South African mining companies can manage water usage as part of a wider, integrated strategy for sustainable business, writes Stephen Austin, independent energy advisor to Ensight Energy Solutions.
The persistent drought in most of South Africa over the last couple of years and especially in the Western Cape province these last two years should serve as a wakeup call to South African industry and government. We live in a water-scarce country, yet many organisations are failing to manage water usage in a way that reflects just how precious this resource is and how important it is to conserve it.
South Africa is one of the 30 driest countries in the world, with an annual rainfall of less than 450 mm, well below the world average of around 860 mm a year. As we begin to feel more of the effects of climate change, we can expect to endure more extreme weather conditions, including the possibility of more frequent droughts that last longer.
Agriculture accounts for around 60% of South Africa’s water usage and 12% goes to domestic use, according to the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWA). Usage for afforestation makes up 3.7%, power generation accounts for 2.2%, and mining and bulk industrial use comprises around 5.7%. Little attention is paid to the industrial sector’s use of water, yet it is an area where we can score relatively quick and easy wins.
A growing operational risk
Nonetheless, we are not seeing mining companies pay much attention to water effi ciency, for the simple reason that it is not a major operational cost for most of them. Where energy costs may account for up to 30% of a major mining company’s operational expenditure, water might make up less than 2% of its operating costs.
The relatively low cost of water usage for most mining companies, however, belies its importance in production. From cooling production machinery to smelting material to moving minerals, water is crucial to mining. If the water supply to a plant stops, it will not be able to continue production, which will in turn damage its revenues and profits. This is a good reason to embrace water effi ciency as a business imperative – another is that the cost of water is likely to rise in the years to come.
The good news is that a strategy for water efficiency can work in lockstep with a mining company’s drive to reduce energy costs and carbon emissions. If you are wasting electrical power on a mine, there is a good chance you are wasting water too (and vice versa).
Imposing discipline on your energy usage will also help to reduce water usage in most cases. This is about looking at your environment in a holistic way and seeing how your various systems and equipment interact with each other.
Ways to use water more efficiently
For example, a mine that is using ineffi cient slurry systems to move material will possibly be pumping more water than it needs to into the system as well as using excessive power. A small increase in the density of the slurry mixture and a more efficient water pumping system could decrease water requirements by as much as 30%. Similarly, in a process plant running equipment that is 30 years old, it’s not unusual to be using water at a pressure four times higher than necessary to suppress dust – a potential waste of both power and water.
Another great example is how poorly optimised the cooling systems are in many mining processes – if you’re using old, inefficient technology, it will be generating more heat than necessary, demanding more water and power to cool it. Another innovation that South African mining companies could look at is desalination plants to produce fresh water. They can use energy efficient solar sources or recaptured heat from other systems for this purpose.
Ensight Energy Solutions, which helps companies in energy-intensive industries such as resources to implement efficient solutions that reduce their energy costs and their carbon emissions, has worked closely with a number of mining companies on energy efficiency strategies. When we measure how this impacts on water usage the results are encouraging.
We helped one customer save around 143 000 MWh in energy a year through a range of strategies – this also reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 142 000 t and saved nearly 5 700 Mℓ of water (that’s enough water for 76 600 hippos’ annual water requirements).
Given the fragile water situation in South Africa, mining companies should embrace water efficiency both as an essential component of their risk management strategy and as a contribution towards ensuring the sustainability of our country. Using water efficiently can help organisations meet their energy efficiency and carbon emission goals; it is an integral part of running a responsible and sustainable business.
To meet skyrocketing demand for electricity, African countries may have to triple their energy output by 2030. While hydropower and fossil fuel power plants are favored approaches in some quarters, a new assessment by the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has found that wind and solar can be economically and environmentally competitive options and can contribute significantly to the rising demand.
“Wind and solar have historically been dismissed as too expensive and temporally variable, but one of our key findings is that there are plentiful wind and solar resources in Africa that are both low-impact and cost-effective,” said Ranjit Deshmukh, one of the lead researchers of the study. “Another important finding is that with strategic siting of the renewable energy resource and with more energy trade and grid interconnections between countries, the total system cost can be lower than it would be if countries were to develop their resource in isolation without strategic siting.”
