How viable is hybrid energy in remote mining locations?

Africa Mine
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Providing remote mining locations with a reliable and cost-effective energy source is an ongoing challenge, but technology may be on hand to provide an alternative solution. 

Traditionally, the mining sector has relied on fossil fuels as a constant, manageable energy source. However, for a number of reasons including volatile fuel prices and the fact that in remote locations the reliability of fuel deliveries can cause headaches, reliable alternative sources of energy are being carefully considered and, in a few cases, already being utilized.

On the cusp of new energy solutions

Technological developments mean that being in a remote location doesn’t necessarily mean having to operate at the mercy of fuel suppliers and prices.

Fuel, solar and battery are the most commonly used hybrid solution to date - although they are still used much less than other energy sources. However, the surrounding issues and principles apply to the other possible alternative energy sources, including wind and hydro.

Why go hybrid?

What are the incentives for mining companies to make the change from using fossil fuels – a tried and tested energy source – to a potentially less efficient and more expensive solution? For a mining company that depends on power to mine and process raw materials into a saleable product, the number one concern is reliability. Downtime in production is not acceptable. The other major factor is the cost of installing and operating the power plant: there must be an economic reason to install an alternative solution. Finally, the desire to use renewable energy sources in today's society is growing. If mining companies can find a reliable and cost-effective solution that uses renewable energy, then they can fulfil their environmental objectives.

Making the move to a hybrid solution involves several deciding factors:

  • Reliability
    Anyone who has ever been on a picnic knows that the weather doesn't always play along. Solar power has obvious limitations, but can developments in battery technology and energy storage mitigate the risks of cloudy days and downtime at night?
  • Cost
    Going green is of course a noble goal, but how do the numbers really stack up? Is the hybrid approach a financially viable option in the long term? Are there government-backed incentives, rebates or finance packages that make the solution viable?
  • Location
    In remote locations the geography of the surrounding area is a determining factor when selecting which solution to implement. Is there enough flat land to install solar panels? Is there a cost to using that land? What lessons can be learned from the project delivery process on existing projects?
  • Technology
    The technological aspects of hybrid energy are far from straightforward and the pace at which technology is developing can pose as many problems as it solves. Knowing what to look out for on the technology front is key to making the right choice in terms of future-proofing energy storage solutions.

What next?

The solar/fossil fuel hybrid solution is only one potential option when it comes to providing sustainable energy in the long term. With developments in battery technology and the potential use of alternative renewable energy sources such as wind power, what does the future hold for hybrid solutions in the mining sector? 

To find out more about the future of powering mines in remote locations, join us at our Africa Week panel event where we will look at the successes to date, the limitations, the technology and the financial implications of integrating hybrid power in the mining sector. 

Learn more about our other Africa Week events.