W.A. mine becomes first to run on solar and battery only during daylight hours

Sandy Ridge Mine Western Australia
The Sandy Ridge mine in Western Australia, with its air dome cell cover.

An open-cut kaolin clay mine and geological waste repository in Western Australia’s Goldfields-Esperance region is being powered by renewable energy only during daylight hours, thanks to a solar and battery storage system custom built for the project through a power purchase agreement – and without any subsidies.

The achievement, thought to be an Australian first – although Fortescue Metals’ Christmas Creek iron ore mine, also in W.A. is likely to follow closely behind – is the result of a 15-year deal signed between the owner of the Sandy Ridge mine, Tellus Holdings, and seasoned W.A. microgrid developer Hybrid Systems Australia.

The PPA signed Hybrid Systems up to build, own, operate and maintain the microgrid, the solar and battery portion of which Tellus hopes will provide a decent chunk of the mine’s electricity, and thereby minimise the amount of diesel fuel used each year.

Hybrid Systems – a subsidiary of Pacific Energy, which is in turn owned by the Queensland government-owned investment vehicle, QIC – obliged with a system that combines a 2MW diesel power station, 1.2MW of solar and a 350kWh Samsung lithium-ion battery, with an ABB inverter.

Hybrid Systems Australia’s Mike Hall. Image supplied

But the company – which has also been flat out working alongside Western Power to install more than 40 solar and battery-based stand-alone power systems across its vast grid – has also delivered a microgrid that has proven it can run the mine entirely “hydrocarbon free” during daylight hours.

And notably, it has achieved this on a fully commercial basis, with no ARENA funding or any other subsidies.

“This is a proof of concept that [renewable energy generation] is now becoming economically viable for mine sites without relying on external funding,” said Hybrid Systems executive director Mike Hall.

“Achieving this ‘hydrocarbons off’ on a daily basis is a feat within itself, noting that – currently, as we are aware – no other  mining facilities in Australia are achieving that. We are seeing the value in how the industry is evolving and developing on a monthly basis and trying to stay at the forefront within industry,” he added.

Hall has plenty of experience in developing bespoke power systems for the resources industry, largely through his work with Contract Power Group, the gas and diesel-focused remote power asset company that about four years ago spawned Hybrid Systems as a renewable-focused offshoot. Both companies were acquired by Pacific Energy.

And while he still does a lot of his work through Contract Power, Hall says that more than 95 per cent of all new remote power supply solutions that come the company’s way these days have at least one renewable energy component to them.

For example, in January this year, Contract Power won a 20-year deal via the Western Australia government and state-owned utility Horizon Power to supply electricity to the Esperance region from a proposed hybrid solar, battery storage, wind, and gas-fired generation project.

Hybrid Systems, meanwhile, has grown from having four employees in 2018 to 42 today, and specialises in being a “one-stop-shop” for the design, development and operation of renewables-based “HIPS” – hybrid integrated power systems.

Everything that has gone into the Sandy Ridge HIPS, Hall says, was put together by his team, with only some of the key hardware components – solar panels, battery, inverter – outsourced. The rest is built from the ground up locally in W.A, and the HIPS energy management software is also developed in-house.

For Tellus, the signing of the Sandy Ridge Power Purchase Agreement has been described as a “significant operational milestone” for the company.

“The PPA will provide Tellus with long term, reliable, affordable and cleaner power for operation of the Facility,” the company said in September when the deal was announced.

“The battery energy storage system will enable the diesel generators to be turned off during periods of high solar penetration … [and] after 25 years of operation, this amounts to a total saving of ~ 14 million liters of diesel, or 39 million tCO2-e,” Tellus said.

“By prioritising renewable energy generation at Sandy Ridge, Tellus is committed to funding sustainable solutions to reduce our environmental impact.”

And Tellus is certainly not alone – the shift to renewables is being made by miners across the resources industry in Australia and globally.

Notable examples in Australia include Fortescue which, as noted above, is gearing up to test whether it can run its Pilbara-based Christmas Creek iron ore mine on solar, alone, during the day with partner Alinta Energy.

And also in W.A., South Africa-based miner Gold Fields has gained a name for making its Agnew mine in Leinster the first major gold mine globally to combine solar, wind, and battery storage, with back-up from the gas generators.

That ground-breaking project, completed in May of this year in partnership with EDL, and with the backing of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, installed 18MW of wind power, 4MW of solar PV, a 13MW/4MWh Saft battery energy storage system and an off-grid 21MW gas/diesel engine power plant.

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