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Hybrid solutions to boost energy efficiency

An image of Blue Sun Energy's battery solution

NEW DEVELOPMENTS Emerging customised hybrid energy solutions can address various industry challenges

2nd February 2024

By: Nadine Ramdass

Creamer Media Writer

     

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Hybrid energy solutions combine various technologies that mining companies can integrate to establish a more reliable source of power, decrease operational costs and enhance their sustainability metrics.

Such solutions are particularly useful amid mining companies’ encountering several challenges such as intermittent supply from the national grid, a high cost of power and growing encouragement to shift towards more sustainable sources of power.

Developing technology can provide consistent power and offer an attractive return on investment by solar power generation. In particular, such technology can reduce operational costs or costs associated with diesel use, explains energy solutions provider Blue Sun Energy MD James Fisher.

Relying only on diesel generators is not cost efficient for industries such as mining, and it is becoming increasingly important for mining companies to reduce their reliance on diesel-generating capacity and leverage the benefits of energy efficiency technology.

This, coupled with the challenge of addressing environmental and sustainability concerns, motivates mining companies to explore current technological solutions, adds Fisher.

The alternative power generation industry has developed significantly in the past decade, which provides more flexibility and adaptability for companies to find solutions that meet their unique operational requirements.

Hybrid solutions can include a combination of generators, battery energy storage systems (BESS) and inverters. Other hybrid solutions include generators with automatic transfer switch (ATS) systems combined with renewable-energy sources, such as solar photovoltaics (PV) or wind.

In particular, solar PV and wind energy generation can create integrated systems which offer energy savings and efficiency, says Fisher.

He explains that the integration of solar systems with diesel generators – used in an application known as fuel savers – has been prevalent for the past decade, consequently enabling companies to reduce the running time and baseload of diesel generators.

Integrated hybrid solutions facilitate streamlined system management through a unified portal, enabling for the monitoring of individual components, fault detection and plant optimisation.

Careful Consideration

Fisher acknowledges that mining companies require reliable power, and therefore, their power solutions need to offer significant benefits or efficiencies, compared with relying only on grid power.

As mining companies transition from using conventional power sources to more sustainable alternatives, he asserts that the decision to adopt such alternatives is often driven by a cost-benefit analysis and the realisation that transitioning becomes economically advantageous.

Careful assessment of existing power infrastructure, and the alignment of financial and operational priorities, are required when evaluating hybrid solutions for mining, Fisher adds.

He stresses that technology advancements and a maturing sector and supply chain provide assurances and support for investors.

A predominant challenge when integrating hybrid solutions in the mining industry is adapting the technology to mines’ variable runtimes and equipment, especially when existing generators are running during off-peak or low-load periods.

Therefore, he stresses the importance of an assessment that involves balancing financial and process viability to address various challenges impacting on the working plant and investors.

Fisher advocates that technology has the potential to limit the impact of various challenges by using trusted components in systems.

Containerised Solutions

A key component of hybrid solutions is their integration with BESS, enabling for the storage of surplus power and its release on demand, thereby enhancing energy consumption and efficiency, he says.

The development of lithium-ion cells has given rise to modular containerised BESS solutions, enabling for the integration of multiple megawatt-producing containerised power solutions.

Advancements in technology have transformed the monitoring, performance and management of these battery systems, adds Fisher.

Integration with an online portal enables the technology to provide reassurance for investors, control for engineers, and warranty and optimisation measures for plant operators and owners.

In addition to environmental benefits, containerised battery technology empowers businesses by enabling them to make precise adjustments to power storage, to integrate renewable-energy, and realise backup generator integration possibilities, leading to enhanced fuel consumption and the strategic deployment of stored power.

Fisher elaborates that the technology is predesigned and installed in containers, enabling for the rapid implementation of options that can be easily integrated and managed through online portals.

However, while implementation may seem straightforward, it still requires engineering, procurement and construction teams who have specialised skills, especially in the mining industry, where power demands are complex and variable. Further, sites are often in challenging locations.

The mining industry can look forward to more customised hybrid energy solutions to address various industry challenges as energy technology continues to evolve, he concludes.

Edited by Donna Slater
Features Deputy Editor and Chief Photographer

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