Rio Tinto continues solar-storage push with new hybrid installation at Australian mine

The off-grid site already features an operational 1.6MW solar farm. Image: Rio Tinto.

Mining company Rio Tinto has revealed plans for a new solar project and battery energy storage system that will help to decarbonise an off-grid mine in the Australian state of Queensland.

Contractor EDL will build, own and operate a 4MW solar farm paired with 4MW/4MWh of battery storage, complementing an existing 1.6MW PV project – which was completed in 2015 and is also owned by EDL – as well as a diesel-fired power station at the Weipa site.

The expansion will more than triple the local electricity network’s solar generation capacity, with battery storage stabilising the system and thermal generation filling the gap in the evening or when there is low sunlight, EDL said.

Work on the battery installation will start this year, with construction of the whole project slated for completion by late 2022, when it will provide about 11GWh of energy annually. Combined with upgrades to the existing Weipa power generation network, it is expected the improvements will reduce diesel consumption at the bauxite mine operation by an estimated 7 million litres per year.

“The new solar farm and battery storage at Weipa will help us lower our carbon footprint and diesel use in a reliable way,” said Michelle Elvy, Rio Tinto Aluminium Pacific bauxite operations general manager. “The original Weipa solar farm was the largest solar facility at an off-grid Australian mine site at the time it was built, and it played an important role in showing the viability of renewable energy systems in remote locations.”

As Rio Tinto aims to reach net zero emissions across its operations by 2050, the company is turning to renewables and storage to help power some of its mining operations. It was revealed in July that a solar-wind-energy storage hybrid project will provide 60% of annual electricity demand at one of the firm’s mines in Madagascar.

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