MASSIVE POWER GRID: An impression of what the solar panel project will look like once completed at the DeGrussa mine.
MASSIVE POWER GRID: An impression of what the solar panel project will look like once completed at the DeGrussa mine. Stuartw

Ipswich connection to massive solar project in WA

THOSE familiar with Ipswich brothers Andrew and Peter Drager will be well aware of their uncompromising nature on the football pitch.

Both have regularly featured for the Ipswich Knights top teams over the past decade.

Peter recently moved to National Premier League side Western Pride and assumed the familiar role of speed machine and leading goal scorer.

What fewer people might be aware of is the fact that the Dragers are part owners of a company that has just signed a landmark agreement to build the world's largest off-grid solar facility.

Global renewable energy company Juwi, for which Andrew is managing director for Asia and the South Pacific and Peter is a project manager, will construct Australia's largest array of off-grid solar panels at the diesel-fired DeGrussa mine, which is about 900km north-east of Perth.

Covering an area equivalent to 40 football fields, 34,080 310-watt photo-voltaic panels will produce 10.6 megawatts, reducing diesel consumption at the mine by an estimated five million litres and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 12,000 tonnes per year.

The facility will also include a number of large Lithium-Ion batteries with a capacity of 6 megawatts, enough to power 500,000 CFL light bulbs.

It's a deal that Andrew said the company had been working on for more than 18 months.

"Juwi will finance, build and operate the facility to provide low-cost renewable energy under a long-term electricity supply contract to the DeGrussa mine," he said.

"The solar PV system will provide the majority of daytime electricity to substantially reduce the mine's dependence on imported diesel.

"We know what the system will produce as an average over about 10 years, with a variation of only a few per cent."

DeGrussa mine owner Sandfire Resources will only have to contribute $1 million to the $40 million project, with Juwi to fund the rest.

Financial close on the project is expected in May this year, with the partners aiming to begin construction by mid-year.

The mine hopes to begin using solar power by early next year.

Sandfire managing director Karl Simich said the low-risk aspect of the solar project made it an attractive proposition.

"It is a very manageable project which, importantly, will not impact on the efficiency or safety of our existing operations, while allowing Sandfire to contribute to the broader challenge of reducing CO2 emissions and potentially reduce operating costs in the long run," Mr Simich said.

Mr Drager said there was plenty of potential for other mining companies like Sandfire, where renewable energy was a commercially viable option to reduce power costs.

"While the Australian mining industry is completely reliant on fossil fuels, the costs of renewable energy and battery storage will continually improve, while diesel for power generation will be less competitive," he said.

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