How Mining Could Benefit from Solar Power

Mining is an energy intensive industry, but a large number of mining facilities are located in regions without proper access to the local energy grid. For this reason, the industry is using independent diesel or gas generators to secure the power supply. But availability of these fossil fuels is not always guaranteed and will become more expensive in the future.

Even if the integration of photovoltaic installations into an energy supply system does not directly lead to a cost reduction today, it is guaranteed in any case that fossil fuel reserves will be saved and the energy supply sustainably ensured. Ultimately, costs and environmental impact are always significantly reduced.

If the solar system is supplied under a “power purchase agreement” regime, the OPEX cash flow of the mine would not even be affected, and the energy supply would become cheaper from day one as investors in solar projects know the benefit of the long term use and already have trust in the technology.

In the lifetime of a mining operation, which are several decades, it is certainly to be expected that the PV system must be placed elsewhere on the site. This presents not a serious problem because the installation is highly customizable and mobile due to the modular design.On a lot of mining locations, the surface has been used for different purposes and parts of the soil have been left for future recycling. Solar greenfield sites can be used especially on former industrial areas, so named brown fields. The advantage is that these areas are still accessible, have a better optical look and the environmental impact of mines will have a strong positive argument.

It doesn’t matter if the mines are investing in the solar projects on their own balance sheet or if they are signing a power purchase agreement; the carbon dioxide reduction will be a big benefit, especially when you compare each kWh produced with a diesel generator against solar power projects. Each kWh produced with fossil fuels or coal will generate an average of 0,65 kg of carbon dioxide.  A typical solar power greenfield for mines would start at a minimum 2 MWp installation. In Latin America that leads to 3 GWh of energy production per year. This 3 GWh replacement would decrease the carbon dioxide emission of the mine for 1,95 Mio metric tons of carbon dioxide a year!

Taking into consideration that the lifetime of a properly installed solar system is more than 40 years and that the expected pay-back-times in Latin America are less than 10 years, every solar system would generate the energy only for the maintenance costs. 

Mining operators and investors already understand very well that energy costs have a decisive influence on the profitability of a mining project. Taking into account that, besides saving on operational costs, initial investment is becoming even smaller, it is difficult to understand that the use of PV in regions of high solar irradiance is not yet being considered by default. One of the reasons may be that mining is characterized by conservative investment strategies. But this is just a possible explanation and not an apology.

Thorsten Preugschas, Soventix GmbH
Christian Kropp , 
DMT GmbH & Co. KG