Australia's largest offgrid array reaches full operation


The mining and resources sector is beginning to wake up to the potential of solar+storage at offgrid sites to reduce diesel consumption, deliver more reliable electricity, and result in operational savings. The 10.6 MW DeGrussa solar project, located at a copper and gold mine operated by Sandfire Resources in Western Australia, was inaugurated today and marks a landmark project in the sector.

The DeGrussa solar+storage array is both the largest offgrid solar project in Australia and the largest solar array to provide peak power at a mine site globally.

Juwi Renewable Energy was the EPC on the DeGrussa project, which deploys single axis tracking. A 6 MW lithium-ion battery has been coupled with the array. The solar+storage system has been integrated with a 19 MW diesel generator, supplying the underground mine and mining processing operation with baseload power during daylight hours. juwi has been retained as the O&M provider.

The DeGrussa system is designed to reduce the mine site's diesel consumption by 20%.

French renewable developer Neoen will own the Degrussa array, which was financed by the Australian government's Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) and partly through a grant from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

“This is a clear example of renewables providing substantial, reliable results for one of Australia’s largest industries,” said Ivor Frischknecht, the CEO of ARENA. “Mine owner Sandfire Resources is benefitting from more predictable power costs and is anticipating potential cost savings through reduced reliance on trucked-in diesel."

"The mining industry has been watching the progress at Degrussa," Frischknecht added. "Sandfire has already fielded inquiries from other miners looking to take advantage of renewable energy and tap into Sandfire’s experience."

Solar and mining set to bloom

Thomas Hillig, the founder of independent renewables and mining consultancy THEnergy, echoed the ARENA CEO's remarks, saying that Degrussa provides both technical proof of concept along with validation that renewable projects can be developed and owned by Independent Power Producers, such as Neoen.

"Degrussa shows that a mine can run during daytime fully on solar energy thanks to

storage working as a ‘bridge-to-back-up,'" said Hillig. "The project prepares the ground for the future."

THEnergy's Hillig noted that low diesel prices are currently slowing solar deployment in the resources sector.

"The DeGrussa project was highly incentivized by the ARENA and the CEFC," Hillig told pv magazine. "The solution applied in Western Australia is commercially hardly viable at the moment. Today, I see that most renewable energy projects under development in mining are planned without or with small-scale storage solutions."

Solar+storage ‘the' power source in remote Australia

The CEFC's Oliver Yates added that solar and storage is increasingly becoming the default power source in remote Australia.

“This is an important project of scale that demonstrates the potent combination of solar and battery storage and the benefits this brings to remote regions,” Yates said. “With this project now operational, and given the price reductions we are seeing in solar and batteries, the economics of remote solar and storage are becoming attractive even when oil prices are low.”

The project was developed over a 2.5 year period, with the construction itself taking ten months. juwi reports the project was delivered on time and on budget.

Given the remoteness of the location, the nearest town of only 800 people is some 150 km away, the project presented juwi with some significant challenges.

"We have managed to overcome the many commercial and technical barriers to make this flagship project a success," said juwi Australia's Managing Director Andrew Drager. "We hope these learnings will make it easier for other mining companies to follow a similar path, as well as the motivation to do so."

ARENA appears highly unlikely to be able to support similar projects in the future as it has effectively been defunded by the Australian Federal government.

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