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COMMERCIAL FEATURE SOLAR POWER: TAKING CONTROL OF ENERGY COSTS IN THE MINING INDUSTRY By John Eccles, Director, Global Hybrid Generation at First Solar Entrusting mining and remote operations to innovative solar hybrid solutions that supplement existing power sources can help companies address their daytime electricity supply challenges. E lectricity is the lifeblood of industry and reliable electricity generation is particularly critical for the success of the resource extraction sector. While the mining industry has traditionally relied on electricity grids and onsite liquid fuel generators for its electricity needs, there is a growing global understanding that there is also a source of energy that begins and ends each day: a source that is sustainable and more affordable than ever before – solar power. INNOVATION SUPPLEMENTS EXISTING POWER SOURCES Deploying sophisticated photovoltaic (PV) hybrid solutions that supplement existing power sources – such as the electricity grid or diesel generators – can help mining companies address their daytime electricity supply challenges, while minimising costs and lowering their environmental impact. In this context, let us examine a remote mine, operating independently from the electrical grid and largely reliant on diesel generation to support its power requirements. The mine’s operational costs will need to factor in the price of diesel to power its generators, which is subject to international price and currency exchange volatility. Depending on the mine’s location, the logistical cost of transporting diesel to the site will also have to be added as will the cost of investing in and maintaining the generators. Now, consider the possibility of a solution that combines a diesel generator set with a PV power plant to create a reliable and affordable source of electricity. Let us assume that a 10 megawatt (MW) AC First Solar FuelSmart solar-diesel hybrid plant is installed at an existing 15.3MW site – with 24-hour base load generation – in South Africa. The two sources complement each other using a sophisticated control system that ensures stable electricity generation for optimal mining operation. The system ensures that the power is dynamically controlled – not unlike the cruise control in a car. WORKING EFFORTLESSLY IN TANDEM Should a cloud interfere with the PV plant’s output, the control system will compensate by increasing the output of the diesel generators to ensure stability. Conversely, on a particularly sunny day, the system will moderate the diesel generators, allowing the mine operator to maximise fuel cost savings from the elevated solar capacity. There are numerous benefits from investing in such a system: unlike liquid fuels, sunlight is abundant, free and not subject to market or foreign exchange fluctuations. From a cost point of view, this system could hypothetically save over 84 million litres of fuel over a 25- year period, reducing the total energy generation cost by as much as ZAR1.07 billion (USD 95.2 million) over the project lifetime, when compared to operating a diesel-only generation site. In addition to these projected savings, the hybrid The two sources complement each other using a sophisticated control system that ensures stable electricity generation for optimal mining operation. 58 system could also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 258 300 tons. INCREASING STABILITY AND SECURITY OF POWER SUPPLY While solar power is a variable resource, a hybrid combination of diesel and solar adds the stability and reliability necessary for a mining operation’s power needs. In addition to enabling operational continuity, hybrid solutions also help to extend the operational life of the generators, minimise their operation and maintenance costs, as well as reduce fuel supply logistical costs and risks. From an environmental perspective, they help reduce emissions, noise pollution and a mine’s overall carbon footprint. By entrusting their energy generation to First Solar – with over 8GW of modules installed globally and over 3GW contracted power plant pipelines – mining companies, such as Rio Tinto, are benefiting from a reliable, dependable and meaningful value proposition. With cost and operational efficiencies forming the backbone of the mining business, innovative hybrid system solutions can provide solar energy as an alternative source of fuel, reducing fuel consumption and variable costs with reliable and affordable solar electricity. Today, hybrid power generation solutions offer the mining industry the opportunity to take control of energy costs by leveraging solar electricity’s cost competitiveness to its advantage. ESI A ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jo John Eccles joined First Solar as director of fuel replacement so solutions in May 2013 to launch th the company’s activity into the em emerging hybrid market. John has ap applied his mechanical engineering qu qualification for over 15 years within th the power generation industry ac across the Americas, Europe, M Middle East, Asia and Oceana. ESI AFRICA ISSUE 4 2014