Granny Smith gold mine receives one of the world’s largest renewable energy microgrids

In a move which is sure to pan out well for Granny Smith gold mine in Western Australia, Aggreko has installed one of Australia’s largest renewable energy microgrids comprising 7.7 MWp of solar energy generation which will integrate with the site’s existing power station. pv magazine sat down with Aggreko’s Managing Director of Microgrids and Storage solutions, Karim Wazni, to discuss how microgrids and energy storage can help transition Australia’s resource sector.

Australia’s well-known grid congestion issues and associated Federal Government negligence dominate the headlines, but in the smaller-scale, microgrid, and off-grid frontiers of the renewable energy transition there blossoms a solution-oriented approach which, as British energy firm Aggreko[2] and Gold Fields[3] have demonstrated, is paving a solar-panel-bricked-road to a renewably-powered resource sector.

pv magazine Australia: Aggreko and Gold Fields are nearing completion on what is certainly one of Australia’s largest hybridised solar energy microgrids at the Granny Smith gold mine in Western Australia[4]. Just how large is this hybrid power system and how is it integrating with the mine’s existing gas fired power station?  

Karim Wazni, Aggreko’s Managing Director of Microgrids and Storage Solutions: This is one of the world’s largest renewable energy microgrids. The system itself comprises more than 23,000 individual solar PV panels, offering 7.7MWp of solar power generation. The PV elements of the solution will be seamlessly integrated with the existing 27.3MW power station, which utilises high-efficiency, reciprocating gas fuelled engines. This is all supported by a 2MW/ 1MWh battery system which delivers peak power and helps providing consistency and reliability of power supply for the mine. This new system will be seamlessly integrated with the existing power station via the use of Aggreko’s control software platform.

The mining industry is a big consumer of energy, and thus a big producer of emissions (6.2% of global emissions). However, like all industry in the 21st Century, the mining industry worldwide is beginning to realise that energising its operations with renewables is simply good investment. What role can Aggreko specifically, but also microgrids and energy storage generally, perform in transitioning the mining industry to clean energy?

We see our role as a partner for mine operators to support them on their journey to a decarbonised future. As a provider of temporary power solutions and energy services, Aggreko’s offering, especially our hybrid power plants, we support those with green ambitions. We are experts in combining the reliability of thermal generation with all the benefits that come with new technologies like solar power and battery storage systems, including greater efficiency, lower costs of energy and of course lower emissions.

Our mobile and modular solutions require no CAPEX, which allows our customers to focus investments on their core business and mitigates the risks of unsustainable investment decisions in times of uncertainty and stranded assets. Aggreko’s solutions also provide access to innovative technologies which raise the level of efficiency and reduce noise and emissions.

There has never been a better time for hybrid microgrids. The Covid-19 pandemic has reminded us of the importance of flexible and quickly deployable solutions so that we can provide stable power solutions, temperature control and energy services in a rapidly changing environment. We have also witnessed the vulnerability of the global supply chain of commodities. With the benefit of greater energy autonomy, decentralised energy systems are less impacted by these challenges.

The solution is also implementable on a long or a short-term basis, how short are we talking?

For MW-scale semi-permanent solar power plants, we enter into PPA contracts ranging from 5-15 years. This means that if a mine is only operational for five years, Aggreko can demobilise the assets and redeploy them to another customer, thereby assuming utilisation risks and providing flexibility for the customer. In 2021, we are launching a much more redeployable product in the 100kW range that we will be able to offer over rental periods as short as a few months.

What were some of the challenges in getting this particular project completed?  

The Granny Smith mine is located 740km northeast of Perth in Western Australia with extreme weather conditions, such as very high temperatures and dust storms, being common during the summer months.

Keeping the 23,040 solar panels clean during desert rain season was also difficult. With much of the installation taking place through the summer months, this was a hurdle the team had to overcome. However, our team are experienced in delivering projects in remote locations in extreme conditions across the globe and were able to take these challenges in their stride.

At the beginning of the project the team needed a clearer understanding of how the overall hybrid power plant would perform with the addition of solar and how much battery storage would be required. This involved detailed analysis of Gold Fields’ operations, modelling of how the gas engines would respond to higher intermittency from solar and implications on the overall fuel consumption of the gas station. What really helped us achieve this was not only Aggreko’s expertise in thermal technologies, batteries and power system controls but also the collaborative partnership that we have with Gold Fields.

Of course, mining sites are not alone in being ideal for a solar + energy storage hybrid solution, what other sectors/areas can the transition on this path?  

Our PV-thermal-battery-hybrids are optimised for weak or off grid areas which means they are perfectly suited for islands, remote communities and industries that do not have access to reliable and high-quality power.

No industry or sector remains untouched by the energy transition. Balancing cost savings with reducing carbon emissions is a challenge that energy managers in all sectors are trying to overcome, whether that is manufacturing, events or construction, and hybrid power solutions guarantee an uninterrupted source of energy while helping companies to make their operations more efficient, more cost effective and greener.

Aggreko has had a presence in Australia for quite a while, what solar partners does Aggreko have in Australia? And what do these partnerships mean for Aggreko’s ambition in the country?

We offer Aggreko Solar Power globally for customers with weak or no grid connections.  We have designed a product optimised for off grid applications that can be deployed around the sunbelt globally, suited for high penetration (high energy output), harsh and diverse weather conditions, high availability and redundancy and easy O&M, which is particularly important as some sites are so remote. When it comes to delivering a project, we are supported by our local engineering contractors with the right qualifications to deploy our design while meeting our global quality standards.

You also asked about our ambitions in Australia: Well, Aggreko has been here since 1980, and it remains a key region for us. We believe we have an important role to play in helping our customers transition to a greener and more efficient energy system. For example, we offer services for the construction of renewable sites and services to strengthen the grid where necessary, such as deferral or avoidance of grid modernisation with wireless alternatives like battery storage. But we also continue to support our Australian customers with their business-as-usual energy challenges from emergency power right through to cooling solutions.

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