JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – Wind farm builder Seriti Green, which is planning substantial electricity storage capacity at its big renewable energy project in Mpumalanga, has raised the need for vanadium to be appraised as a battery storage metal of choice in Africa owing to the difficulties of sourcing lithium batteries.
“As Africans, we really need to look towards metals such as vanadium for electricity storage because the lithium supply chain is under extreme pressure,” Seriti Green CEO Peter Venn disclosed in announcing his company’s 155-MW-to-900 MW wind farm project that is getting under way in Mpumalanga province. (Also watch attached Creamer Media video.)
Long-duration battery capacity that vanadium can provide supports the integration of renewable energy into electricity grids and is seen by some as providing a generational opportunity that South Africa should not miss.
The 155 MW portion of the Seriti Green project in that province is expected to come in at R4-billion and the eventual 900 MW at R25-billion, with the far-reaching initiative forming part of an agreement that will see clean, green power wheeled through the national grid to meet the carbon neutrality aspirations of coal-mining company Seriti Resources.
Speaking alongside Seriti Resources CE Mike Teke, Seriti Resources corporate finance head Layton Nenzinane, and Seriti Resources CFO Doug Gain, Venn said in response to Mining Weekly: “We have 800 MWh of storage permitted in our environmental authorization – whether that's vanadium, whether that's lithium, is still to be decided.
“We've lived it as WindLab over the last five, six years in Australia. We've been part of what was once the largest battery in Australia – four megawatt hours. Then Elon Musk came along with this 100 MWh battery, and we now have a permit for 800 MWh.
“The business case for storage needs to be worked on. The understanding of ancillary services for the grid and how one gets paid for that is important. To commit to going with something like lithium for storage could result in delays.
“You cannot get a lithium utility battery for the next three years. We've got to be mindful of that. We’ve got to look for our own sources. But let's just be clear, batteries don't generate any electricity. You’ve got to be able to generate to store, so we've got to provide primary generation and then the storage needs to come with a business case,” said Venn.
Energy storage is the flexible renewable energy enabler in that peak wind generation generally takes place during off-peak periods from a demand perspective and the sun shines at its brightest during off-peak periods. With the long-duration energy storage that vanadium can reportedly provide, it is said that this renewable power can be deployed flexibly into the time zones when it is most needed.
Mining Weekly: What is Seriti Green doing for the just energy transition, or JET, aspect of transitioning to renewables?
Venn: The Seriti Green office is a classic microcosm of JET. I don't like to walk around with my Serita Green shirt because all the coal guys come running across asking where next? I'm really excited about the Seriti group, what Mike and Doug are facilitating, and this transition that we're seeing in a small way. We’re working very closely with many of the coal people. A lot of the jobs are transferable and we see employment growth. We don't see any reduction in the workforce either at Seriti Coal or at Seriti Green, we just see an increase, and we will see people moving across over time responsibly. What Eskom is doing with the training centre in Mpumalanga is extremely important. Having the training centre there and not having to incur costs to come to Cape Town to be trained as a wind technician, is really important. But let's be real, we need to start building in Mpumalanga so that people can see that this isn't just talk but that it is reality. Building and getting the people on the ground is important. We will be employing from the communities. Seriti Resources has got fantastic HR plans on how to hire those people in on the coal side and we’ll be adopting that same model to bring the people into Seriti Green as we move forward into construction. From a monetary point of view, there's talk of $8-billion for JET and we would like to assist the various parties, Eskom, government, etc., in aligning that so that we have access to the grid and to other aspects that can support out what is going be a R25-billion build of 900 MW in Mpumalanga. JET is important, it’s on our radar and we live it every single day.
Is there a chance of Seriti Green also building solar projects?
We are working very actively on permitting solar PV and storage at a number of Seriti mine sites. We have a full team working on this and again this talks to JET. It's a team from Seriti Resources integrated with the Seriti Green team and working on building solar PV on reclaimed coal-mine land. So exciting there.
What is your view of generating green hydrogen with your excess power?
Layton likes to call our green hydrogen potential the green triangle between Sasol, our New Denmark coal operation, where the water is produced, and our wind farm, a 20 km, 20 km, 20 km triangle. We are in discussions with Sasol and others around green hydrogen. But let me make this statement: where the electricity can be grid tied and as long as the green hydrogen is replacing grey hydrogen, fantastic, but we, at the moment, need every electron to abate loadshedding and to make sure that industrial growth can take place across the country, so projects like those in the Northern Cape, where they're not grid tied, fully supportive of those, but right now we need all the electrons we can get to abate loadshedding.
Gain: Just to share an insight on our very significantly sized coal mining business and one with a not insignificant legacy, we inherit and have significant environmental liabilities, which require that we spend lots of money to remediate land and, ultimately, to treat water. Strategically, we’re looking very carefully at our water liabilities across our group, which are significant, and we’re trying to understand how we optimise and turn those water liabilities into opportunities, in an environment and landscape where water is becoming more and more scarce. Municipalities are typically not delivering as per par or as they should, and so we do think there is a strategic opportunity, not just in the green hydrogen space, but in the water treatment space, it being acknowledged that you cannot electrolyse affected mine water into green hydrogen. So, even if we do go into a green hydrogen play down the line, the water would need to be treated or partially treated. So, we are doing a lot of work on water as one of our key strategic focuses, and also as part of our own decarbonisation and just transition story. Over and above having now made a demonstrable commitment to green energy, we're looking at the water space, we're looking at optionality around the water space, and that ties in time potentially into a green hydrogen theme, which is very much in its infancy, but which is work in progress strategically.
Are you considering using your coal mines to generate power at peak, for example, having water fall from surface to turbines and renewables providing the energy to get water back up and repeating the process?
Venn: There are three deep shafts within this Seriti group and potentially more in the future. The pump infrastructure to move the water up from down below already exists within our mining environment, so, absolutely, it's on our longer-term plan to use pump hydro. The City of Cape Town uses pumped storage very successfully to alleviate circa one stage of loadshedding. But the fact of the matter is that we’re extremely busy trying to build 900 MW in the first half of this year, but it is part of our longer-term strategy to do long-term hydro storage through the deep shafts that exist within the group.
Have contracts for the building of 900 MW been awarded?
We're in the final agreement stage with regards to the 155 MW wind farm project and, without giving away any negotiating power, it's more than likely that whoever builds the 155 MW project will move forward with the rest. We already have construction people in the area doing our health and safety manuals. We are mobilised on some of the smaller contracts and getting that work done. We are obviously not doing anything on site yet, but the day of the financial close will be the same day that the contract is signed. That will occur in the April timeframe with construction starting in the first half of this year.
COMMENT ON WIND FARM
This is the LinkedIn comment of Nkosidumile Somzana on Seriti Green’s wind farm announcement: “Really exciting news updates for Mpumalanga province this is a co-benefit of decarbonising South Africa's power sector. Clean energy is an excellent vehicle for direct infrastructure investment and a positive multiplier of economic effects on industries such as construction, procurement, engineering and logistics.”
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