The research appeared online this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in an article titled, “Strategic siting and regional grid interconnections key to low-carbon futures in African countries.” The lead authors are Deshmukh and Grace C. Wu, both Berkeley Lab researchers in the Energy Technologies Area. Much of the initial research was funded by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), which is based in Abu Dhabi. Individual fellowships from the National Science Foundation and the Link Foundation to Wu and Deshmukh supported the expanded analysis on wind siting.
“As a region, Africa is in an unparalleled energy crisis rife with electricity deficiency, lack of access, and high costs,” said Wu. “How African countries and the international community tackle this crisis in the coming decades will have large social, environmental, and climate implications.”
One-of-a-kind open-source planning framework and tool
The Berkeley Lab study is the first of its kind for Africa, using multiple criteria-such as quality of the resource, distance from transmission lines and roads, co-location potential, availability of water resources, potential human impact, and many other factors-to characterize wind and solar resources. Looking at the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) and the Eastern Africa Power Pool (EAPP), which together include 21 countries accounting for half the continent’s population, it found that many countries have wind and solar potential several times greater than their expected demand in 2030.
The tool they used to make these evaluations, the Multicriteria Analysis for Planning Renewable Energy (MapRE, at mapre.lbl.gov) was developed at Berkeley Lab in collaboration with IRENA and is open-source and publicly available to researchers and policymakers.
“Usually project developers will just choose the site with the least levelized cost and best wind speeds, but in reality those aren’t the best sites,” Deshmukh said. “Often times you want development closer to transmission infrastructure or to cities so you don’t have to assume the risk involved in developing transmission infrastructure over long distances, let alone transmitting electricity across those distances. It’s difficult to quantify those costs. Our tool enables stakeholders to bring all these criteria into their decision-making and helps them prioritize areas for development and preplanning of transmission.”
Siting and grid interconnections are key
Not only did the researchers find plentiful wind and solar resources in Africa, another key finding was that system costs and impacts could be lower with robust energy trade and grid connections between countries. And if wind farms are strategically sited so as to manage peak demand, costs can be lower still.
“System costs can be further reduced if wind farms are sited where the timing of wind generation matches electricity demand rather than in areas that maximize wind energy production,” Wu said. “These cost savings are due to avoided natural gas, hydro, or coal generation capacity.”
For example, the researchers found that in a high-wind scenario in the Southern Africa Power Pool, strategic siting and grid interconnections would reduce the need for conventional generation capacity by 9.5 percent, resulting in cost savings of 6 to 20 percent, depending on the technology that was avoided.
“Together, international energy trade and strategic siting can enable African countries to pursue ‘no-regrets’ wind and solar that can compete with conventional generation technologies like coal and hydropower,” Wu said. “No-regrets options are low-cost, low-impact, and low-risk.”
With Berkeley Lab’s MapRE tool, policymakers will be able to do a preliminary evaluation of various sites on their own without having to rely on developers for technical information. “This information brings policymakers level with project developers,” Deskhmukh said. “It reduces costs for everybody and allows for a much more sustainable planning paradigm.”
In addition to Africa, the researchers have uploaded data for India and plan to add more countries, most likely in Asia. And they have held five workshops in Africa for regulators, academics, utilities, and energy officials to share the approach and findings. “They’ve been super enthusiastic,” Deshmukh said. “We’re seeing impacts on the ground.”
The amount of wind and solar currently deployed in Africa is tiny, he said. But with global prices having declined dramatically in the last decade or so, renewable energy has become a competitive alternative. And while hydropower is a significant and familiar resource in Africa, climbing costs and persistent droughts are making it less attractive.
“Just based purely on economics today wind and solar are attractive,” Deshmukh said. “It makes economic sense. Through planning around multiple stakeholder criteria and prioritizing wind and solar projects for regional energy trade, policymakers and financiers can increase their cost-competitiveness.”
