Weipa solar plant to power Rio Cape York bauxite mine and 20 per cent of homes

Weipa solar plant to power Rio Cape York bauxite mine and 20 per cent of homes

About a fifth of homes in a remote far north Queensland town will be powered by the sun, in what is believed to be an Australian first.

Mining giant Rio Tinto said the Weipa Solar Plant would power its Cape York bauxite mine and about 20 per cent of the township’s daytime electricity demands.

First Solar Asia Pacific regional manager Jack Curtis, whose company provided the solar system, said it was expected to save about 600,000 litres of diesel each year – equivalent to removing around 700 cars.

Mr Curtis said about 20 per cent of the town would be powered by the sun but that was likely to increase.

“Ultimately, assuming the first phase goes as it hopes it will, it will be scaled up to a second phase, so the second phase will be 6.7MW, which will be certainly enough to power the mine and the Weipa community,” he said.

The solar plant is expected to produce an average of 2800MW hours of electricity per year. The electricity from the 18,000 advanced First Solar PV modules that have been connected to Rio Tinto’s existing mini-grid will be purchased by Rio Tinto under a 15-year Power Purchase Agreement.

First Solar’s FuelSmart solutions combine PV generation with a fossil fuel engine generator to provide optimal fuel savings while maintaining system reliability.

“It is already widely acknowledged solar electricity is typically cheaper than diesel-powered electricity, particularly in remote locations,” First Solar’s regional manager for Asia Pacific Jack Curtis said.

“The significance of the Weipa Solar Plant is it provides the opportunity to demonstrate that PV-diesel hybrid projects can also be as reliable as stand-alone diesel-powered generation.

“In recent years, attention has been focussed on the technical challenges of high-penetration PV-diesel hybrids. At the Weipa Solar Plant, First Solar is seeking to deliver a reliable electricity supply without diverting capital costs away from Rio Tinto’s critical mine operations. Proving this commercial model has the potential to be a watershed moment for the diesel hybrid application globally.”

ARENA chief executive officer Ivor Frischknecht congratulated First Solar and Rio Tinto, saying the success of phase one is set to create a precedent for industry by demonstrating solar PV is a viable option for powering off-grid locations, like mine sites, in Australia.

“ARENA was pleased to provide an initial $3.5 million for this early mover project and up to $7.8 million is available for the second phase. “Similar ARENA-supported projects now underway, or in the pipeline, will build on this landmark project to further prove the reliability of integrating renewable energy solutions in off-grid locations while helping to drive down costs and the need for subsidy.”

Contingent on the success of phase one, the project partners have the option of entering into a second phase that would include a storage component.