First Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ: FSLR), Rio Tinto and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) today announced Australia’s first commercial diesel displacement solar plant has successfully commenced commercial operation at a remote mine. The Weipa Solar Plant will generate electricity for Rio Tinto’s Weipa bauxite mine, processing facilities and township on the Western Cape York Peninsula in Queensland, Australia.
Rio Tinto general manager, Weipa Operations, Gareth Manderson said “This power purchase arrangement is an opportunity to trial the introduction of an alternative power source such as a solar plant into a remote electrical network like the one here in Weipa.
“At peak output, the 1.7 megawatt (MW) capacity solar plant has the capacity to generate sufficient electricity to support up to 20 per cent of the township’s daytime electricity demand.”
“We expect the energy from the solar plant will help reduce the diesel usage at Weipa’s power stations and save up to 600,000 litres of diesel each year. This will reduce Weipa’s greenhouse gas emissions by around 1,600 tonnes per year, equivalent to removing around 700 cars.”
The solar plant is expected to produce an average of 2800 megawatt hours of electricity per year. The electricity from the 18,000 advanced First Solar photovoltaic (PV) modules that have been connected to Rio Tinto’s existing mini-grid will be purchased by Rio Tinto under a 15-year Power Purchase Agreement.
Pictured: Aerial view of the Weipa Solar Plant .
First Solar’s FuelSmart™ solutions combine PV generation with a fossil fuel engine generator to provide optimal fuel savings while maintaining system reliability.
“It is already widely acknowledged that solar electricity is typically cheaper than diesel-powered electricity, particularly in remote locations,” said Jack Curtis, First Solar’s Regional Manager for Asia Pacific. “The significance of the Weipa Solar Plant is that it provides the opportunity to demonstrate that PV-diesel hybrid projects can also be as reliable as stand-alone diesel-powered generation.”
“In recent years, attention has been focused on the technical challenges of high-penetration PV-diesel hybrids. At the Weipa Solar Plant, First Solar is seeking to deliver a reliable electricity supply without diverting capital costs away from Rio Tinto’s critical mine operations. Proving this commercial model has the potential to be a watershed moment for the diesel hybrid application globally,” said Mr Curtis.
ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht congratulated First Solar and Rio Tinto on achieving this Australian first, which has the potential to bolster the mining industry’s confidence in renewable energy as a reliable off-grid power source.
“This is the first time a remote Australian mining operation has been supplied with power from solar PV on such a scale. The success of phase one is set to create a precedent for industry by demonstrating that solar PV is a viable option for powering off-grid locations, like mine sites, in Australia,” Mr Frischknecht said.
“ARENA was pleased to provide an initial $3.5 million for this early mover project and up to $7.8 million is available for the second phase. Similar ARENA-supported projects now underway, or in the pipeline, will build on this landmark project to further prove the reliability of integrating renewable energy solutions in off-grid locations while helping to drive down costs and the need for subsidy.”
Contingent on the success of phase one, the project partners have the option of entering into a second phase that would include a storage component. At 6.7MW, the expanded plant would have the potential to save approximately 2,300,000 litres of diesel on average each year, reducing Weipa’s greenhouse gas emissions by around 6,100 tonnes per year.