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SMM: a global energy and mining conference in December 2019 discussed a number of issues that might have been discussed a few years ago. For example, a team of mining developer executives raised the topic of which milestone might be achieved first: electrified mines, carbon-free fleets or 100 per cent renewable energy-driven businesses.

Topics like this are being discussed, reflecting the application and development of renewable energy in the mining industry in recent years. While mining companies that mine minerals such as gold, copper, lithium and cobalt are increasingly emphasizing the importance of reducing carbon emissions, economic viability is the real driver of their active deployment of solar power, wind power and energy storage systems.

According to statistics, energy costs account for 15% to 40% of mine operating costs. Traditionally, the electricity of mining equipment is satisfied by power grids or fuel generators. Mining around the world requires a lot of energy. According to a survey released by the Colombian Centre for Sustainable Investment, the energy demand of the mining industry accounts for 1.25% to 11% of the total global energy demand, which is broad because it includes downstream industries.

Because many mines are located in remote areas, costly fuel must be transported over long distances, and it is often difficult to obtain electricity from the grid. With the continuous decline in the cost of wind power, solar power generation and energy storage systems, clean energy has become an economically attractive option. By 2022, the cost of energy storage systems will be 61% lower than in 2013, and the cost of solar power generation will be 40% lower than in 2013, according to research firm Wood Mackenzie.

These factors have prompted mineral developers around the world to actively adopt clean energy. The Rocky Mountain Research Institute released a survey on the Application of Renewable Resources in Mines, which shows that the installed capacity of renewable energy deployed in 88 mines in 26 countries is nearly 1.8 GW, in addition to the planned deployment of 3GW renewable energy projects.

Deployment of Solar + Energy Storage Project in Mali

In early December 2019, Canadian gold miner B2Gold announced that it had signed a contract with the Wasiland Group to purchase one of its 17MW/15MWh energy storage systems to optimize the energy system of its Fekola mine in southwestern Mali. The mine is powered by a 64MW fuel generator, but earlier this year the company announced it would deploy solar power facilities with 30MW installed capacity.

Risto Paldanius, Director of Energy Optimization and Storage Business Development, Wasiland Group, said: “the mining period of the mine has been extended and is therefore studying how to provide additional electricity and how to produce in a more sustainable manner. They decided to use a hybrid of fuel generators and solar power plants, so the next question was how to manage intermittent solar power facilities and how fuel generators would respond. To that end, they concluded that there was a need to deploy energy storage systems to help integrate assets to maximize the use of renewable energy, to achieve the lowest energy costs and to reduce carbon emissions. ”

Paldanius says adding solar power means B2Gold can reduce the cost of buying and transporting large amounts of fuel each year. In addition, Wasiland’s GEMS technology optimizes the combination of solar power generation facilities and energy storage systems and fuel power generation facilities, which is expected to reduce the mine’s electricity costs by 7 per cent and carbon emissions by about 390 tons per year. “Investment in solar power generation facilities and energy storage systems can be rewarded within a few years,” Paldanius said.

Long-term operation, long-term savings

While improvements in the overall economy and sustainability are important drivers of the deployment of renewable energy power generation facilities and energy storage systems in the mining industry, the deployment of energy solutions varies from place to place. For new mines, the deployment of renewable energy power generation facilities and energy storage systems is more economical and feasible, making the deployment of hybrid energy or the full adoption of renewable energy systems an obvious option.

For mines that are already connected to the grid or receive electricity from oil-fired generators, investment in the deployment of renewable energy power generation facilities and energy storage systems depends on the life expectancy of the mine. “have lower energy costs and reduced carbon emissions stimulated investment in renewable energy power generation facilities?” Paldanius said. This is the biggest problem. They will make financial calculations about the operation of the mine, depending on the price at which they mine the mine. ”

In mines where electricity is mainly provided by oil-fired generators, the energy storage system becomes an important part of the deployment of renewable energy power generation facilities, because dispatchable power generation resources are needed to balance the intermittence of wind or solar power generation.

“mines may need more power from oil-fired generators, which means they operate less efficiently and consume more fuel, but in order to keep the generators running, they may eventually have to reduce the deployment of solar or wind power facilities,” Paldanius said. ”

He said Wasiland had made full use of its experience in building microgrids on the Caribbean island of Bonaire in the design of mining energy systems. Paldanius said, “there is no significant difference in implementation, and it may even be easier for mines to use renewable energy power generation facilities, as they usually operate round the clock and the load may be more stable than the load on the island. In terms of making full use of the economic benefits of renewable energy power generation facilities and energy storage systems in mines, the application of the mining industry is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many ways to do this, and I think as mines like Fekola start to make money, more and more renewable energy power generation facilities will be deployed. “