Cape York to be home to Australia’s first solar-powered mining operation

The first large scale solar plant for an Australian mining operation is to be built at the Weipa bauxite mine and processing plant in north Queensland.

The remote mining facility, operated by Rio Tinto, will look to reduce its heavy diesel fuel bill, first with a 1.7MW solar PV array and then with an additional 5MW of solar PV and energy storage to smooth the output.

The total cost of the project is $23.5 million. It s being supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency  and will be built using First Solar thin film modules.

The first stage of the array  is expected to reduce daytime diesel demand from the mine’s 26MW diesel generator by up to 20 per cent, while the second phase is intended to allow the diesel generator to be switched off completely during certain times of the day.

The Weipa project was the first of around 70 submissions  – worth several billion dollars of investment – from mining operators for funding for such ground breaking projects under ARENA’s remote energy program.

CEO Ivor Frischknect said it is critical as part of a “show and tell” exercise that will help make miners understand the technology, accept its reliability, and identify where further cost cuts are made.

“Transporting fuel long distances for generators is dangerous and subject to variable weather conditions – it is a costly, unpredictable arrangement that doesn’t make good economic sense.  Energy security is a big deal for miners.

First Solar’s Jack Curtis says big mining operators now realizes that solar can provide an economic alternative to soaring diesel and gas prices.

“We think that this will show that solar can go mainstream,” Curtis said.

Gareth Manderson, the general manager of operations at Weipa, said the hybrid diesel/PV solution will introduce to the site “a reliable source of electricity, with low maintenance requirements.”

Top image via Rio Tinto

© 2014 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

Giles Parkinson