With increasing pressures from international competitors, Australia faces a challenge to keep its operating costs to a minimum and remain competitive in the market. A typical mining project in a remote area derives its power supply from diesel fuel. While diesel is a reliable energy source, it is very expensive. Solar can be integrated with existing diesel units to provide a highly reliable and cost efficient energy supply. This option now provides a cheaper power source and upholds the strict reliability requirements of the mining industry.
Benefits of Solar in Mine Sites
– Solar power is now cheaper than diesel power at $226/mwh compared to $300/mwh on average. Keeping in mind that the cost of $300/mwh for diesel is for fuel and carbon costs only, excluding CAPEX.
– Diesel prices are expected to continue to increase in the future, whereas solar power costs have been dropping significantly over the past 5 years.
– Diesel power costs are much more vulnerable to dramatic changes due to events occurring in the international market.
– Solar power is far more environmentally friendly which results in improved environmental credentials for the business. This leads to an increase in opportunities for public relations and community engagement.
– There is billions of dollars in grants and financing available to encourage the use of renewable energy power systems like solar.
Challenges for Solar in Mine Sites
– Unfortunately solar power is not reliable enough to be the sole source of power for a site. Instead the use of solar hybrid systems is much more appropriate and trying to minimise the power costs of the site.
– Mining sites can create a lot of dust. The dustier a solar panel gets the less efficiently it operates. There are coatings and techniques that help minimise this loss in efficiency.
– There are ongoing maintenance and operation costs with solar systems, however the use of remote monitoring can keep these costs low.
– Extreme climate conditions affect solar systems just as they affect all forms of power generation. Extreme heat causes solar panels to run less efficiently, however diesel units suffer the same results. Mounting systems for solar panels have come a long way and can be designed to withstand cyclones.
The savings generated by converting to a solar hybrid unit can be fantastic provided it is designed correctly. A 1.2mw solar installation could reliably supply 5% of the energy consumption for a 5mw mine, reducing diesel consumption by 600,000L per year, saving $3 million in diesel costs over 5 years.
As well as the cost benefits from transitioning from diesel fuel, another key influence is mining companies looking to raise their environmental profile of their mine sites, and nothing does a better job than free, clean energy. The use of solar reduces pollution, and major health risks for workers who are constantly exposed to carcinogenic diesel fumes.
The biggest implementation of solar throughout the mining industry can be seen through the use of solar lights. Solar lighting has a solid presence throughout mine sites where it is mainly used for mobile lighting solutions as well as perimeter security lighting, roadway, and street lighting. There has also been a sharp rise in the amount of solar sensor lights being installed within the mining camps and large solar flood lights mounted in equipment bays instead of their energy hungry halogen counterparts, both of which have been positively reviewed.
As previously mentioned, solar is not reliable enough to run on its own just yet, but with the installation of battery backup systems and the integration of the solar lights and other solar power systems into the existing diesel systems means they can still provide a large cost benefit to the mining sites.
Solar is fantastic for the environment and is a fiscally smart choice. It is clear why the use of solar in the mining industry is rapidly increasing and will continue to do so in to the future.