Zimbabwe mine eyes solar amid national power crisis

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Harare. Source: David Samuel Santos, Flickr

Caledonia Mining wants to build a solar power plant at its Blanket gold mine in southern Zimbabwe to ward off the worst from the country's increasingly volatile power supply.

Earlier this month, CEO Steve Curtis told shareholders the company is at “an advanced state of evaluating a solar PV generating facility which would reduce Blanket’s dependence on grid power.”

Like the rest of Zimbabwe, the 115-year old mine has been subjected to frequent and long interruptions to its power over the summer months.

According to Curtis, the power disruptions will reduce the underground gold mine's annual output by 3,000 to 6,000 ounces. Caledonia's initial estimations were that the mine would produce up to 56,000 ounces in total this year. It has revised that number to between 50,000 and 53,000.

Zimbabwe is in the midst of an unprecedented power crisis. It is currently producing just half of its 1,700MW peak demand because of ageing thermal stations and drought-induced low water levels at the country’s main hydro plant. 

Since early June, the country has spent 18 hours per day without power, which has devastated the economy and wreaked havoc on medicine, mining and other industries. In mid-August, the state-backed power cuts were scaled back to peak morning and evening hours after the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Agency (ZESA) purchased 400MW from South Africa’s state utility, Eskom.

Three of Zimbabwe’s top platinum miners – Zimplats, Mimosa and Unki – bankrolled ZESA’s US$10 million part-payment to Eskom for the power, according to a report on 18 August in Harare newspaper The Standard.

The South African state utility has a raft of problems of its own, including ZAR440 billion of debt (US$29 billion), technical insolvency and widespread power cuts.

South African miners are also toying with PV. In February, Harmony Gold Mining Company announced that it was in talks to develop 30MW of solar to help safeguard the firm against ongoing turmoil and power shortages at Eskom.

That same month, the South African government outlined plans to reopen PPAs signed in the early phases of the country’s renewables procurement programme in order to push for lower prices and relieve some of the financial pressure on the beleaguered state utility.

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