So, here’s the good news. Big Oil is increasingly looking at large-scale renewable energy plants as a valid alternative to coal and gas plants – not surprising given the plunging cost of wind and solar technology in the last few years.
Shell is the latest to commit to building large-scale renewables, confirming late last week a promise that it made nearly a year ago that it was looking to invest in wind and solar plants, a shift it hopes will help underpin the demand for gas.
Together, Big Oil hopes, they can kill the coal industry by marrying wind, solar and gas, and they are talking up the climate imperative to help them do so.
But “green gas plants”? This ranks up there with “clean coal” as fossil fuel propaganda, but it is exactly the way that the Murdoch media chose to describe Shell’s promise to combine solar and gas in Oman, Brunei and Australia, trumpeting the headline “Shell to invest in green gas plants” to lead its business section.
Let’s get a few things in perspective. It’s great that Big Oil is increasingly looking at wind and solar for new investments. Dong Energy has already shifted in a big way to wind and will dump coal altogether in a few years. France’s Total is the major shareholder in SunPower.
Shell and the other Big Oil players hope that the world uses more gas and sees the big push towards renewable energy as a major opportunity to create demand for their huge gas reserves: hence their concerted attack on coal as a dirty and unnecessary power source.
But is Shell really going to build new gas plants to partner solar facilities? Hardly. Australia does not have a shortage of gas plants: Most of them sit unused for large chunks of the time, sidelined by cheaper coal or the growth in renewables, and by soaring gas prices.
And its biggest competition will not come from more renewables, which it sees as a potential partner, but from battery storage, particularly as gas prices continue to remain high.
Storage costs are coming down fast, and batteries are much more responsive than gas and can provide more added value – to the grid, in avoiding network investment as well as responding to variations in demand and supply and peak demand events.
And if Shell’s commitment to big solar in Australia sounded just a little vague, there is a reason why,
As the Financial Times points out in its reporting of the press conference late last week, Shell intends to invest less than $1 billion a year in renewables across the globe – just a fraction of its annual capital expenditure of nearly $US30 billion.
And this would include wind farms – already it is contracted to build a large wind farm off the Dutch coast and has been shortlisted for a similar US project in waters off North Carolina.
In other words, its commitment to “green gas” in Australia will be minuscule, and likely less significant than the many new players entering the Australian markets to build facilities that go by their real name: solar plants.
Power, Joburg Water and Pikitup are one step closer to falling under the operational control of the Johannesburg municipality, Mayor Herman Mashaba said on Sunday.
“On Thursday, Johannesburg City Council approved a report proposing the initiation of a process to reintegrate municipal-owned entities…”
Currently, said Mashaba, “the absurdity of this situation is that the City is the sole shareholder of these entities, but they operate under the Company’s Act and are semi-autonomous of the City”.
The managing directors and chief operating officers of these entities report, not to the municipality, but to a board of directors.
“How can a City be responsible and accountable to its residents for fast-tracking service delivery when it does not have complete control over the entities that implement delivery?”
The mayor said he hoped the entities – including City Power, Joburg Water and Pikitup – would be reintegrated back into the City’s structures within 18 months.
He said the report, which was approved earlier this week, detailed the process which would be followed, including establishing task teams, conducting feasibility studies, and ensuring public consultation.
Mashaba said there would be no job losses, as employees would be incorporated into the City’s structures.
He said the move would also save the City money, as the current salaries of non-executive board members for the entities cost R18-million a year.
“This is what we need to do to correct the sluggish and non-responsive nature of our service delivery in our City.”
As part of its debt collection efforts, State-owned Eskom on Wednesday started interruptions of bulk electricity supply to some defaulting municipalities in North West and the Northern Cape.
The municipalities of Naledi, Lekwa-Teemane and Kgetlengrivier, in North West, as well as the Ubuntu and Renosterberg municipalities, in the Northern Cape, will have their supply interrupted.
Power supply will be cut between 06:00 and 08:00 and 17:00 and 19:30 during weekdays and between 08:30 and 11:00 and 15:00 and 17:30 on weekends.
Many defaulting municipalities that were set to have their power cut from this month have made payments to Eskom or reached payment plans with the utility.
