The 40MW solar plant at the South Deep mine will generate over 20% of the mine's average electricity consumption. Located on mine property, it will comprise 116,000 solar panels and cover a 118ha area.
The estimated capital investment for the plant is R660 million (US$45.9 million), including contingencies and escalation. This will be funded from the mine's positive cash-flows over the next two years.
In February, the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) granted a licence to Gold Fields for the construction of the solar plant, following a three-year application process.
The company stated that the use of self-generated, renewable energy will translate into savings of around R120 million on the cost of electricity a year. At the moment, South Deep has a higher emission intensity than other Gold Fields mines as it exclusively uses coal-fired electricity.
South Deep is currently finalising procurement strategies and contractor criteria for the construction of the plant, which will begin during the June 2021 quarter. The plant is expected to be commissioned during the June 2022 quarter. According to Gold Fields' 2020 Climate Change Report, the company intends to increase solar capacity to 53MW by 2025.
Chris Griffith, CEO of Gold Fields, said: "We are the first South African mine to build and operate our own solar plant of this scale. This will ensure greater reliability of power supply and reduce the cost of electricity, which currently makes up about 13% of the mine's operating costs. Importantly, it will reduce our carbon footprint by around 100,000t of CO2 a year, not only enhancing the sustainability of South Deep but also contributing to Gold Fields' long-term commitment to carbon neutrality."
In 2020, renewable electricity averaged 3% of electricity for the Gold Fields Group. Once the South Deep project is commissioned, the contribution of renewables to Gold Fields' total electricity usage will rise to approximately 11%. 240 jobs will be created during the construction phase, while a team of 12 people will be required to operate the plant once operational. Gold Fields stated that as far as possible, goods and services required to build the plant will be sourced locally within South Africa.
Griffith added: "A broad range of stakeholders stand to benefit more from the mine's activities. A profitable mine and a sustainable business can continue to employ and develop employees, contribute to community development, support the livelihoods of local suppliers and add to the fiscus in the form of taxes and royalties."
In 2020, Gold Fields successfully implemented solar and wind power plants, backed by battery storage, at two of its Australian mines, Agnew and Granny Smith. The company also committed to renewables at its other Australian mines, Gruyere and St Ives, as well as the Salares Norte project in Chile when it starts operations in 2023. All its other mines are also reviewing renewable energy options.