Mining by Moonlight to Save Energy

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Mining uses much more electricity than most other heavy industries, so it makes sense to move that high energy use to off-peak hours, because that evens out the demand on the grid, making it possible to squeeze more power out of fewer dirty electric plants, and to use more clean energy.

So the Ontario government has just asked the nickel-mining giant XStrada, and the second-largest mining company in the world, Vale; to work nights.

Residential electricity customers in the Canadian province already have time-of-use pricing encouraging them to run the dishwasher in the wee hours; but this is a first for heavy industry there.

Under the new pricing structure, the two giant mining operations stand to reduce their giant electricity bills, as much as 15%. An Xstrata representative said equipment and operations that use a lot of power such as the skips used to haul ore out of their mines could be operated at off-peak periods instead of during the day, according to local news outlet Northern Life.

When companies want to add value to their ore bodies by increasing the processing of the ore, that also means using more power.

And mining is not the only heavy industry that is being prodded by the Ontario government to working the night-shift with these new incentive rates. All told, about 200 of the province’s heaviest electricity users will be affected by the new rate structure pushing them to work nights.

This is not the first restriction the Ontario government has placed on mining. Last year it moved to reduce the introduction of new coal mines. The savings in greenhouse gases come partly because if the grid is evened out, fewer coal plants would need to be built in the Canadian province, which gets the vast majority of its electricity from hydro power built in the ’60s and ’70s.

The alternative to becoming nocturnal is to devise ways to store more clean energy when it is produced, so several utilities in several Canadian provinces and US states are also beginning to look into ways to store off-peak power.

Image: Jean Mckenna
Susan Kraemer@Twitter

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