Eskom on Tuesday reported that 21 of the 34 identified municipalities scheduled for supply interruptions during January had met its requirements. As a result, these municipalities have not had their supply interruptions suspended. This includes the Madibeng and Maquassi Hills municipalities in North West.
“We are immensely encouraged by the kind of response we are witnessing presently and would like to thank all the municipalities that have made an effort to pay their accounts, and committed to their payment agreements,” said Eskom interim CEO Matshela Koko.
Eskom will monitor the strict adherence to the payment plans and the payment of current accounts of these municipalities and any defaults will result in the interruption of supply without further notice.
Municipal customers are encouraged to engage with their supply authorities to get updated information on their municipality’s arrears situation.
The world experienced its largest increase in green, renewable energy in 2015, adding over 147 gigawatts of wind, solar and other alternative energy power to the global grid, according to the Renewables 2016 Global Status Report, released on 1 June by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, or REN21.
South Africa is one of the stand-out green nations, making remarkable strides in renewable energy, says Christine Lins, the REN21 executive secretary.
According to the report, the $1-billion (about R15.6-billion today) investment in African renewable energy initiatives in 2004 increased to more than $12-billion in 2015/16, a growth of 58%, thanks in large part to projects begun in South Africa.
South Africa was the first country on the continent to produce a gigawatt from solar power, and its contribution to wind power generation had pushed Africa’s output to more than 3 gigawatts.
Global investment in renewable energy is driven, the report states, by being both cost competitive with traditional fossil fuels and a dynamic job creator in several countries, particularly in Africa.
“Renewable generation has created 60 000 jobs in Africa, and of those, half are in South Africa,” says Lins. This boost has been driven mainly by South Africa’s successful Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme.
The REN21 report confirms that governments are still key in driving renewables as a legitimate power alternative.
While 173 countries are meeting renewable energy targets in 2016, with South Africa especially making up ground in utility-scale renewable generation, a challenge still remains in effectively using residential energy production.
As has become the norm in Europe and North America, households that generate their own electricity through solar or wind power are encouraged to sell electricity back to local and national utility operations.
South Africa has the infrastructure and know-how to incentivise individual power generation to help bring renewable energy to more people, in turn lessening the reliance on fossil fuels.
The boost in South Africa’s renewable energy profile, fuelled by larger and better-performing energy solutions with the full support of the government and private enterprise is “truly remarkable”, says Lins, “(particularly when) achieved at a time when fossil fuel prices were at historic lows, and renewables remained at a significant disadvantage in terms of government subsidies”.
Solar power is making huge strides as a reliable, renewable energy source, but there’s still a lot of untapped potential in terms of the efficiency of photovoltaic cells and what happens at night and during inclement weather. Now a solution has been put forward in the form of producing energy from raindrops.
Key to the new process is graphene: a ‘wonder’ material we’ve heard plenty about before. Because raindrops are not made up of pure water, and contain various salts that split up into positive and negative ions, a team from the Ocean University of China in Qingdao thinks we can harness power via a simple chemical reaction. Specifically, they want to use graphene sheets to separate the positively charged ions in rain (including sodium, calcium, and ammonium) and in turn generate electricity.
Early tests, using slightly salty water to simulate rain, have been promising: the researchers were able to generate hundreds of microvolts and achieve a respectable 6.53 percent solar-to-electric conversion efficiency from their customised solar panel.
For the experiment, the team used an inexpensive, thin-film solar cell called a dye-sensitised solar cell. After adding a layer of graphene to the cell, it was put on a transparent backing of indium tin oxide and plastic. The resulting ‘all-weather’ solar cell concept was then equipped to produce power from both sunshine and the rain substitute.
What’s happening here is that the positively charged ions are binding to the ultra-thin layer of graphene and forming a double layer (technically referred to as a pseudocapacitor) with the electrons already present. The potential energy difference between the two layers is strong enough to generate an electric current.
The experiment is still just in the ‘proof of concept’ phase, so there’s work to be done, but the researchers hope their findings can “guide the design” of future all-weather solar cells and contribute to the growing influence of renewable energy.
