First Solar to light up mining sector

U.S. thin-film solar giant First Solar outlined its strategy to build and operate its own fuel-replacement projects in the global mining sector.

The company unveiled the plans at last week’s World Future Energy Summit in the UAE emirate of Abu Dhabi last week.

Speaking to trade publication Mining Weekly, First Solar fuel replacement solutions director John Eccles said the group was offering companies the possibility to replace diesel-run systems with more cost-efficient solar energy installations tailored to the mine’s specific power-load profile.

Eccles told Mining Weekly that advanced discussions were already under way with multinational mining groups and that there was particularly strong interest from companies in Australia and Africa, including South Africa.

"It’s a commercial proposition whereby we take on the risk, which will ensure that the plant is not so small that it is being fully utilized, but not so large so that half of the asset is not being used," Eccles said in the interview. "In fact, design optimization is the first critical step with hybrid applications, even more so than with utility-scale projects."

Eccles added that such fuel replacement projects were a "a new field globally and is being driven by the fact that, over the past five years, PV solar power prices have halved, while diesel fuel costs have generally increased. Over the past 12 months changes to those critical parameters have made hybrids viable."

In the UAE, First Solar built a 13 MW PV plant in Dubai, the first part of the emirate’s planned 1 GW Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park.

First Solar recently broke ground on the first phase of a 22 MW PV plant in the U.S. state of Texas’ Pecos County.