First Solar, Ingenero develop diesel-PV hybrid project for Rio Tinto in Australia

U.S. thin-film group First Solar is partnering with Australian solar company Ingenero on a diesel-PV hybrid project for mining giant Rio Tinto in Australia.

With an initial capacity of 1.7 MW — and the potential to expand by an additional 5 MW — the Weipa Solar Photovoltaic Project will generate electricity for Rio Tinto Alcan’s (RTA) Weipa bauxite mine, processing facilities and township on the Western Cape York Peninsula in Queensland.

RTA will purchase the electricity under a 15-year power purchase agreement.

The first phase of the project will generate sufficient electricity to offset up to 20% of the facility’s daytime electricity demand while reducing the diesel consumption for every megawatt hour of electricity produced, according to First Solar.

"For the Weipa bauxite mine, solar PV complements the existing base-load generation by providing electricity in times of peak demand and reducing the amount of diesel fuel used," said Jack Curtis, First Solar’s vice president of Business Development for Asia Pacific. Curtis described the planned installation as a "landmark project that demonstrates how solar PV can be used to power the resources sector."

The project has received official confirmation of funding from the Commonwealth Government, with an initial commitment of $3.5 million from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to be followed by an allocation of up to $7.8 million for the project’s second phase.

Gareth Manderson, RTA’s general manager of Weipa Operations, said the company expected the use of solar power to reduce Weipa’s annual diesel consumption and its carbon dioxide emissions by around 1,600 tons. He noted that the hybrid diesel/PV solution would introduce to the site a reliable source of electricity with low maintenance requirements.

"Our collaboration on the Weipa solar PV project is validation of the strength of our ongoing partnership with First Solar," said Ingenero CEO Steve McRae. "Working together, we can provide the extensive project experience required for off-grid applications and draw on the PV module technology and utility scale experience provided by First Solar."

With completion scheduled for late 2014, First Solar will supply its thin-film PV modules and other balance of system components in addition to providing operation and maintenance services for the duration of the project.