They’re now working on adjusting the technology to handle the variety of ions found in real raindrops and figuring how to generate enough electricity from the typically low concentrations they come in.
It’s not the first time graphene has been used to boost solar energy technologies: earlier this year, a team from the UK was able to create a graphene-based material that’s very effective at absorbing ambient heat and light, and which could eventually lead to solar panels that can work with the diffuse sunlight that finds its way indoors.
If these scientists get their way, in the future, photovoltaic cells may not be hampered by a lack of direct sunshine at all.
FISITA stands for the Fédération Internationale des Sociétés D’ingénieurs des Techniques de L’Automobile. To make it easier, think of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) on a global scale. Dr. Chris Borroni-Bird, vice president for Strategic Development at Qualcomm has posted a proposal on the FISITA website that calls for a new mobility model for Africa.
The idea is predicated on the fact that much of Africa has little or no formal transportation infrastructure. Therefore, conventional vehicles meant to travel on conventional roads are not suitable for transportation in many parts of Africa. Borroni-Bird proposes that a solar-powered low-speed electric vehicle would be ideal for use in Africa’s poorest communities. Its basic architecture would provide a frame, an electric motor, brakes, and a steering mechanism. Everything else could be constructed inexpensively using materials available locally.
Such a vehicle could enable the growth of commerce at the most basic level. The solar-powered EVs could provide transportation to collect wood from the forest or water from a well. The time saved by not having to do these daily chores on foot would enable the manufacture of local goods that could then become part of a micro-economy. It might also create time that could be used for education and community-building activities.
A low-speed, lightweight vehicle could travel easily between adjacent villages. That could facilitate access to fertilizer to grow crops and a connection to markets to sell goods. It would also expand healthcare opportunities. When not being used for transportation, the vehicle could be used to power water pumps, grind grain, or charge cellphones.
The idea is similar to what Philips is doing with its new line of solar-powered lights designed specifically for rural communities in Africa that do not have access to conventional electrical grids. The lights provide a source of illumination that makes educational and commercial activities possible after sunset for the first time in many parts of the continent.
For many who are not familiar with Africa, it is easy to assume that the vehicles and infrastructure we are accustomed to in the developed world can just be imported to Africa and be useful. We fail to recognize how rudimentary life in much of that continent can be.
What Dr. Borroni-Bird does is simplify the notion of what transportation means for residents of Africa and reduce it to its component parts. It is a classic example of “less is more” thinking. It recognizes that everything we think of as normal in our world is not necessarily what people in other parts of the world need in theirs.
JOHANNESBURG – According to the Water Efficiency Report released by ActionAid South Africa on Tuesday, big business should be taking the lead in helping to deal with the country’s water crisis. Because of the threat that water scarcity problems pose to both the social and economic stability of the republic, it urges industry to become involved, at least as much as government, in addressing the issue.
Perhaps there is even a space for a water innovation industry to sprout, much as the renewable energy industry has burgeoned in the face of policy uncertainty and pressing need.
“Companies, whether they are big, small or medium, are all going to be affected by the water crisis one way or another,” says water expert Anthony Thurton, who contributed to the report. “Some of them are going to be affected negatively and they’re going to either ignore it – in which case they will become victims of the situation – and others are going to be very progressive and very positive about it, and they are going to change their business model and tailor it to the new reality.”
Thurton is also the director of water technology company Gurumanzi, which provides ‘uninterrupted water supply solutions’ that address the water risk problem much like an uninterrupted power supply eases concerns over load-shedding and other power cuts. It provides a back-up water reserve that lasts up to 48 hours, that can be rented by households, schools, hospitals, and even residential or business estates.
“There are many examples of solutions that companies are working on and they are all disrupters, or game changers in their own right,” says Thurton, referring to one company that is in the process of developing a solution that treats borehole water to improve its quality.
Privatisation is controversial
Johann Boonzaaier is the chief executive manager of the Impala Water Users Association, which owns a dam in KwaZulu-Natal in the only area that has not been affected by the drought because Impala was able to sell water to the municipality. The dam is about the same size as Hartbeespoort Dam and, according to Boonzaaier, would cost around R600 million to build at today’s prices.
