Rio Tinto goes solar at Weipa mine in Australia
Rio Tinto and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) have commenced the Weipa Solar Plant in northern Queensland to generate electricity for its remote Weipa bauxite mine, processing facilities and associated township.
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The two phase project will see the Weipa Solar Plant generate up to 2,800 megawatts of electricity annually, including supplying 20 percent of the town’s daytime electricity demand. This is the first time a commercial diesel displacement PV system has supplied power to a remote Australian mining operation on such a scale.
"We expect the energy from the solar plant will help reduce the diesel usage at Weipa's power stations and save up to 600,000 liters of diesel each year," said Rio Tinto Weipa Operations general manager Gareth Manderson.
"This will reduce Weipa's greenhouse gas emissions by around 1600 tons per year - equivalent to removing around 700 cars."
ARENA is funding the project, providing an initial $3.5 million on the first phase with an additional $7.8 million for the second phase. Rio Tinto will purchase the power from the project under a 15-year power purchase agreement.
“This power purchase arrangement is an opportunity to trial the introduction of an alternative power source such as a solar plant into a remote electrical network like the one here in Weipa,” said Manderson.
The solar technology, which is developed by US-based First Solar, involves 18,000 photovoltaic (PV) modules in combination with the company’s FuelSmart micro-grid integration technology to convert light from the sun directly into power.
“It is already widely acknowledged that solar electricity is typically cheaper than diesel-powered electricity, particularly in remote locations,” said Jack Curtis, First Solar’s Regional Manager for Asia Pacific. “The significance of the Weipa Solar Plant is that it provides the opportunity to demonstrate that PV-diesel hybrid projects can also be as reliable as stand-alone diesel-powered generation.”
According to Curtis, the next 12 months are "critical" to gather data from the project in order to accelerate the adoption of solar power at remote mine sites.
"We're seeing the initial interest but like most things in this industry, [mining companies] really want to see something deployed and in doing that with this project with Rio I think it's going to be quite industry-changing in that respect,” said Curtis.
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“Proving this commercial model has the potential to be a watershed moment for the diesel hybrid application globally.”
The first phase of the project is expected to run for nine to 12 months before implementing the proposed second phase, which will increase capacity to five megawatts and include an electricity storage system.
Axora launches global challenge for digital technology
Axora is launching the world’s first international competition to discover new cost-saving digital technology for industrial companies, which can produce rapid benefits within a year.
The Metals & Mining and Oil & Gas sectors have recently experienced budget cuts of 20% on average, driven by a variety of factors including the global pandemic, slump in demand and price wars. The Axora Cost-Saving Technology Challenge aims to transform these industries by discovering innovative, digital solutions that reduce cost fast and pay for themselves, whilst achieving the same or improved productivity, health and safety and sustainability standards.
“While digital solutions can help to get work done quicker and more cost-effectively, they typically require a three-year ROI, and if there’s no flexibility in the budget, a full budget planning cycle is needed to get things moving”, said Dr. Nick Mayhew, Chief Commercial Officer, Axora.
“Yet, extra financial cost is often incurred in delaying digital projects, so customers have asked us to highlight solutions that can have an ‘in year payback’ whereby the cost spent on the solution and deployment will be more than recovered within the budget year - this accelerates the timeline and drives positive business impact, quickly.”
The Axora Cost-Saving Technology Challenge
Axora is keen to learn of any digital cost-saving innovation which: meets the 12-month payback timeframe; can be deployed in any part of the value chain including upstream, downstream or midstream oil and gas, metals processing or mining; and is ready for market. The Axora Cost-Saving Technology Challenge is open to entrepreneurs, start-ups, academics and sector leaders across the world. The competition will be judged by a panel of leading industry experts.
“We’re passionate about supporting our industries and customers through all forms of digital transformation and the cost-saving solutions we are searching for could also provide a lifeline to many mining and metals and oil and gas companies in the current economic climate,” added Dr. Mayhew.
Improving productivity, safety and sustainability
Up to ten finalists will be chosen to pitch their solutions at a digital pitch day later this year, after which Axora will validate the ROI models and vet the solutions. The winner will receive the ‘Axora Market Accelerator’ sales and marketing package worth £10,000. This includes a two-hour workshop, promotion through Axora’s thought leadership content and inclusion into its digital demand engines, providing the opportunity for the winning solution to benefit thousands of industrial companies. Entries are open until May 31. Full details of the competition including terms and conditions can be found here.
To learn more about the Axora B2B digital solutions marketplace read our feature in the latest issue of Mining Global magazine.