore, was extremely timely. It began with each of the country representatives giving an overview of the context of their domestic mining markets, and the types of energy infrastructure needed to maximise their potential. In Burkina Faso, for example, investment in transmission was identified as a major imperative. Nigeria, meanwhile, is home to a relatively nascent mining sector. However, the country is in the process of reducing reliance on fossil fuel extraction by diversifying its economy, and mining is set to play an important role to this end. Elsewhere, it was revealed that Nigeria is seeking ways to extract its abundant supply of lithium, a crucial mineral that is in high demand from the likes of the battery and electric vehicle industries.
The panel also discussed aef host nation Kenya, which has made remarkable strides in its renewable energy sector. Here, three key lessons were identified as applicable to developing energy capacity to support mining operations – pursue renewables for cost and sustainability purposes, think long term to build skills and capacity, and be willing to take risks on a consistent basis and have faith in the technological solutions available.
Electrification of mines and mining applications will be crucial to the sector decarbonising. Here, battery technology was discussed as having the potential to provide the stability needed for power systems to reliably serve mines to ensure maximum uptime. However, the issue of bankability and cost effectiveness was raised as a barrier to progress, with frustrations cited around projects not being able to close. The importance of being able to prove feasibility to investors, and raise awareness of the solutions available, was therefore strongly emphasised.
The role of public private partnerships (PPP) and PPP investors was also outlined, as well as regional power pools and how the development of transmission infrastructure can enable Africa’s power pools to operate more seamlessly – these things will, panellists agreed, help to provide a robust system which is able to support a booming and expanding mining sector.