September 18, 2015 Rob Lydan

Too Good to be True

According to Navigant Research, five to eight per cent of energy needs in mining will be met by renewable sources by 2022, and wind power is the technology that is closest to receiving wide-scale investment from mining companies.

Solar energy is being taken seriously as well, due to a rapid decline in costs, but solar resources vary with latitude and other factors. At locations in the southern United States, costs are now below 20 cents per kilowatt-hour, but solar power at remote projects in Canada’s North is currently likely to cost between 30 and 40 cents per kilowatt-hour, says Royer.

Forcione says he believes solar can and will compete with wind in Canada. “In Germany, there are 50,000 megawatts of solar already installed,” he points out. “It could certainly be used in some places in Canada that are about the same latitudes.”

No matter the source, adds Sediqi: “Today, we can generate 20 per cent of the total energy demand of a mine with solar and wind technology without the need for storage.” But to what extent will renewables replace diesel in future mining projects? Is a 100 per cent penetration rate realistic?

“I think in some year in the future, you will see 100 per cent availability for a project like ours, but not in the short term,” says Busby.

It is clear that whatever improvements are made, diesel will always play a big part in autonomous grids. “You can reach 100 per cent renewable energy, but you still never want to remove your gensets as a backup,” says Armstrong.

Less clear is whether others will be joining companies like Rio Tinto and Cronimet on the frontier of renewable energy in mining very soon. Lydan says it may take some time for leaders to realize the benefits their organizations could reap: “For some people, it is too good to be true