Rio Tinto's first solar plant to power new iron ore mine
Koodaideri, our most technologically advanced mine yet.
How can we lower our carbon footprint in the Pilbara?
What is a solar photovoltaic (PV) plant? How does it actually work?
At Koodaideri, we are installing a 34MW photovoltaic solar farm. This will consist of approximately 100,000 solar panels made up of photovoltaic cells to convert sunlight into electricity by allowing particles of light, or photons, to separate electrons from atoms, which in turn generates a flow of electricity. The electricity is managed through inverters that convert it to usable power.
How will it help reduce our emissions in the Pilbara?
On average, the solar plant is expected to supply all of Koodaideri’s electricity demand during peak solar power generation times and approximately 65% of the mine’s average electricity demand. Together with a new lithium-ion battery energy storage system, the solar plant is estimated to reduce our annual carbon dioxide emissions by about 90,000 tonnes compared to conventional gas powered generation. This is the equivalent of taking about 28,000 cars off the road.
Can you commit to this approach in the long run?
Yes – we are investing $98 million (A$144 million) at this stage, but we also have further studies underway to assess the right technology, location and size of future potential opportunities to lower our carbon emissions in the Pilbara. These may include more solar plants, as well as wind and battery projects. We are working closely with the government of Western Australia and the Environmental Protection Authority in Western Australia.
Climate change poses urgent challenges. Why are you only doing this now?
We have publicly acknowledged the reality of climate change for more than 20 years, and climate risks have been a part of our strategic thinking for just as long. As of end 2018, 71% of the electricity used across our business was from renewable sources (solar, hydro and wind). While we have a number of small-scale solar installations currently in operation across our rail network, large-scale plants have only recently become economically viable. The solar plant at Koodaideri will be our first, and we will continue to integrate renewable energies in the way we develop and operate our mines so that we can continue to make them more sustainable.
When will the solar plant and battery energy storage system be ready?
Construction is expected to begin later this year, subject to government approvals, and is due to be completed in 2021.
What will this mean for your operations? Will there be an impact on jobs – or an opportunity?
Our preference is always to buy local products and engage local services, and we have a robust local procurement policy. We will be launching our competitive tendering process for the solar plant early this year.
Will you be extending this technology to your other mines in Australia? And beyond?
We are looking at a number of opportunities across the Pilbara and more widely in our product groups to integrate renewable energy and further reduce our carbon footprint.
We regularly share our knowledge and lessons learned across our business, so we will continue to look for ways to make the most of this technology.
What are you doing in other areas of the business to reduce emissions? How does this fit into your wider sustainability strategy?
We believe we can be part of the solution, and we continue to look for ways to reduce the carbon impact of our operations. Choosing renewable energy over traditional power generation, like we are doing at Koodaideri, is one of them. Globally, our emissions intensity footprint has dropped by almost 30% since 2008. And in 2018 we sold our remaining coal assets, becoming the first major mining company to have a portfolio free of fossil fuel production.
Today, the materials we produce will play a key part in the transition to a low-carbon economy – like aluminium made with clean hydropower, and copper for electric cars. Across our business, we are focused on making our materials more sustainable across the value chain. For example, in 2019, we partnered with China’s largest steel producer, China Baowu Steel Group, and Tsinghua University, one of China’s most prestigious and influential universities, to work on a joint action plan – supported by the China Iron and Steel Association – to help reduce carbon emissions and improve environmental performance across the steel value chain.