Western Australia mining company to build Australia’s largest solar-plus-storage system

Western Australian mining company Sandfire Resources is set to build a 10.6MW solar PV array, with “6MW” of battery storage, to power an existing off-grid copper mine 900kms north east of Perth.

The ASX-listed company said on Wednesday it has signed a contract with German-based juwi Renewable Energy to build the $40 million facility at the underground DeGrussa Copper Mine, to help power the copper treatment plant.

The project, which is billed as the largest integrated off-grid solar array in Australia, has the potential to establish DeGrussa as an industry leader in the use of renewable power for mining and processing operations.

Funding is being coordinated by juwi, which will own and operate the facility. Sandfire’s cash contribution to the project will be less than $1 million.

juwi says that the 10.6MW solar array will incorporate 34,080 solar PV panels with single axis tracking of the sun.

The energy produced will be used to cut consumption of diesel fuel at the 20MW plant that currently exists at the mine. The diesel-powered plant is expected to be commissioned early next year.

The lithium-ion battery storage array will have peak capacity of 6MW, with 1.5MWh storage – essentially designed to give diesel generators time to power up to respond to changes in output. During the day, the solar array will supply most of the plant’s energy needs.

Andrew Drager, managing director of juwi Australia, said there were at least 10 other mines in Australia looking at a solar and storage option to help deflect high diesel prices.

“For mining companies risk is the key point,” Drager told RenewEconomy in an interview. “One 10-second down time can have a large cost impact. This will show other mines that those risks can be managed, and are not big technical risks.”

He said : “The system is at the forefront of transforming the remote power generation sector and the resource industry into one with a sustainable future.”

Juwi will finance, build and operate the plant, which will only get a 6-year power purchase agreement, typical of the mining industry. That has meant some gymnastics with the financing model, although Drager would not go into details.

Sandfire managing director Karl Simich said the company has been looking at solar for the last two years. He described it as a “low-risk renewable energy initiative” with a minimal capital requirement.

“It is a very manageable project which, importantly, will not impact on the efficiency or safety of our existing operations, while allowing Sandfire to make a solid contribution to the broader challenge of reducing CO2 emissions and potentially reducing our operating costs in the long run,” Simich said.

© 2015 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

Giles Parkinson