Mining Indaba 2023: Enabling the Energy Transition

February 13, 2023

It was incredible to travel again to spectacular Cape Town, South Africa last week for this year’s Mining Indaba. Back in its usual time slot after COVID delayed the 2022 offering, the event returned with characteristic energy and vibrancy.

“The spirit of African Mining has always been positive and forward-looking. Now we are even more fully committed with a unifying courage – we are not passive observers, said Frans Baleni, Chair of the Advisory Board at Mining Indaba in the opening ceremony.

This truly sums up the commitment and the spirit to make an impact on climate change among the whole industry, a spirit I experienced first-hand during many conversations over the four days of the conference.

I had the privilege to participate in the event’s keynote panel entitled ‘A Radical New Wave.’ Wendy Tyrrell, Executive Director, Development Partner Institute (DPI Mining) opened the discussion with a brief but relevant story from her past. While at university, having completed her final paper with five minutes to spare during key exams, she sat back, satisfied, and reflected on what she had written. Closing the paper, she then discovered there was a ‘page two’ of unanswered questions, and she had very little time to answer them. This provided a lifelong lesson – “never believe all the questions have been answered.”

Tyrrell applied this story to the metals and mining industry around its impact on environmental, social and governance (ESG) landscapes. The point being that the industry, until very recently at least, believed it had answered all the questions—we thought we had this covered. Now, we see there is a ‘page two,’ and the clock is ticking to find answers.

This second wave of questions involves helping to meet the critical need for minerals to power the energy transition. This will require the combined efforts across the industry and comes with an even greater expectation. Challenges? Undoubtedly. But, within them lies opportunity.

My few days at Mining Indaba reminded me that, as an industry, we are not resting. We are an industry on the move. Key players are no longer just paying lip service to ESG. Today, not only is it required from a board perspective, but the industry truly ‘gets it’ in terms of importance.

Many key speakers at the event’s opening ceremony focused on collaboration, partnership and duty. 

“The gears have really shifted.”
“We have a duty to unlock and unblock barriers.”
“The recipe for success lies in partnerships.”

All powerful statements in an industry ready to claim its role in shaping energy transition outcomes.

Another panel I participated in was focused on the topic of decarbonization and the circular economy. I sat, center stage, between the executive head of sustainability at Exxaro Resources, the head of carbon neutrality at De Beers Group and the chief sustainability officer at JSE. The role of technology is critical. Digital transformation is gaining pace as the industry continues to understand and appreciate how technology will be a primary catalyst for change.

From generating power on microgrids to ‘self-supply’ at the plant level to being able to understand when and where breakdowns will occur, to improving efficiency, reducing waste and increasing reliability, technology allows us to gain insights into the aspects of our daily operations which have historically been on autopilot. Suddenly, mining companies are realizing they need to know what their data means so they know what mechanisms to pull to make improvements. Technology is not only here to stay, but also fundamental to success.

Part of my pride in attending the event this year was to witness the increased awareness of AspenTech within an industry I feel so passionate about and have personally been a part of for many decades. I am excited to leverage the company’s 40-year history of helping asset-intensive industries improve efficiency and reduce waste to enabling the mining industry to accelerate and potentially leapfrog other industries in its own digital transformation journey.

We have a clear opportunity to get this right, but the spotlight is firmly on. In the simple but incredibly powerful words of Vice Minister, Industry and Mineral Resources for Mining Affairs, Saudi Arabia, Khalid Bin Saleh Al-Mudaifer: “Without more minerals, sustainably sourced, there will not be an energy transition. It is as simple as that.”

I am already looking forward to returning to Cape Town in 2024 and seeing the progress we have made both at AspenTech and as a collective industry – always ensuring the second page of this exam is as thoughtful as the first.

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