Mining and renewable energy may seem like industries at odds, but in reality, mining is essential to the growth of renewable energy, as green technology is heavily reliant on certain metals and minerals. On the flip side, mining companies are increasingly adopting renewable energy to power their own operations. As we work to reduce global greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change, while still fueling our economy, the mining industry can and will play an essential role.

Green Energy Relies on Mining

Minerals are critical to the transition to clean, green energy. Solar power relies on the supply of aluminum, copper, and certain rare earth elements to produce photovoltaic panels. Similarly, wind turbines are made from steel, meaning their manufacture is dependent on the production of iron. Turbines also depend upon certain rare-earth elements such as neodymium for the magnets used inside turbine generators. Copper is essential to all power generation infrastructure, as well as electric vehicle (EV) technology. Graphite and cobalt are key resources for renewable and clean energy generation and batteries. Lithium, too, is crucial to EV batteries. And vanadium is used to make highly-efficient batteries that store energy from wind farms and solar arrays.

It’s safe to say that a move to green energy is inextricably linked to the mining industry.

Mining Companies Embracing Clean Energy in Their Operations

The mining industry is often cited as a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, with methane from coal mining being the most significant single contributor. McKinsey & Co estimates that mining is responsible for 4% to 7% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

In recent years, however, the industry has recognized its responsibility to do better — fueled in part by the real impacts climate-caused weather events, such as floods,  have on its own operations. Increasingly, mining companies are investing in renewables to power their mines. Companies like Anglo-Australian multinational Rio Tinto, South African Gold Fields, or Chilean copper mining company Antofagasta are expanding the share of renewables powering their operations. And in 2018, Canada’s B2Gold opened a large solar farm to power its mining operations in Namibia.

The World Bank Group report “Minerals for Climate Action: The Mineral Intensity of the Clean Energy Transition” finds that even though clean energy technologies will require more minerals, the carbon footprint of their production—from extraction to end use—will account for only 6% of the greenhouse gas emissions generated by fossil fuel technologies.

Demand Will Continue

The same World Bank Group report finds that the production of minerals, such as graphite, lithium and cobalt, could increase by nearly 500% by 2050, to meet the growing demand for clean energy technologies.

According to the International Energy Agency, there are now more than seven million electric cars on the roads and there could be as many as 245 million by 2030. 245 million EVs will require a lot of batteries. And mined minerals. Similarly, solar is on the rise. In the last decade alone, solar has experienced an average annual growth rate of 42%. The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) said wind energy accounted for 39% of all new U.S. generation capacity in 2019, a number it expects to rise. Canada’s wind energy sector is forecasting a similar growth trajectory.

The global transition to clean energy will create new and growing demand for many of the metals and minerals found in Canada. For example, making a solar panel requires at least 19 mineral products, 14 of which are found and/or produced in Canada, creating tremendous demand and opportunity nationally.

Opportunities for Mining Operations to Lead

While mining and green energy may make strange bedfellows, both industries rely on each other to prosper. The metals and minerals mining produces are essential to build the technologies and infrastructure necessary for a low-carbon economy, to reduce greenhouse gases,

 and mitigate the effects of climate change. It’s an opportunity for miners to take the lead, right here in Canada. And many are seizing the opportunity.

The Mining Association of Canada pioneered the Toward Sustainable Mining (TSM) initiative, a performance system that helps mining companies evaluate and manage their environmental and social responsibilities. And Canadian mining companies are stepping up to lead the move to green. In 2019, Vancouver-headquartered Goldcorp began commercial production at its all-electric underground gold mine in Ontario. Other mining companies are making similar strides. Toronto-based Largo Resources, that supplies high-grade vanadium used in battery storage, has taken the bold step of branding itself as clean energy company.

Next Steps

It will take much more than innovative actions from mining companies to solve the climate crisis, but for an industry whose reputation has often been sullied by environmentalists, green energy represents not just a chance at redemption, but a chance for real and meaningful change.

To take advantage of the opportunities a shift to green energy provides, mining companies must first ensure they have a business management system that allows them to scale and pivot with speed. Caron Mining Solutions can be that solution. Learn more here or by calling us at (877) 560-5063.

Paul has been involved with Sage 300 software for almost 30 years. He brings a well-rounded perspective to business management software implementation projects. His depth of knowledge and expertise in business process analysis has benefited several clients.