Sandfire progress with landmark mine solar power station at DeGrussa copper mine

Sandfire Resources NL has advised that construction of the new 10.6 MW solar power station at its 100%-owned DeGrussa copper mine in Western Australia has reached a key milestone with installation of the first solar photovoltaic (PV) panels now underway. The innovative A$40 million project – which is the largest integrated off-grid solar and battery storage facility in Australia – will consist of 34,080 solar PV panels covering a total area of over 20 ha at a site located immediately adjacent to the DeGrussa underground mine and processing plant.

Construction commenced in mid-July with clearing and levelling of the site and subsequent installation of 4,700 steel posts to mount the single axis tracking system and solar PV panels. This system allows the panels to track the sun during the day, improving its overall performance. Site electrical work is also well advanced with the installation of underground electrical infrastructure including conduits ready for low-voltage and communication cabling to allow the interconnection of the panels, and to connect the facility to the 6 MW lithium-ion battery storage facility and the existing 19 MW diesel-fired power station at DeGrussa.

Installation of the solar PV modules is anticipated to be completed early in the New Year with other items to be installed in the coming months including the solar inverter to change the electric current from DC to AC, transformers and other electrical accessories and control systems. Bench-scale test-work is also well underway as part of an ongoing work program to seamlessly integrate the new solar power facility, the battery storage facility and the diesel-fired power station. The system has been designed with the diesel-fired power station continuing to provide base-load power to the DeGrussa mine with sufficient minimum load to ensure it can respond quickly to meet the power requirements of the process plant and underground mine. The overall construction schedule for the DeGrussa Solar Power Project is on track for delivery of first electricity from the facility during Q1 of CY 2016.

Key representatives of the DeGrussa Solar Power Project consortium – leading French renewable energy firm Neoen, who will own the facility; project developer and operator juwi Renewable Energy, who are also responsible for engineering, procurement, construction and O&M; national surveying and infrastructure construction company OTOC Limited (ASX: OTC); and project financiers the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) and Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) – recently toured the plant to inspect progress. The innovative project is expected to set a new benchmark for the use of renewable energy at remote mine sites in the resource sector, reducing diesel consumption and cutting carbon emissions at DeGrussa by more than 12,000 t of CO2 annually.

Sandfire’s Managing Director, Karl Simich, said the construction program for the DeGrussa Solar Power Project had reached a pivotal phase with most major preparatory site works now complete and the first batch of solar PV modules having arrived on site ready for installation. “Having visited the site recently with all of the key consortium members, I am delighted to see the rapid progress which has been made since the project was approved and final agreements signed in July,” Simich said. “The sheer scale of the project is as impressive as the level of expertise and technological capability which the various consortium members – each leaders in their respective fields – have brought to the venture. A project like this is only viable because of the interaction of the various stakeholders and their strong belief in hybrid systems.”

He added: “I have no doubt that the DeGrussa Solar Power Project will attract growing interest both internationally and within the industry as this impressive project commences operations. This is the first time that a major off-grid solar power facility with an integrated battery storage unit has been installed on a remote site in conjunction with an existing diesel-fired power station to service a highly critical operation such as an underground mine and processing plant, where safety and continuity of operations are paramount. We always said at the outset that the overriding consideration for this venture would be that, once installed and operating, it would not compromise copper production. I am delighted to see the entire team working cooperatively and effectively to manage the seamless integration of the solar facility with our existing power station, to ensure that this is the case. This is a first for the mining industry, a first for the power generation industry and a first in the rapidly growing field of renewable energy. We are all looking forward to its completion and successful commissioning of this state-of-the-art project early next year, and to the positive impact that we believe it will have for all of our key stakeholders.”