By Johan Cilliers
Electricity 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.
Consider this. On a levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) basis a holistic view of the total cost of ownership from project development and financing through operations and maintenance over the plant’s operational life First Solar’s photovoltaic (PV) solar power solutions currently provide electricity costs of between $.07-$.15 per kilowatt hour (kWh), depending on the region and other factors. This translates into significant cost competitiveness when compared against a wide range of conventional generation sources, particularly those operating on liquid fuels.
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 photovoltaic (PV) power plant to create a reliable and affordable source of electricity. 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. 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 maximize 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.
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, minimize 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 working with a partner such as First Solar with over 7GW of modules installed globally and over 3GW contracted power plant pipeline, mine operators can benefit from a reliable, dependable and meaningful value proposition. By integrating all the aspects of solar power production which are research and development;, module manufacturing, project development (securing land/permits) EPC(engineering, procurement and construction), O&M (operations and maintenance) and by working with experienced local partners they are able to address specific customer needs.
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.
Johan Cilliers is the Managing Director for First Solar in Sub-Saharan Africa. First Solar is a leading global provider of comprehensive photovoltaic (PV) solar systems which use its advanced thin-film modules. For more information contact Africa@FirstSolar.com