The Worldwide Mining Industry Is Finally Embracing Renewables

Jon Capistrano
Jon Capistrano
August 19, 2016

Huffington Post reported last June 8, in a rocky and remote area of Western Australia, Sandfire Resources who owns a copper-goldmine, a mid-tier firm, witnessed the commissioning of an adjacent 34,080-panel PV installation. With ARENA financing, the DeGrussa mine uses one of the world’s largest off-grid solar PV systems and one of the biggest solar plants providing a peak power load to a mining operation.

In Queensland, in another isolated spot 2,000 miles away, Rio Tinto pursues a different angle – along with Arizona-based First Solar and with help from ARENA, the Anglo-Australian multinational outfitted an 18,000-panel PV farm. It shares electricity with a nearby town while saving 600,000 litres of fuel every year.

Renewables and mining obviously don’t share any common ground. It’s like north and south, night and day – add coal to the equation and you have a mineral extraction with a very dirty reputation. Yes, it’s true that profit-driven boardrooms seldom give priority to climate change, but with an estimated $13.5 trillion needed for commitments made at COP21, the global mining sector which consumes 38% of industrial energy.

The collapse of the emerging market commodities boom of the 2000s has miners scrambling to reinvent themselves. Clean energy is recognised for its multi-billion dollar savings potential since 2010, and while no mine is 100% renewable, battery storage breakthroughs accompanied by solar PV costs having plunged 80% since 2008 means that a fossil fuel-free future is imminent.

The subsector has flourished most in Chile which is the leading copper producer. In recent years, the costs and logistics have rendered coal-fired plants, gas pipelines and diesel trucks unsuitable to some of Earth’s most extreme geographies. For example, Coldeco’s Gabriela Mistral mine in the Atacama Desert has a project that generates about 51,800 thermal megawatts yearly, which offsets the need to transport 67,000 barrels of diesel to one of the planet’s highest places. Next year, 110

For example, Coldeco’s Gabriela Mistral mine in the Atacama Desert has a project that generates about 51,800 thermal megawatts yearly, which offsets the need to transport 67,000 barrels of diesel to one of the planet’s highest places. Next year, 110 megawatt concentrated solar power plants will supply power to an Antofagasta Minerals complex, also located in the Atacama. One of the world’s largest CSP plants, it will take advantage of thermal molten salts for storage.

Chile’s miners have been key in starting an alternative energy ripple effect across the country. Now, 18,000 megawatts are in the works, alongside government plans to boost the overall renewable energy mix to 70% by the year 2050.

Subarctic Northern Canada is also changing with the times. In 2013, Rio Tinto installed 4 massive wind turbines at their Diavik Diamond Mine to conserve $5 million needed every year to run diesel trucks across ice-covered roads stretching 340 miles. In 2014, the Swiss-based commodities giant Glencore installed a 3 megawatt turbine at its Raglan nickel mine in the northern Quebec tundra. This year a micro grid will be installed on site that includes a lithium-ion battery and hydrogen station systems.

Click here to read the full story on Huffington Post

Featured Image Credit: Beyond Coal & Gas Image Library

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