Juwi to begin work on hybrid solar farm at Australian copper mine

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An AUS$40 million solar project in Western Australia is due to commence construction shortly, after renewable energy developer juwi Group confirmed it will begin work on the project in late July.

The 10.6 MW hybrid solar facility will become the largest integrated off-grid solar and battery storage plant in Australia once completed. Located at the DeGrussa copper mine in Western Australia, the project is being managed and overseen by mining company Sandfire Resources.

Completion is penciled in for 2017, and the project has received AUS$20.9 million in funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and AUS$15 million from the federal government’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

The off-grid solar plant will provide most of the energy for Sandfire’s mining operations, with the battery storage add-on ensuring round-the-clock power for the mine. ARENA estimates that the hybrid plant will offset the use of around five million liters of diesel a year, cutting the plant’s diesel consumption by 20%.

An existing 19 MW diesel generator facility will work alongside the solar plant, and Sandfire has confirmed a six-year power purchase agreement (PPA) for the PV output. Should the mine’s operations continue beyond that date, then the mining company will begin paying back funding to ARENA as the plant continues to perform.

"Remote industries in Australia currently rely on 1.2 GW of power from diesel fuel that is prone to price volatility and supply interruptions," said ARENA chief Ivor Frischknecht. "Renewables are already competitive with fossil fuels in many off-grid applications, offering a strong, secure and reliable alternative to trucked-in diesel.

"ARENA support will help overcome the early-mover costs currently facing renewable mining projects. The undertaking at DeGrussa is supported by modeling showing similar projects could be viable without government subsidies in the near future."

Sandfire Resources MD Karl Simich said that the company identified some time ago the potential of solar PV. "The technology presents an exciting opportunity for us to participate in a low-risk renewable energy initiative at DeGrussa, and we have no doubt that this project has the potential to be an Australian – and possibly world – first, establishing DeGrussa as a reference site for the use of off-grid solar and battery storage technology in the mining industry."

The project will use 34,080 solar panels attached to single-axis trackers spread across 20 hectares of land next to the mine. Alongside the solar array will be a 6 MW short-term battery storage installation.