By Mark Scott
WA’S biggest copper mine will soon be powered by the country’s largest integrated off-grid solar array under an agreement signed by Sandfire Resources and juwi Renewable Energy last month.
Sandfire’s DeGrussa copper mine, near Wiluna in the northern Goldfields, will become home to a 10.6 megawatt solar power station that will be fully integrated with its existing 20MW diesel-fired power station.
The $40 million project will involve 34,080 solar photovoltaic panels that track the sun and a 6MW battery, constructed on 20 hectares of land near the DeGrussa underground mine.
Funding will be coordinated by juwi, which will own and operate the facility, with Sandfire to contribute less than $1 million.
Once operational, the solar energy system is expected to reduce Sandfire’s carbon emissions by 12,000 tonnes per year and heavily reduce its reliance on diesel, which will continue to provide base-load power.
When constructed, it will be one of the largest integrated off-grid solar power systems to be used in the mining industry anywhere in the world.
Sandfire managing director Karl Simich said the company had been working on the solar power initiative since 2013, with the project representing an attractive opportunity to participate in a low-risk renewable energy initiative with a minimal capital requirement.
“The scale of this project will be an Australian and world first – a unique combination of an off-grid, high capacity solar power array which will be fully integrated with an existing diesel power station,” he said.
“It is a very manageable project which, importantly, will not impact on the efficiency or safety of our existing operations, while allowing Sandfire to make a solid contribution to the broader challenge of reducing [carbon] emissions and potentially reducing our operating costs in the long run.”
“We are…confident that this project will help to promote the use of renewable energy in the resource industry, and potentially streamline and improve the technology to make a bigger contribution to powering mine sites in the future.”
juwi Australia managing director Andrew Drager said the system would provide the majority of daytime electricity to the mine.
The agreement is subject to various conditions, including final funding.