Miners rush to renewables: an industry turning point.

It’s no secret that mining involves a lot of energy. What came to light at the Energy and Mines Australia Summit in Perth recently is that mining companies are increasingly interested in renewables and Australian miners are leading the world in making the shift.

There are innovative projects in place and more being developed as many heads get together to work out how, not if, to incorporate renewables.

This was perhaps one of the most remarkable aspects of the Energy and Mines Australia Summit. It felt like attendees were witnessing a turning point, a sea change, a rapid transformation of a conversation that is now including miners, financiers, renewable energy experts, government funding agencies and media. There is a shift happening that means it is time for everybody in the industry to take an active part in the conversation so that nobody is left behind.

That’s where ARENA comes in. It gives us great satisfaction to be able to broker pragmatic conversations, opening up frank discussions about clean, reliable and renewable energy. It’s a big part of what we do.

Cost is king

So what’s motivating miners to increasingly consider powering their sites with renewable energy? Much like consumers in the booming Australian residential PV sector, miners want to take control of their electricity supply.

In the off-grid context, energy procurement is old hat, but renewables pose a number of challenges even if they are the cheapest solution (in many cases). For grid-connected miners, avoiding recent wholesale electricity increases is another motivating factor – with some grid connected operations exposed to spot prices as high as $14,000 per megawatt-hour.

Security of supply

Security of supply is also emerging as a key motivator, which is somewhat ironic, given that the reliability perceptions around renewables have held the technology back to date.

Miners are seeking to reduce their exposure to grid related power outages and avoid mandated curtailment — a growing concern as Australia’s long, hot summers increase demand on the grid. Renewables can also potentially create a new income stream for grid connected operations. If demand can be managed to allow it, there is an opportunity to make the most of the high spot prices by selling excess renewable energy back to the grid.

Energy security is just as important for off-grid applications; even diesel trucks have to avoid washed out and flooded roads, which can leave mines and communities cut off for weeks at a time. Renewables can help address energy security as well as contribute to carbon reduction, and address social responsibility to look after the environment. This is the case in the ARENA funded Weipa Solar Project, where the solar PV farm provides up to 20% of power demand of the mine and local community, reducing diesel consumption and creating a reliable, clean power supply for both.

The applications for renewable energy in mining are varied and miners are seeking opportunities to improve their productivity and efficiency. Energy and Mines was abuzz with conversation on how to maximise these opportunities. Generating and using heat in mining operations as well as incorporating automated mining were hot topics.

Learning from each other

Mining industry leaders inspect solar panels at the De Grussa copper mine
Mining industry leaders inspect solar panels at the De Grussa copper mine on a recent knowledge sharing trip organised by ARENA.

Miners who are starting out their renewables journey were looking to those who’ve done it already, like the ARENA funded DeGrussa Solar Project. 64 people visited the DeGrussa site before the Energy and Mines Summit to see it firsthand and build their knowledge to make renewables work for their operations. ReWire covered that trip and all it offered HERE.

Those seeking a solution for a shorter or uncertain mine life were keen to talk to the team from SunSHIFT to learn more about redeployable solar for mining applications.

Both miners and developers are now looking to the next steps including how they can share data and collaborate on a deeper level to accelerate this industry’s shift to renewables. To help in this space, ARENA launched a draft copy for industry comment of our handbook: Hybrid Power Generation For Australian Off-Grid Mines, designed to help miners navigate the steps to integrating renewables.

There’s no doubt the case for renewables in mining is building and continues to gain momentum as miners and developers seek out ways to work together to maximise the opportunities. It’s exciting to see Australia leading in this space.

This article was originally written by Katie Dickson, former ARENA Client Adviser.