Sustainable mining: Granny Smith gold mine plans battery-backed solar power system

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The Granny Smith gold mine in Western Australia plans to install an 8 MW battery-backed solar power system. Once completed, the solar installation should generate almost all the energy required to power the Laverton mine’s processing operations. This is part of the company’s drive towards sustainable mining.

The 20,000 solar panel installation will be one of the largest renewable energy microgrids in the world. A 2 MW/1 MWh solar battery will also store surplus energy to provide backup power when needed.

The installation will also be integrated with a 24 MW gas generation system and thermal generators to create a hybrid system.

Solar installation to reduce energy use and emissions

Construction of the installation starts in May for completion by the final quarter of 2019.

Sustainable mining: Granny Smith's owner Gold Fields aims to be a global leader in sustainable gold mining.

Granny Smith’s owner Gold Fields aims to be a global leader in sustainable gold mining. Image: Gold Fields

Once up and running, the mine’s solar power system should reduce fossil fuel use by up to 13 per cent. It will also generate around 18 GWh of clean energy each year, according to installation company Aggreko.

The battery storage system will also provide the security and reliability of supply that the mine needs to operate continuously .

Solar energy part of sustainable mining vision

The mine’s owner, Gold Fields Limited, acquired the mine in 2013. The global company has a vision to be a world leader in sustainable gold mining.

Gold Fields’ vice president Stuart Mathews described the solar project as a “welcome addition” to the company’s suite of on-site energy solutions, that will enable the company to reduce its carbon footprint.

Public opinion and cost savings are encouraging more Australian mining operators to assess and invest in renewable energy like solar power and battery storage. Sustainable mining is a way for the industry to ameliorate its poor reputation environmentally.

Coal-fired plants set to retire by 2040

The Australian Energy Market Operator predicts that 70 per cent of coal-fired generation capacity will be retired in New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria by 2040.

Because the cost of solar PV modules is falling by 3 to 8 per cent each year, a hybrid plant could save mine operators up to 75 per cent on fuel bills.

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, commercial battery storage is also becoming more viable. Projected figures price lithium-ion batteries at around USD$73/kWh by 2040 compared to about USD$250/kWh in 2017.