Aussie miners are considered the most efficient and well-managed companies in the world. It is therefore only natural that they consider the use of renewable energy as the sector is moving towards net zero emissions. Mines require huge amounts of power 24/7, so hybrid options including wind, solar, hydro and batteries are the best option.
Australian Resources & Investment recently interviewed Ludovic Rollin, SRK Senior Consultant about the needs of miners, the rapid changes in renewable energy and what is needed to move the industry forward.
“Ludovic Rollin remembers analyzing the cost of installing fixed solar panels in a large renewable project to power a ferronickel processing plant. Within two years, the same supplier was able to provide superior rotatable solar panels that follow the sun and provide greater power – at the same price as fixed panels Price and technology change rapidly.
“Mining companies need to be open to the potential of using 100 percent renewable energy to power more mines and processing facilities. The long-term benefits for companies, communities and the environment are compelling.”
Rollin, for example, has just completed a two-year project to use renewable energy to power the furnaces of a ferronickel smelter. The processing plant requires 180 megawatts (MW) of energy.
“The project team considered solar and energy storage solutions (such as batteries and pumped hydro storage) and natural gas for a new power plant to replace the existing one. The natural gas was more expensive due to the cost of liquefied natural gas and the capital costs of implementing such a power plant.
“The proposed solution for the ferronickel smelter was a 1000MW solar farm over approximately 1000 hectares. The farm will be supported by a large network of continuous battery storage (2400MWh) powering the facility at night.
“Pumped water storage required higher capital costs and a longer construction timeline.
“Rollin said the solar farm solution will enable the ferronickel processing plant to source 100 percent renewable energy within 20 years. The project is currently in the feasibility study phase.”
In short: renewable energy was the cheapest solution. Who is surprised?
Rolling added that because the renewable energy projects are often designed beyond mining capacity needs, they could also provide electricity to local communities. This is changing the way mining companies interact with the community that hosts them. The jobs, the extra electricity, the environmental benefits – there’s a lot for communities and mining companies to like.
Outdated thinking is the biggest roadblock to 100% renewable energy for Aussie mines. Also, a lack of understanding of potential energy options may cause Aussie mines to incorporate only a small amount of renewable energy. “Some companies are set in their ways with plant design,” Rollin said.
“There may be resistance to change from people who have designed plants for many years using only fossil fuels,” he said. “Renewable energy is a fast-moving area that requires specialist expertise. The key is to get good advice on what’s available.”
Another obstacle is a lack of understanding of what capital is available. “There is a lot of funding available today from industry and government to promote decarbonisation,” he said. “Attractive rates from lenders for renewable energy projects and government incentives can help reduce investment costs.”
Although sustainable projects help local communities, it is not all perfect or welcoming. Solar farms have large land requirements, which can make some communities bitter. Some people are concerned about bird life being affected by wind turbines, or simply about the aesthetics of the region. “Communities understand the long-term environmental, economic and energy security benefits of replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy in mines,” said Rollin, “but large renewable projects can still generate significant societal and political opposition. Mining companies need a strong, early community engagement on renewable energy.”
He provides 9 tips on good practice in renewable energy planning for Australian miners (9 tips on how much and how early to challenge competitors):
1) Start early: Renewable energy should be a bigger part of mine planning discussions from day one of a project.
2) Aim for 100 percent renewable energy: It may not be possible for a particular mine, but aiming for full renewable energy makes sense. This approach is more efficient than trying to incorporate a small portion of renewable energy into the mine’s energy mix and build from there.
3) Be open-minded: Recognize that renewable energy technology is changing rapidly. Understand that renewable energy cost assumptions may change as the project is planned, making capital expenditures more feasible at the mine.
4) Make sure you’re right internal people/external support: Assessing renewable technology in mines requires expert skills and planning. Ensure that your organization has sufficient internal renewable energy skills and/or access to external consultants with significant expertise in the field.
5) Financiers: Understand the approach of current or potential financiers to the mining project. How do they view renewable energy in mining? How does the implementation of renewable energy in the mine affect the capital cost of the project?
6) Government support: Determine if there are federal, state, or local government incentives that can help reduce the capital cost of a renewable project. Understand how governments view the potential of introducing renewable energy into a mine and what it means for the local community.
7) Build a long-term case for renewable energy, beyond the mine: How many jobs will the sustainable project create for the local community during and after construction? How many local businesses can the project support? How many local homes could mine power? What are other potential uses for the mine’s excess renewable energy?
8) Consider renewable energy as part of mine closure: Renewable energy discussions are important at all stages of the mine, and especially for mine closure. How can renewable energy help the nearby community when the mine eventually closes?
7) Engage early: Sustainable projects require significant support from local communities, nearby industry and various levels of government. Consider what it means for the project to have and maintain a sustainable development license to operate, and the importance of community engagement in this process.
The Christmas season is over. How far into January can we go with popular carols and such?
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