Solar power provides the mining industry with the opportunity to become greener and more sustainable. However, not many organisations fully understand the benefits that solar can have for their businesses.
Mining companies have long been criticised as some of the worst carbon emission producers in the world. In fact, power consumption in the mining industry generates 0.4 gigaton of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) of greenhouse gas emissions each year. This ultimately ends up in the atmosphere, contributing to the worsening of climate change.
To help address the issue, some mining businesses have started looking for cleaner forms of energy for their mines. Some are aiming to replace traditional diesel-powered generators that power their mines with more sustainable options. One of the alternatives that are being increasingly explored is solar power.
Challenges of providing electricity to mine sites
Mines play a crucial role in the global economy, providing the raw materials necessary to produce many different products.
However, accessing these materials typically requires mining from faraway places, on the edges of or even off of main electrical grids.
Providing power to these remote mining sites can be very difficult. Many companies rely on generators to create enough electricity for their operations. They need to transport large amounts of fuel over vast distances just to meet the demand.
This presents them with a lot of different challenges, particularly in terms of costs and logistics. It can also have various health and environmental impacts.
Diesel generators are the most common source of electricity for mining sites. Companies spend significant capital to build infrastructure that provide power for their needs. They also spend millions more to buy and transport the fuel necessary to keep the generators running.
As reliable as diesel generators may be, they can also be very expensive to operate. The cost of diesel used to power the generators is also highly variable based on market conditions.
There’s also the issue of supplying remote mining sites with fuel. The farther their locations are from oil depots, the harder and more expensive it becomes to deliver diesel to the site. Long-distance transport can represent a significant operating cost.
Fuel deliveries can be interrupted by other factors as well. Natural disasters, such as earthquakes, tropical cyclones, and bushfires can prevent delivery trucks from reaching mining sites.
Health and environmental impacts
Mining sites typically require large amounts of electricity to fuel their daily operations. Diesel generators are more than capable of supplying their needs but emit high amounts of carbon emissions in doing so.
In addition to their well-known contribution to climate change, CO2 emissions also pose a more immediate threat to the people working in mines. Short-term exposure is enough to cause headaches, dizziness, restlessness, and tingling or pins and needles feeling.
Meanwhile, longer-term effects include difficulty breathing, sweating, tiredness, increased heart rate, and elevated blood pressure.
Benefits of Using Solar Power in Mines
Solar power is one of the greenest forms of energy available. After all, the sun has been providing the planet with energy for billions of years. Harnessing that power can help provide mining sites with much of the power they need.
Here are some of the advantages to using solar power in mining sites:
Solar is cost-effective
One of the biggest challenges to switching to solar power is the upfront cost. The cost of solar has fallen dramatically in recent years, but a new system still represents a significant expenditure.
Installing solar panels becomes even more expensive when done in remote locations. This has convinced some mining companies to shy away from solar and continue to rely on existing diesel-fired power infrastructure.
However, business owners only need to pay for the initial cost of installing a solar power system. They won’t have to shoulder the cost of regularly supplying fuel as with diesel generators.
Solar systems also have fewer moving parts to maintain compared to diesel generators and require minimal upkeep costs.
Despite the upfront costs, mining companies that choose to invest in solar energy are typically able to massively reduce operational costs compared to diesel in the long run and recognise attractive returns on investment. Financing options are also available to reduce or even eliminate the upfront cost.
Solar improves the resilience of mining sites
Having a solar power system at a mining site means it doesn’t have to rely on fuel deliveries to the same extent. They can get a large portion of their power from sunlight collected through the solar panels installed on-site. And while solar panels require sunshine to produce power, their energy can also be stored using batteries for use on cloudy days or at night. Like solar, the cost of battery storage is continuing to fall and becoming more attractive for miners and other heavy energy users.
Solar power allows mining companies to still operate even if their access to diesel supplies is interrupted.
Solar is a greener and more sustainable form of energy
Using solar-powered generators doesn’t produce carbon emissions. This makes it a more environmentally friendly option compared to diesel generators. It’s also more sustainable to use since it doesn’t rely on extracting fossil fuels from the Earth.
Switching to solar power can help mining companies reduce their CO2 emissions significantly. A well-designed solar system can reduce or even – when paired with batteries – eliminate the need to use diesel generators to power work sites. It can also be used to power electric vehicle fleets, another way to effectively cut overall emissions.
Making the right choice
The mining industry is perhaps one of the most difficult sectors to turn greener. To extract minerals from the earth, companies use equipment that requires large amounts of energy. They also tend to build their work sites in remote locations, making it difficult to connect to power grids. This forces them to rely on carbon-emitting diesel generators.
However, mining companies can still switch to cleaner forms of energy. A solar power system can provide a significant portion of a mine’s electricity without producing CO2 emissions. It also makes mining sites more self-sustaining and less dependent on regular fuel supplies.
For help in building a solar power system for your workplace, contact VivoPower today. We offer a full suite of sustainable energy solutions (SES) for all your needs.