Mining companies, already squeezed by high fossil fuel costs that are likely to rise further, are turning to renewable energy systems for power. RWE Innogy commissioned its 20.5-MW wind farm at Titz in Germany’s Rhenish mining area this week, just one of a string of renewable energy project announcements made by mining and renewable energy companies in recent months.
Relying on solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources stands to serve mining companies in good stead, both over the short and long haul. Advantages and benefits come in the form of more reliable, competitively priced energy supplies; the possibility of owning and earning positive investment returns by developing their own renewable energy systems; reducing carbon and greenhouse gas emissions and the negative environmental impacts of their operations; fostering more sustainable local economic development; and improving relationships with local communities and governments in countries in which they operate.
Moreover, mining companies making use of renewable energy has a nice synergy and symbiosis to it. Renewable energy technologies depend critically on the metals and minerals miners extract, while mining companies should always be looking for ways to reduce the environmental impacts of their operations and improve their relationships with local communities and governments, as well as their public image.
Renewable Energy Use Growing among Mining Companies
China’s Jinko Solar on Aug. 31 announced it’s working with engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) partner Solea Renewables to build a 1-MW solar energy array at a chromium mine in the northern South African province of Limpopo. The solar PV installation is said to be the first off-grid, utility-scale solar PV system in South Africa.
The fully integrated, turnkey solar PV system is expected to supply 1.8-GWh of clean, renewable electricity for the chromium mine’s operations per year for the next 20-30 years, enabling the mine operator to reduce its reliance on diesel fuel and generators.
“While the global demand for South African coal, platinum, palladium and chromium increases, mines and other industrial consumers face power supply constraints due to capacity challenges at Eskom, South Africa’s only national power provider,” Solea Renewables director Vusi Mhlanzi stated in a press release. “The turnkey delivery of our PV plants will not only benefit end-users, but it will in turn help reduce the ever present and increasing energy demand Eskom faces.”
In Germany, RWE Innogy installed ten REpower Systems SE wind turbines near RWE’s Garzweiler open-cast mine in just ten months. The 150-meter-high wind turbines have a combined capacity of 20.5-MW.
“We are thrilled to see our turbine blades turning at Titz,” RWE Innorgy CEO Dr. Hans Bunting elaborated. “Our beacon project in the expansion of renewables in the Rhenish mining area is now contributing power to the grid. Our Jüchen project will add another wind farm to the mining area at the end of this year – thanks in part to the close co-operation with our RWE Power affiliate.”
Added Titz Mayor Jurgen Frantzen, “The RWE wind farm and another one in the south of our municipality are already generating more power than all the businesses and households in Titz consume. That’s our contribution to the energy turnaround, and we are proud of it.”
Renewable Energy Use in Mining: An Emerging Trend
The emerging trend of mining companies turning to wind, solar and other renewable energy sources to meet their growing energy needs is likely to gain momentum in coming years. The cost of producing electrical power from solar, wind, and other renewable sources has been declining rapidly, making it as cheap, in some cases cheaper, than conventional fossil fuel sources. There are several other benefits and advantages that making use of renewable energy offers miners, however.
In addition, installing renewable energy systems insulates mining companies from increasingly high and volatile fossil fuel costs. More stable power costs means less economic and financial uncertainty, and that should lower the cost of renewable energy sources in miners’ financial calculations.
Moreover, installing solar, wind, or other renewable energy systems also improves the reliability of power supplies and provides mining companies with greater energy security. That’s particularly important in the mining business, where companies often operate in remote, isolated areas where grid power is spotty and more costly, if available at all.
Furthermore, renewable energy systems offer a way for mining companies to own their own power supplies. Another advantage of renewable energy systems over conventional fossil fuel power systems is that they’re modular, scalable and can be installed and up and running in short time frames.
Then there are the social and environmental benefits. Mining companies have a notoriously bad history when it comes to their environmental record and relations with local communities and foreign governments. Making use of clean energy sources is a way for them to at least partly address and improve their performance on these critical issues.
By installing solar, wind, or other renewable energy sources, mining companies can lower their carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as reduce other forms of environmental pollution (i.e. land and water degradation and contamination).
On the socio-economic front, if mining companies were to own their own renewable energy systems, surplus power could be sold to the local community, paving a pathway for more sustainable economic development among local communities.
Using Wind Power to Mine Iron Ore
Back in June, Brazil–based Vale SA, the world’s largest iron ore producer, said it will invest some $315 million to finance construction of two wind farms developed by Melbourne, Australia’s Pacific Hydro Pty. These wind farms will help meet its growing energy needs.
Vale and Pacific Hydro each will own 50% of the wind farm projects, which are located in the northeast Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Norte. Due to come on-line in 2014, the two wind farms will have a combined capacity of 140 MW and produce clean, renewable electrical power for 20 years or more.
“Vale’s global electricity demand is expected to grow 150 percent by 2020,” said Vania Somavilla, Vale’s director of human resources, health and safety, sustainability, and energy. “We’re looking for alternatives to meet this necessity in a sustainable manner.”
I've been reporting and writing on a wide range of topics at the nexus of economics, technology, ecology/environment and society for some five years now. Whether in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa or the Middle East, issues related to these broad topical areas pose tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges, and define the quality of our lives, as well as our relationship to the natural environment.