Mining is a global industry with many moving parts, from power generation and material handling, to water supply. Mines require massive amounts of electrical power to operate effectively and safely — often accounting for 40% of a mine’s carbon emissions.
When industry success hinges so heavily on power, it is critical to reflect on the components influencing power generation, such as cost-effectiveness, community impact and power reliability. Major players in the mining industry are taking a closer look at renewable energy options for on-site sources of power to cut costs, meet decarbonization goals and minimize pressure on the grid.
Affordability of On-Site Renewables
An on-site source of power gives miners better control of their operating costs through wavering energy prices and changing market conditions. On-site power can also minimize the costs associated with long transmission lines or unreliable connections to remote mining facilities.
As renewable energy prices fall to record lows, according the International Energy Agency — with projections for that trend to continue — these technologies are cost-competitive with the diesel and natural gas generation commonly used at remote mining facilities. Mining companies can also benefit from investment tax credits, making large solar or wind energy installs even more appealing.
Mining companies take their social license to operate in the local community or country very seriously. As more countries and utilities establish clean energy commitments, mining companies need to consider ways to help achieve these commitments and maintain a positive relationship with host communities.
The mining industry is well-positioned to meet decarbonization goals. Companies often own large amounts of land, ideal for installing large-scale renewable projects to power mining operations and, in many cases, provide power to their local communities. They have the electrical load to justify commercial sized installations and mining companies are also deeply familiar with operating capital-intensive businesses — the upfront costs for renewable technologies would not be an unreasonable undertaking for the industry.
Many mining facilities are moving forward with solar installations that can generate excess power to be put back into the grid to benefit the community. This approach gives communities alternative pathways to renewable energy sources, especially when a solar install on a house, apartment or business may be unattainable. This could be a game changer for communities that lack reliable power or access to power. Some mining companies are also looking at how their renewable generation at one site can help offset their carbon emissions at their other mining facilities.
If a mining company establishes on-site renewable generation, this could offer significant opportunities for mining haulage and transport electrification. A mining company’s haulage equipment is a major contributor to carbon emissions — large diesel-powered trucks contribute to daily operations. A transition to an electric fleet would help mining companies chart a path toward decarbonization. This would also help reduce operating and maintenance costs because the fuel is cheaper, and the electric motors require less maintenance.
Although power reliability is critical for the mining industry, many companies continue to struggle with reliability issues as they rely on aging infrastructure. When major spikes in power usage occur at startup, issues with the grid frequently arise. This spike also raises the peak demand power cost.
Energy storage options can help smooth out this power consumption during times of high loading or unfavorable pricing. Lithium-ion or redox flow batteries can offset peak consumption times and balance the intermittencies of solar and wind. These battery technologies have seen significant advancements in recent years and manufacturers are also putting out better electric mining equipment that can perform with the same capabilities of diesel equipment. Reciprocating engine generators can also pair with renewable power sources to provide flexible, fast-start power.
These technologies help improve power reliability for mines, which typically operate 24 hours a day. Any interruption of power supply can seriously impact operations — a shutdown of complex processes can cost mines upward of a million dollars a day. Unexpected shutdowns can also be a significant safety hazard, cause equipment damage or negatively impact the environment.
Key Industry Considerations
Renewable generation can deliver cost, decarbonization and reliability benefits for the mining industry; however, each facility has unique needs and energy inputs that should be matched with potential generation technologies. As mining companies consider adding on another layer of operations with renewables, they must navigate the endless potential setup and combinations to meet the company goals. When the objective is clear, a mining company can team up with the necessary partners to accelerate its transition to renewables.
A holistic and integrated approach to modernizing mining operations is the key to a connected, automated and controlled mining operation.