But he says privatising water is a controversial topic because access to water is a basic human right. He believes there is much to be done with regard to regulations in such a scenario. He points out how Eskom’s price increases have had a dire impact on the economy and that this would be magnified if the price of water were to rise to match its scarcity.
“The danger of that is that many peoples’ livelihood depends on that water,” says Boonzaaier, “and if you get industries that can pay the highest price, then what will happen to the majority of farmers who farm for subsistence and cannot afford to pay that price?”
The report also notes that making agricultural irrigation systems more efficient could save up to 40% of current water use.
“Another question is, what is the value of water? For us, the value of the water use is the total cost of maintaining the resource. But in the Western Cape, the price is four times what ours is. So how do you decide? You must remember that, you can get along without food for a while, but if you go two days without water you’re bound to perish.”
Thurton says the National Water Act and the Water Services Act are under review, and that there is a drive to have them amalgamated into one piece of legislation to address the changes that are necessary to improve water efficiency. One of the suggested changes would see residential estates being regarded as water service providers: they buy bulk water from the local authority and distribute it to their users.
South Africans use 235 litres of water per day, while an average world citizen uses 173 litres of water per day. If municipalities could reduce the per capita consumption to the world average, the demand-supply gap would be reduced by almost half – SA Water Efficiency Report 2016
“In effect, what that will do is it will privatise a certain portion of the value chain, and that will open up a whole new way of doing things… On the one hand it presents new business opportunities but on the other it is completely uncharted territory,” Thurton says.
Providing water is government’s responsibility
The report states that, while there are already acute water shortages in 6 500 rural communities, the problem will spread to the metropolitan areas. It states that, by 2030 there will be a 17% supply deficit, with the large cities being the worst affected.
“Cape Town, which falls within the Berg Water Management Area, will need to close a gap of about 28% to meet demand,” reads the report.
But Emily Craven from ActionAid South Africa says the intention of the report is not to start a dialogue on privatisation, but rather how to eradicate the inefficiencies within the country’s water eco-system. In some cases, this would lead to the companies that are directly responsible for those inefficiencies benefiting financially from perpetuating them.
Says Craven: “It would be a bit worrying if the first response from a report like this is a debate on water privatisation. Ultimately, it is government’s responsibility to ensure that people have access to clean, healthy water. That said, there is space for technology to be used to improve the system… We have seen it where mines have water purification plants that allow them to put water back into the system… What worries us is when the monetary value is put into the equation. Because mines are the biggest polluters of the water, essentially what you would have is municipalities buying their own water from the mines that polluted it in the first place”.
Danish lighting company Scotia unveils new range of solar-powered streetlights that promise to turn local authorities into ‘energy powerhouses’
London may take a lead in zero-emissions street lighting later this year if plans go ahead to install the first wave of a pioneering streetlight that illuminates streets and feeds energy back into the grid using only solar power.
The Monopole street light, developed by Danish solar lighting firm Scotia, collects solar energy during daylight hours and stores it in a battery for use after sundown. Not only do the lights generate enough energy to power themselves, they can also feed energy back into the local grid to turn local authorities into “energy powerhouses”, according to Scotia’s founder Steven Scott.
Scotia unveiled its new range of Monopoles at a German trade fair last week. Earlier versions have already been installed in Denmark, Nigeria, and the Middle East and the firm is now hoping to install two trial streetlights in the London borough of Westminster as part of Transport for London’s strategy to roll out solar energy across London.
According to Scotia, if all of the UK’s seven million streetlights were switched to Monopoles, it would save more than £300m in electricity costs and generate more than 4TWh of clean power per year. Some 40 per cent of this would feed back into the grid, saving more than two million tonnes of CO2 every year, it added.
“Instead of being a drain on national grids and a huge expense for local authorities, Monopoles turn streetlights into mini power stations,” Scott said in a statement. “They’ve already proved to be hugely successful in our pilots in Copenhagen, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh and we anticipate demand will be high from around the world.”