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A wind farm in Caledon. Picture: JACQUES STANDER/GALLO IMAGES
A wind farm in Caledon. Picture: JACQUES STANDER/GALLO IMAGES

Energy-intensive industries — including mining, manufacturing, electricity and water industries — contribute more than 20% of SA’s GDP. A smooth just energy transition (JET) benefits almost 1-million people employed along these value chains, and the whole country. But to get this right we need a combination of pragmatism, smart innovations and investment. Regarding mining, SA should prioritise three approaches to achieve a successful just transition.  

More technological innovation 

Innovative digital technologies can make traditional and new uses of mining more operationally efficient, safe and sustainable. Mining is needed to produce consumer goods and electrical products, and looking to the future it is needed for renewable energy, electric vehicles and energy storage systems, with the considerations of the current global demand for resources for the global energy transition and in the absence of an established circular economy for resources. 

Technology can build a bridge between the past and future of mining. That is why Siemens is developing innovations to optimise the mining life cycle, and to ensure smooth mineral processing plant operations. If we can connect plant systems we can ensure mining knowledge workers are better prepared to respond to issues before they become costly situations. Improved software, digital life cycles and data-driven decision-making are vital for better efficiency. And by improving efficiencies and providing transparency, great ideas can be brought to life faster, improving competitiveness across the mining life cycle. This means more profit, jobs, innovation, more business stability and sustainability, and a greater contribution to GDP.  

An enormous opportunity also exists in Africa to use technology to improve environmental, social & governance (ESG) monitoring and reporting. The tracking of ESG criteria in mining is becoming vital in light of the EU, and specifically Germany’s, new supply chain legislation, which requires tracking to the source of a commodity to see how it was mined and processed, and whether human rights and environmental standards were followed. Innovation makes mining safer and improves the footprint it leaves in local communities.   

Smarter off-grid mining 

If we are to overcome SA’s energy crisis and build a resilient economy our mines and other heavy energy users must go off-grid. However, there is more to it than simply transitioning to renewable energy resources. Developing and sustaining a decentralised, decarbonised energy system requires the convergence of grids and the management of advanced microgrids to seamlessly integrate power from renewable energy sources to a mine’s off-grid power supply.  

Technology already in use worldwide in places such as Australia is helping miners run more successful renewable energy projects at mine sites. This technology helps miners adapt to changing conditions and do more detailed reporting and analysis for operational and management purposes. It is vital to simplify the use of renewable energy for mines and help provide them with cost-effective and reliable power supply to make going off the grid worthwhile.  

Private partnerships in the ports and rails system  

For wind, solar and other renewable energy innovations to be rolled out at the scale required to achieve carbon neutral economies essential minerals needed for this effort should first be able to be moved without hindrances. Minerals from the mines in SA’s interior must make their way to renewable energy factories worldwide safely, quickly and affordably.  

Rail and port systems in SA and across the continent are in dire need of investment for maintenance, security and expansion. In most cases this infrastructure is government operated. Public-private partnerships or other forms of investment can help ensure the necessary capital flows to properly maintain this infrastructure, for everyone’s benefit.  

Mining companies have an important role to play, for instance in ensuring that trains are sufficiently loaded so that costs can be covered, and rail networks can be continually upgraded. Mining companies, investors and off-takers of the minerals also need to be made part of the security solution along these vital transport routes. Multifaceted infrastructure partnerships will benefit the mining industry and governments, economies and the just energy transition as a whole.  

Creating the right conditions for public-private investment

Local and international solutions are needed along the mining value chain to help realise the just energy transition in SA. While companies like Siemens and others have internationally honed and locally adapted technology and expertise along the supply chain for a cleaner energy future, other players can offer innovative financing or export solutions for the local ecosystem.  

President Cyril Ramaphosa recently stated that it will cost almost R1.5-trillion for the implementation of the government’s Just Energy Transition Investment Plan — to build infrastructure, planning and implementation capacity, skills development, economic diversification, innovation, social investment and inclusion. Mining will no doubt play a big role in that investment picture.  

To attract the large investments mining and other heavy industries should be transitioned. The current energy crisis should not distract and discourage us from creating greater multilateral co-operation between international organisations, the private and public sectors and individuals, to promote, invest and engage in the energy transition.  

SA’s energy transition has enormous potential to create millions of sustainable and stable jobs and ensure a safer future for people and the environment, while ensuring SA remains competitive in the global value chain. If we can make mutually beneficial long-term public-private partnerships work we can successfully transition SA’s mining sector, like many other thriving mining countries worldwide.  

Dall’Omo is CEO of Siemens Sub-Saharan Africa.

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