How solar, wind and storage helps power WA’s mining industry

It’s  not a match you normally associate with a heavy industry like mining. But wind and solar-powered mining is increasingly common in remote mine sites in Western Australia’s rich gold and gem fields.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has just announced funding for renewable energy projects at two WA mines:

  • the Agnew Gold Mine, formerly known as the Emu Mine, near Leinster, deep inland in WA
  • and GMA Garnet Group’s garnet mine near Kalbarri on the coast in the Mid West region

Going for gold with microgrid technology

Construction is underway on Agnew’s high-penetration microgrid in the northern Goldfields region.

Solar battery hybrid system powering gold mine in WA.

Australia’s mining sector is increasingly turning to solar, wind and battery storage to drive its operations. Image: Gold Fields

ARENA awarded the company $13.5 million for the construction of a 10,000 panel, 4 MW solar farm and a 13 MW / 4 MWh battery storage system. A 16 MW gas power station will shore up supply to the microgrid.

In addition, the microgrid will consist of five wind turbines, delivering an 18 MW wind farm. It’s a first for the industry – wind generation has never been incorporated into a large microgrid before.

The company expects the wind and solar-powered mining system to provide up to  55-60 per cent of its energy requirements. However, it could potentially meet all energy needs during certain times of the year.

Second-hand wind turbines power gem mine

A further $3 million will see another renewable hybrid generator built, with solar panels and a battery system adjacent to GMA’s garnet mining operations at the Port Gregory Wind Farm.

Once again, it’s a first for the Australian mining sector. This time, the wind and solar-powered mining project will incorporate decommissioned wind turbines from Europe into a 2.5MW wind farm. Project developer Advanced Energy Resources bought and refurbished the second-hand turbines in Australia.

The microgrid also includes a 1MW solar farm and a 2MW / 0.5MWh battery and, upon completion, will provide GMA with 70 per cent of its energy requirements.

Importantly, Advanced Energy Resources’ innovative ‘back-to-back inverter topology’ resolves the problem of connecting large amounts of renewable energy to fringe grid locations not designed to carry such loads.

Effectively, this approach allows solar and wind to operate in a microgrid with battery storage and inverters. This avoids the need to upgrade transmission networks.

Government supporting renewable powered mining

ARENA CEO Darren Miller said there’s a growing shift in thinking about powering Australia’s mining sector.

He hopes “other companies  deploy similar off-grid energy solutions and demonstrate a pathway for commercialisation, helping to decarbonise the mining and resources sector.”

Furthermore, past projects like Sandfire Resources’ De Grussa Copper Mine have shown how renewables can reduce operating costs for companies.