Except when it isn’t: “fossil fuels — particularly gas — would still be needed at many remote resources projects for some time yet.”
A renewable energy revolution is powering Australia’s $720bn mining and resources industry
On a remote mine site in the desert of central Western Australia, the winds of change are blowing.
Along with a solar farm and a battery, five giant wind turbines are powering much of the operations at the Agnew gold project, about 1,000 kilometres north-east of Perth.
It is the first resources project anywhere in Australia to have a wind farm, but it is unlikely to be the last.
What’s more, the mix of renewable energy sources to increasingly meet the needs of mines such as Agnew is set to be replicated across the country.
“It’s been great,” says Stuart Mathews, the executive vice president of Gold Fields, the South African company which owns the Agnew project.
Despite the bullish outlook, Mr Harman cautioned that fossil fuels — particularly gas — would still be needed at many remote resources projects for some time yet.
He noted that most mines ran around the clock, meaning they required uninterrupted power supplies.
And while renewable energy was capable of meeting many of those needs, he said fossil fuels would be needed to fill in the gaps until green technology caught up.
“The real challenge is the scale of storage,” Mr Harman said.
“You have to have back-up available when the sun isn’t shining, and the wind isn’t blowing.
“The capital you would have to put in to have renewables available all the time is just too high.
“So, storage is key.”
I suspect this rush to embrace green mining is more aspirational than practical.
It makes sense in some remote locations to use renewable energy. I’ve used solar power in the past, to operate remote sensor devices which were inconveniently distant from a power point. So maybe the solar panels will save a little natural gas or diesel or whatever consumable the mine site uses for power.
But the sheer magnitude of the energy needs of mines makes this a little difficult to take seriously. Maybe the PR value outweighs the cost. But I strongly suspect the value to the bottom line value of mine adjacent renewables in terms of the profitability of the mining operations will be marginal at best.