Like other regions of the world, the African mining sector is struggling. Factors affecting the industry include price volatility, surging operational costs, and a declining commodity demand. It is not all doom and gloom. There are opportunities out there, thanks to a booming global and local renewable energy sector.
From the procurement and installation of 6 GW of wind, solar, and biomass in South Africa to the construction of Africa’s largest wind farm in Kenya and Morocco’s target to have 52 percent of renewables by 2030: Africa is catching up rapidly.
“The production of solar panels, wind turbines, and other clean energy technology as well as solar PV storage batteries requires a vast range of metals and minerals,” Andrew Lapping, head of the Africa Equity Fund at investment management firm Allan Gray, said.
Many of those metals and minerals are found in Africa, he added, including copper.
“The long-term demand for African copper is looking good, particularly for Zambia, which is one of the world’s largest producers of this metal,” he said.
Fortune Mojapelo, CEO of Bushveld Minerals in South Africa, agrees with Lapping. While coal is Bushveld’s prime commodity for now, the focus is shifting towards vanadium.
“Apart from strengthening steel, vanadium is increasingly used in energy storage technology and batteries,” he said, referring to the various types of vanadium-flow batteries that have entered the market, mainly as components of large-scale projects and microgrids.
The metal is found in all continents, but South Africa is known as the world’s vanadium epicenter, harboring some 25 percent of the global deposits.
“We at Bushveld Minerals are of the opinion that the global energy storage market is at a tipping point, thanks to the aggressive adoption of renewable energy and the increased desire to capture clean energy,” Mojapelo said. “That bodes good news for African miners who are extracting vanadium and other metals.”
Kenneth Ozoemena, chief scientist at the Electrochemical Energy Technologies at South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), agrees. He predicts a global energy storage boom in the near future.
“Energy storage batteries are the next wave of disruptive energy technology,” he said. “Between 2015 and 2020, the global battery sector is expected to grow from $0.5 billion to $14 billion,” he said. “Drivers include increased climate change awareness, improved technology, cheaper products, and ambitious targets by various countries in terms of adopting renewables.”
Apart from boosting the African mining and renewable energy sectors, the predicted battery revolution will change lives across the continent, Ozoemena said, referring to the fact that 75 percent of Africans – 620 million people – don’t have access to electricity. Poverty, cash-strapped utilities, and inadequate grids that do not reach where people live, are some of the culprits. Ozoemena said: “Batteries connected to solar PV are are the only efficient way to go in Africa.”
Lead image: Okiep Copper Mine, South Africa. Credit: Andrew Hall | Wikimedia