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Generating change

Posted on 13 Apr 2016

Rio Tinto has partnered with First Solar, Inc. and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to deliver Australia’s first commercial diesel displacement solar plant.

The Weipa Solar Plant, which began operating in late September 2015, will generate electricity for Rio Tinto’s Weipa bauxite mine, processing facilities, and township on the Western Cape York Peninsula in Queensland, Australia.

This is the first time a remote Australian mining operation has been supplied with power from solar photovoltaic (PV) technology on such a scale. The 1.7 megawatt (MW) capacity solar plant is expected to produce an average of 2,800 megawatt hours of electricity per year. At peak output, the solar plant has the ability to support up to 20 per cent of the Weipa township’s daytime electricity demand.
Environmental and commercial benefits

The plant uses First Solar’s FuelSmart™ solutions, which combine PV technology generation with a fossil fuel engine generator to provide optimal fuel savings while maintaining system reliability.

“We expect the energy from the solar plant will help reduce diesel usage at Weipa’s power stations and save up to 600,000 litres of diesel each year,” said Rio Tinto’s Gareth Manderson, general manager, Weipa Operations.

“This will reduce Weipa’s greenhouse gas emissions by around 1,600 tonnes per year, equivalent to removing around 700 cars.”

The electricity from the 18,000 advanced First Solar 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.

“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,” Jack said.


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Source: Rio Tinto


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