5MW off-grid solar PV plant by First Solar to power Australian mining operation

The first large sale solar array to support a major mining operation in Australia is about to be announced, with US solar giant First Solar signaling that it will soon reveal the location of a 5MW solar plant.

The move by solar into the off-grid market has been long expected and will be likely supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, which has made hybrid systems a centerpiece of its funding program.

First Solar CEO Jim Hughes this week that the 5MW solar PV plant would be used to reduce the amount of diesel consumed at the as-yet unnamed mining site.

“This will provide economic and environmental benefits due to the reduction of the amount of diesel fuel used at times of peak demand,” Hughes said.

“As we stated at our recent analyst day we see that hybrid market as an emerging business opportunity and this marks just the beginning of our expansion plans into this high growth potential sector.”.

First Solar recently suggested that 200MW of solar could be installed at remote mining projects in Australia within the next few years.

“We expect to see 100-200MW of solar at remote mining projects over the next 3 years,” said Jack Curtis, the company’s head of business development in the Asia Pacific told RenewEconomy last month. “The interest and demand exists (but) it is definitely contingent on some pilot projects being delivered.”

ARENA chairman Greg Bourne said  last year that there was a “huge opportunity” in the replacement of expensive diesel, both in remote and off-grid areas, and the fringe-of-grid areas. “If you can prove the technology and the control systems for forecasting and intermittency, you have a lot more confidence in trying it nearer to  a large grid and beginning to sweep away the barriers of  ‘oh, we can’t do this, everything will fail,” he said in an interview.

Top image: Drilling rig in WA by Blastcube, via Wikipedia

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Giles Parkinson