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The mining industry consumes huge amounts of energy each year. In the US alone, the mining sector is responsible for consuming 11% of total industrial energy consumption, coming in third place among top energy users after the bulk chemical and refining sectors. Globally, mining also represents around 11% of the world’s total annual energy usage.
Currently, most mines rely on traditional power sources, either fossil fuel-based grid power or diesel-generated power off-grid. However, in the light of diminishing fossil fuel resources, and the increasing concern over emissions, all sectors are being nudged towards alternative, cleaner energy sources. With mining being a major consumer, the pressure to make the switch is very high.
Photovoltaics Offer a Cleaner Alternative
Photovoltaics is the term given to the generation of power by converting sunlight into usable energy. Solar cells are used to capture light energy and translate it into a flow of electrons, thus producing an electrical current, achieving power in a form that we can use.
Until recently, renewable energy such as solar power (solar PV) had been approached with caution by large industries who rely heavily on power. This is because of the intermittent nature of renewables, meaning that a strong source of power (sunlight) is not always available. However, great strides forward have been made in terms of innovating ways to store solar energy, such as converting it into hydrogen or storing it in batteries, that have made solar a viable resource of reliable, round-the-clock power.
How Does Solar PV Power Mines?
37% of global mining companies now rely on solar PV as a source of energy, and many of these companies choose to integrate solar farms into their own infrastructure. Alongside this there are many projects trialing out power storage facilities and microgrids as well as solar farms, allowing the companies to go off-grid and power their operations themselves.
These projects are figuring out how to store excess solar when input is high, and distribute when energy input is low. Mining companies are looking into using excess energy to power electrolysis to extract hydrogen from water. The hydrogen is then stored as a back-up power source, which can then be distributed through local microgrids when power input is low. Numerous projects like this have taken place in Australia and proven that they can be successful. Other companies are looking into using battery storage in place of hydrogen and connecting this storage device to a microgrid.
The implementation of solar PV farms, alongside a storage option and microgrid provides a reliable system for providing vast amounts of energy to mining operations. In addition to allowing these companies to move away from fossil fuels, it also offers several other benefits.
Benefits of Using Solar PV
Minimizing Fuel Costs
By next year, renewable energy will finally be consistently cheaper than non-renewables. As technology in the renewable sector has undergone a revolution, the methods of producing this kind of energy have become cheaper, whereas innovation in non-renewables is grinding to a halt. The cost of renewable energy is predicted to continue to fall, whereas non-renewable is rising.
Off-Grid Power Availability
Through constructing their own solar farms alongside storage options and microgrids, mining companies have the freedom to go off-grid, eliminating delays to production through unexpected power cuts.
Challenging Conditions and Terrains
Mining operations often happen on challenging terrains. However, solar power systems have been optimized to work effectively over numerous terrains, and have been shown to present fewer complications in comparison to non-renewable sources.
Solar PV has become a viable option to produce huge amounts of power for the mining industry, alongside the use of storage facilities and microgrids, this power source is expected to be relied on more and more by the sector in the coming years.