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Arnot Coal Powerstation

A Name For Everything

South Africa, the third largest economy in Africa and one of the most technologically advanced and diversified economies, still faces a chronic electricity shortage. One of the solutions implemented by the government has been rolling blackouts or load shedding as it is locally referred to. The severity of load shedding has been given a scale consisting of stages depending on the number of times power will be out and how many hours the outages will last during a 24-hour period. The causes for the electricity problem ranges wildly depending on who you speak to, from an apparent lack of clear policy decisions, which delayed the construction commencement of 2 direly needed new power stations, to the construction of the power stations taking more than a decade to complete due to design flaws and so on. Constant workforce strikes are an ongoing problem, combined with a lack of skills due to a massive brain drain as people emigrate in their masses.

Greater Good or Last Resort

This post is about decarbonization – yes. It is also about a country struggling to keep the lights on with coal as the primary and only generation method. Only recently has a small amount of solar and wind energy been allowed to contribute to the grid capacity; despite this, South Africa is still in a very challenging position and needs to continue constructing coal-fired power stations. Even with new power stations being built, it may be too little too late. The government has started lobbying for renewable energy sources. Is it from the sheer grit and determination of South Africans wanting to make a positive contribution to the global climate change crisis or simply because there is no other solution for South Africa’s power cuts? Does it matter? It will go a long way toward South Africa winning the race to be carbon neutral. The government and private sector are now aligned and fighting for the exact cause. The way that only South Africans can unite in diversity and always come out on top.
It is commendable how various countries race to implement sustainable clean energy to lower environmental impact and alter their carbon footprint. According to this article by the World Resource Institute, the leaders in the clean energy transition are Costa Rica, Denmark, Ethiopia, and the United Kingdom. Some leading countries gained the advantage by intent, while others gained geography and history. How can South Africa be leading the way with few of these factors to exploit?

Culprits to Heroes

With South Africa’s sole power utility unable to meet energy supply needs, companies are swiftly moving to self-generation. The country’s primary energy consumer, the mining sector, is leading this charge. According to the Minerals Council of South Africa, there are 73 self-generation projects in place. The most popular generation method is solar power – Gold Fields is constructing a plant consisting of 100 000 panels and 50MW-capacity expected to come online later in 2022.

The expected generation capacity of the South African mining industry will be 2 294 MW by 2025. Thus more than the capacity of one of the largest coal-fired plants – Arnot. Other popular methods include hydrogen, wind, battery storage, and gas. Let’s repeat: The mining sector will effectively reduce its load on the grid by the capacity of an entire power station.

Taking the ‘Power’ into their own hands

Mining companies’ efforts will reduce the mining sector’s exposure to Eskom by 20 – 30%. This will undoubtedly go a long way towards the mining houses meeting their 2050 net-zero carbon emissions targets. It will mean less load shedding, higher production, and the ability to create end-to-end system transparency. With the mining sector’s massive efforts, combined with various government initiatives and foreign investment, there is definitely ‘light’ at the end of the tunnel for South Africa.

And so, this is how South Africa will be a considerable contender in the race to carbon neutrality. Thanks to the mining sector and government uniting to meet citizens’ needs, South Africans once again united in adversity and unexpectedly rose up to the challenge to compete on the global stage.

Maximizing Profitability and Reducing Operational Risk

The decarbonization strategy entails deploying captive renewable-based power sources. It will mean maximizing profitability and reducing operational risk across their sites….while also being able to put additional energy back into the grid. This has a twin effect: reducing power draw from the grid, which will avail capacity to serve South African consumers while generating additional capacity.

AI and Software will play a massive role in making this vision a reality. Some of the areas where these technologies will play their part are: 

  • Providing end-to-end system transparency of electron movement and associated carbon consumption across mining operations. 
  • A system optimization software that can balance the power generated to the operational cadence/regime. 
  • Finally, developing an energy-optimized mining operational regime that aligns with local operating conditions.

Our work with mining majors has shown us that the key is for miners to keep thinking holistically as a system – besides technology driving carbon efforts, it also reduces costs and increases throughput and reserve bases.

With technology such as Scientific AI (SciAI*), it is possible to optimize processes to the degree that can drastically reduce an operation’s carbon footprint. At the same time, it can increase profits and help mines reach net metal targets. Win-win.

IntelliSense.io provides a market-leading Scientific AI (SciAI*) powered Decision Intelligence Platform, and Process Optimization Applications span the Circular Economy for Metals.  We are a leader in Industrial AI, with over 100 employees and offices across four continents, headquartered in Cambridge, UK.

Intellisense.io recently won the Prestigious “Artificial Intelligence Solution of the Year” award at the UK National Technology Awards 2022

*Scientific AI is the fusion of physics models with machine learning techniques. It was developed by Intellisense.io to further increase net metal production through the use of our AI solutions.

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