MACIG Connect Series
“Many investors are arriving which means that we have more and more competition at every level. We are aware, therefore, that we must increase our standards when operating in the country as we wish to be a key investor in Cote d’Ivoire for the next ten or twenty years.”
Can you give us any overview of your activities in West Africa and specifically a description of Schneider Electric’s role in Cote d’Ivoire?
Schneider Francophone West Africa oversees twelve different countries in the region with two main offices in Abidjan and Dakar. Our regional team consists of around forty people and we serve various sectors including utilities, data centers, banks, telephone companies, as well as players in mining and water. We heavily support the empowerment of local people and businesses, which is why our focus has been to develop both a variety of local partners as well as our presence in the region.
Schneider is very integrated in mining in West Africa, as generally companies bring their own engineers and continue working with their existing service providers when investing in a new destination. Due to our global presence, companies are reassured by the quality of the brand and availability of local solutions to the challenges faced during business operations. One of the gravest concerns is the assurance of electrical support, and via our technical team and their generators we can guarantee stable power. No matter the terrain, within a short period of time upon arrival we are able to tailor make solutions to provide the power they need.
Cote d’Ivoire is known for having good accessibility and a functioning grid, however, RandGold stated that their production for 2016 will be reduced due to power issues. How would you assess the current power situation?
The problem many companies face in the Cote d’Ivoire is that power is only stable in the larger cities; the reality in remote locations is that the power supply is less reliable, and many areas have only one power source. Transporting fuel for generators in these locations is also often expensive. Facing these challenges, we have investigated how to reduce energy consumption and prioritize their needs in order to find a solution that best suits their unique situation.
The first step is to complete a site visit, audit the operation, and gain a better understanding of their processes, concerns, operation issues, and constraints. With this information we then monitor their operations for a certain period of time in order to correctly diagnose what issues are raised. Schneider has developed optimization software that can be applicable to nearly all aspects of a mining operation. The returns on executives’ investments are more rapidly realized with this approach, which is a critical differentiating factor. Innovation and interconnectivity are always associated with the Schneider brand, and in the last five years we have really found that we are able to bring all of our technical knowledge and expertise together to further excel in this area.
In an effort to add additional sources of power, have the use of solar panels increased given Cote d’Ivoire is rarely without sun?
Solar power is very difficult to implement in Cote d’Ivoire due to the nature of the mining industry itself. This industry consumes huge amounts of power and therefore immense amounts of money need to be invested in order to make solar power a viable option. However, they may decide to invest in solar power to provide power for smaller infrastructures and small surrounding villages. In Nigeria, for example, an aluminum company utilized solar power for the town that surrounded their plant to power the schools and hospitals. In this case, solar technology is a key part of development plans to improve the lives of the local communities. Schneider Electric’s Access to Energy program provides power solutions for rural areas, improving the living conditions for the villages in a safe, clean and sustainable way. Villasol is a stand alone, solar powered micro grid solution that provides necessary power for health care related machines, mobile phone charging, and lighting.
Today we are not yet able to consider solar technologies as a viable option to replace more traditional power sources for the mines themselves, not just because of price, but also because it is a much slower way of providing power to business operations. Gas or diesel generators are quick and efficient. Technology has not yet developed to the point where solar is a practical and reliable option for such a power intensive industry. Storage of solar power can also be an issue. Of course we want to be energy efficient and environmentally friendly, however we cannot sacrifice cost or production in this effort.
Cote d’Ivoire is known for being an exporter of power; however, considering the increased demand, what future do you see for Schneider Electric in Cote d’Ivoire?
It is impossible to doubt the potential of Cote d’Ivoire. It is fundamental that we solidify our market here because in the next five or ten years, infrastructure and construction will increase exponentially. Many investors are arriving which means that we have more and more competition at every level. We are aware, therefore, that we must increase our standards when operating in the country as we wish to be a key investor in Cote d’Ivoire for the next ten or twenty years. Two years ago, our Abidjan team only included around fifteen people, but now it has greatly increased as we see massive potential in the country. However, we believe that the government must also be committed to increasing their standards along with these international investors to ensure that the country achieves all that it has the capability of achieving.
Schneider Electric has implemented programs for training young people around mining sites—mainly concerning electrical engineering—to assure that we also retain the human capital needed to keep up with the increase in energy demand.
Do you have a final message for our readers, the international mining community?
I would urge all those considering investing in Cote d’Ivoire to help us aid this fantastic country’s growth. It makes us very proud to see a magnified focus on the economy of Cote d’Ivoire, and we want this to continue long term towards the goal of sustainable development. As investors, we must educate the country and its people, and build their capacity in order to ensure that they themselves are able to maintain any progress brought about long into the future.