The DeGrussa copper mine will be home to the largest integrated off-grid solar and battery storage facility in Australia – at the forefront of transforming the remote power generation sector and the resource industry into one with a sustainable future.
andfire Resources kicked off its
$40 million off-grid solar power system in July. The development is being closely watched by energy and resources companies around the world, and with good reason; the gold and copper miner is building the world’s largest solar array system of its kind at the mine and, in the process, is becoming a world-leading reference for how to reduce costs and improve environmental performance in remote areas.
German renewable energy firm Juwi Renewable Energy will build the panels in a space equivalent to the size of 11 Melbourne cricket grounds.
When it becomes operational in early 2016, the 10.6MW solar array will provide the majority of Sandfire’s daytime electricity requirements, offsetting about 5 million litres of diesel fuel per annum and abating more than 12,000 tonnes of CO2-e. That’s an emissions reduction of about 15-20 per cent.
The solar array will utilise more than 34,080 solar panels across 20ha using single axis tracking technology, combined with 6MW of short-term battery storage. The panels are about a metre off the ground and will track the sun throughout the day, adjusting themselves every five minutes.
“The development also consists of a number of large inverter stations, which are within 20-foot shipping containers, and some large batteries,” Juwi managing director Andrew Drager said.
The power station will be fully integrated with an existing 19MW diesel-fired power station at the mine, which would continue to provide base-load power.
Diesel-powered energy has become a costly and unsustainable concern for the energy and resources sectors. For one, diesel fuel is prone to price volatility and supply interruptions – and then there are the logistical costs and challenges of trucking it to remote locations. Onsite renewable systems, on the other hand, offer a reliable alternative.
Renewable energy mining projects do, however, face a number of early-mover costs and barriers due to the fact there are only a small number of examples globally from which to draw knowledge, experience and confidence. But this is why Sandfire chief operating officer Michael Spreadborough said the DeGrussa Mine example offers so much potential.
“We’ve had extreme interest from many of our peers who want to understand the reasons we’re doing this work and how we’re going about it,” he said, acknowledging every new, successful renewable project gives the sector
“So I think you will see an acceleration of the Australian mining industry looking at renewable energy.”
In fact, a number of energy and resources players have already come forward and pointed to the DeGrussa solar project as confirmation it can be done. ASX-listed battery storage company Redflow recently called on miners to ditch heavy polluting and high-cost diesel generation in favour of increasingly competitive renewable energy and large-scale energy storage.
Sandfire has been working on the world-first initiative since 2013, with managing director Karl Simich saying it’s a very manageable project.
“Importantly, it will not impact on the efficiency or safety of existing operations, while allowing Sandfire to make a solid contribution to the broader challenge of reducing C02 emissions and potentially reducing our operating costs in the long run,” he said.
ASX-listed infrastructure group OTOC has been awarded the procurement and installation contract for the project in a joint venture with juwi, while the leading French renewable energy firm Neoen will own the facility.
“The system is at the forefront of transforming the remote power generation sector and the resource industry into one with a sustainable future,” Juwi Australia’s managing director Andrew Drager said.
Neoen Australia managing director Franck Woitiez added the utility-scale hybrid solar project is key to unlocking the barriers to replication.
“Australia, and other countries such as the Philippines, offer great potential for development of such facilities, to replace an increasing amount of diesel consumption. Sandfire showed a major commitment to the project and we believe it will undoubtedly inspire other mining companies,” he said.
A detailed knowledge-sharing plan has been developed to share operational data and information about the risks, diesel savings and strategies to enable higher penetrations of renewables.
The project joins a small but growing number of renewable powered mines globally receiving funding from clean energy organisations and governments, keen to raise the bar on mining operations and remote area systems.
The Clean Energy Finance Corporation is committing up to $15 million in finance, with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) also kicking in $20.9 million.
Sandfire Resources will purchase the solar power generated at a fixed rate that is lower than the historical cost of diesel-generated power. If the mine continues to operate past its six-year power purchase agreement, ARENA funding will be paid back as the plant continues to generate solar energy.
“The undertaking at DeGrussa is supported by modelling showing similar projects could be viable without government subsidies in the near future,” ARENA CEO Mr Frischknecht said.
Leading players: Juwi and Neoen
Partners: Sandfire Resources NL, Clean Energy Finance Corporation, OTOC Australia
Start date: July 2015
Total project value: $40 million
Location: 150km north of Meekathara, mid-west