Eskom to jointly develop solar projects at South African coal mines

Mining accounts for 6% of global green house gas emissions. Image: Dominik Vanyi via Unsplash

South African public utility Eskom has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with mining companies Exxaro and Seriti Resources to help decarbonise their operations by deploying solar PV.

Announced today (25 October), the first phase of the agreement will see the construction of off-grid and wheeled solar solutions both at the mines and at Eskom sites. Further projects to decarbonise may include battery storage or wind power, said Eskom in a company statement.

Exxaro and Seriti are the largest coal suppliers to Eskom, providing about 80% of Eskom’s coal supply per year. By establishing renewable sources of energy at their Eskom-linked sites, the companies aim to reduce emissions and save costs. They have committed to starting the projects immediately.

Solar has increasingly been recognised as an effective and cheap way to lower emissions at off-grid mining operations. The mining sector as a whole accounts for 6% of world energy demand.

The proposed projects would reduce Seriti’s emissions by 50% based on coal fired power generation, while Exxaro would reduce emissions from one of its coal mines, Matla, by up to 70%.

“Eskom continues to explore means to lower the cost of coal supplied to its power stations, and this investment allows it to advantage of the low cost of photovoltaic power,” said its CEO André de Ruyter.

The news comes after Reuters reported that Eskom, which supplies more than 90% of South Africa’s electricity, held “fruitful discussions” with Western climate envoys from the UK, US, Germany and France about how to reducing emissions from its 15 coal-fired power stations.

Both Erraxo and Seritit recognised the issues with continued coal power but said its burning was important for South Africa’s electricity generation. Company heads also referenced a just transition to defend continued coal operations.

“[Decarbonisation] needs to be done in such a way that does not destroy our industrial base, or the lives of South Africans that rely on our companies for jobs, enterprise and support: this is the very basis of a just transition,” said Mike Teke, CEO of Seriti.

Several mining companies are looking for solutions to their emissions problems. Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto is looking to deploy 6GW of solar and wind in Australia as part of a new plan to reduce its carbon emissions by 50% by 2030, and has signed power purchase agreements (PPA) with IPPs in Madagascar for its operations there.

Meanwhile, BHP has agreed to build out two solar farms to power its operations in Western Australia and mining company Centamin has enlisted German developer and EPC contractor Juwi to design, supply and build a solar-storage hybrid project at an off-grid gold mine in Egypt. 

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