Semi-portable PV diesel hybrid under development

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has partly funded the second stage of development of a semi-portable solar solution, designed to supply offgrid mining operations. The first deployment of the technology will be a 1 MW hybrid solution incorporating 134 kW of PV. ARENA is providing AUD$450,000 (US$418,000) of the AUD$1.4 million (US$1.3 million) pilot project.

ARENA CEO Ivor Frischnecht said that the progress of the project from the drawing board to first deployment indicates its “clever Australian design” and will deliver more clean electricity to remote mining operations.

“The plant will consist of transport-friendly container-sized modules, including a control center and inverters with external, pre-wired connections to allow fast, easy setup and pack down,” Mr Frischknecht said. “A semi-portable hybrid system like this carries enormous potential – it may provide industries and communities in regional and remote locations with a viable renewable energy alternative and could equally be used to assist in international relief efforts.”

While ARENA has identified billions of dollars of opportunity for the renewable energy industry and solar in particular in supplying Australia’s mining operations alone, one of the impediments has been the short lifetimes of some mine projects and temporary requirement for power during mine construction phases.

Frischknecht said that permanent PV installations are therefore not always ideally suited for mining operations, opening the window of opportunity for the semi-portable solution. ARENA had previously funded a feasibility study into the solution.

“Our engineering and construction operations across Australia currently deploy hundreds of diesel generators, of which many can potentially be augmented with this new renewable energy technology,” said Laing O’Rourke Managing Director Cathal O’Rourke. “As specialists in major remote and regional projects, we have an opportunity to harness vast amounts of solar energy at our projects, for a sustainable engineering solution.”

The opportunity presented by off grid mining operations to solar is huge, however progress in opening up the market has been slow – particularly in Australia. In Chile PV developers are having more success signing PPAs with mining companies. The development of more flexible solar solutions may provide a bridge over current impediments.

The involvement of a company such as Laing O’Rourke in the development of a semi-portable solar/diesel solution is also significant. The construction company has oeprations in Canada, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia and recorded revenues of GBP5 billion (US$8.35 billion) in 2009.