Integrating solar energy into the mining industry

13th Mar 2013

Solar power has been impacting a number of industries, and now it's set to have a big influence on the mining industry.

The use of solar energy in mining has the potential to lessen some of its detrimental effects to the environment and to its employees in the industry.

A recent report from the World Health Organisation revealed that diesel is a carcinogen and elevates cancer risk – especially lung cancer – among people who are exposed to it more often than the general population.

As mines are often run by diesel generators, miners are at an increased risk of exposure and therefore of developing cancer according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Solar power – typically in solar panel form – is a way of reducing this risk for those in the mining industry.

By integrating solar energy into mining operations and lessening the industry's reliance on diesel, the effects of it on the environment and on mining workers can be reduced or even eliminated.

Chairman of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) Greg Bourne told RenewEconomy at the end of last year that there are huge opportunities to replace diesel with renewable technology in Australia.

"If you can prove the technology and the control systems for forecasting and intermittency, you have a lot more confidence in trying it nearer to  a large grid and beginning to sweep away the barriers of  ‘oh, we can’t do this, everything will fail." Bourne said.

Mt Cattlin lithium mine in Western Australia already harnesses solar power to generate some of its power needs. It uses 14 solar trackers and two wind turbines to generate 226 MWh per year of renewable energy.

The solar tracking feature means that the panels follow the sun throughout the day to maximise the amount of power they generate.

Through these renewable energy efforts, Mt Cattlin mine saves approximately 200 tonnes of carbon emissions each year.

These measures are being reflected internationally, as this year in South Africa, a 1 MW off-grid solar pv facility has been integrated into Cronimet chrome mine's electricity system.

The solar panels span two hectares and Solea Renewables director Vusi Mhlanzi told Engineering News Online that the plant will produce 1.8 GWh and is expected to displace 450 000 l/y of diesel.

Posted by Mike Peacock

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