Caledonia sees 85% drop in diesel consumption as new solar plant works ‘better than expected’, grid power improves

Caledonia's new 12MW Blanket Mine solar plant
Blanket Mine's new solar farm

Caledonia Mining Corporation says its 12MW solar farm, which went live in November, is generating more power than expected, helping cut diesel consumption at Blanket Mine.

The plant, designed to supply about 27% of Blanket Mine’s power needs, is one of a growing number of solar projects being installed by key mining companies, keen to offset unreliable supply from energy utility ZESA.

In an update, Caledonia said the plant “is operating better than expected and is generating slightly more power than was anticipated.” The solar plant, plus an improvement in grid power, has helped the company spend less on diesel power, says CEO Mark Learmonth.

“As an initial early-stage indicator, in January 2023, Blanket consumed 18,000 litres of diesel, which compares to approximately 120,000 litres per month for the whole of 2022,” Learmonth said. “Whilst we can’t be certain that this quantum of improvement will be fully maintained as the year progresses, we are confident that we will continue to see an ongoing meaningful reduction to our diesel usage month on month, fully justifying our investment in solar power and delivering on our ESG strategy.”

Zimbabwe is currently producing less than a third of installed power generation capacity, due to breakdowns at the aged Hwange power plant and low generation at the Kariba hydropower plant. The country has increased imports over recent months, while some improved inflows into Kariba have allowed more power generation.

The power crisis is limiting growth plans in mining. A Chamber of Mines survey revealed that the power crisis is the biggest concern among executives. Some mines face outages of up to 12 hours a day, hitting output.

According to ZESA, it has applications of 2350MW of new connections, with most of them from the growing mining sector, where investors are desperate to power expansion and new projects. Resource investors such as Zimplats, Karo Mining, Mimosa and Tsingshan are at various stages of deploying their own solar to feed their operations.

ALSO READ | As ZESA fails, these major power-hungry mining investments in Zimbabwe are bringing their own energy