chawalit khamsuk / Shutterstock
As we enhance our focus on renewables to reduce our emissions and create a sustainable global society, vast advancements are occurring in the technology that supports it. With these developments, the cost of using renewable energy is dropping, and it is becoming a viable option as a power source for almost all industries.
As prices have lowered, the interest the mining industry has shown in using this energy has increased, and now it is predicted that wind and solar are to become a firm trend in powering mining operations around the world. Currently, solar PV is being embraced most, as it enjoys a 59% share of total renewable energy usage by the mining industry, followed by wind at 39% and solar thermal at 4%.
The Need for a Transition from Fossil Fuels to Cleaner Resources
As one of the largest energy consumers globally (accounting for around 11% of all energy consumption), the mining sector is feeling pressure to move away from fossil fuels to using a cleaner energy source. However, while renewable energy has become well established over recent years, there are still concerns as to whether it can be relied upon as a sole source of power. Considering the dependence that mining operations have on large and consistent energy sources, renewables are coming under scrutiny by the mining sector as to whether they can be relied upon.
Renewable energy cuts the costs of mining efforts, meaning that operations are more secure as more of the budget reallocated to segments that require it most. Currently, spend on energy is accounting for around 15% of total mining costs, and this increases to around 40% in metal mines.
The booming technology industry is calling for more metal resource to use as components in devices; this demand is further fuelled by renewables themselves, who also require an increasing amount of metal resource. The influence this has on the mining industry is that more metal mining is required, and renewable energy provides a way to make their operations sustainable through cutting the heavy energy costs.
Key Concerns Related to Adoption of Renewable Energy
Intermittent power is one of the key concerns surrounding the adoption of renewable energy, particularly in mining. The nature of renewable energy that it is powered by natural energy sources such as sunlight and wind means that power is not always readily available. Renewable energy which is generated and not used, is lost as it generally cannot be stored. This has raised questions as to whether it can be relied upon by big energy users such as mines because they need a guarantee of continual supply to keep operations up and running.
However, major developments in renewable energy storage are currently underway. Scientists are developing batteries that are capable of storing excess energy generated when renewable energy input is high, to be distributed when input drops. In addition to this, methods of converting excess energy into hydrogen are also being explored. This would allow hydrogen to supply power once solar or wind power stops providing sufficient power. Australia is demonstrating how these methods can be run on a large scale.
The country is already home to several large batteries which provide energy to the grid from stored renewable power when it is required. Further to this, they are investing millions in their Jemena H2GO project, which will split hydrogen from water using excess power using a 500 KW electrolyzer. The adoption of renewables on a large scale as seen in Australia is evidence to the mining industry that renewable energy has got to the stage where it can be relied on to supply constant power, the key is in storage technologies.
Development of renewable energy storage would be required at sites that power mining operations, but this is the final hurdle to overcome. Mining can rely on renewable energy to reduce power costs, obtain a reliable power supply, and to also meet environmental and social goals.