Renewables repositioning to meet mining industry’s energy needs – (MiningWeekly.com – September 16, 2014)

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WASHINGTON – It is increasingly clear that mining and renewable energy are two businesses that belong together and, yet, figuring out the nuts and bolts of getting projects off the ground is not always easy.

For many renewable-energy companies, the slow pace of approving projects poses an ongoing challenge. “We have the skills the mining sector needs. The issue is getting momentum behind the mining sector to believe in these projects,” RES Canada microgrids manager Douglas McAlpine said.

Mark Bongiovanni, mining and metals sales manager for Schneider Electric, in Canada, pointed out that generalisations were difficult to make owing to each mining company and even each individual mining site, operating under its own unique set of considerations.

He noted that the diversity of the cost of energy in each country was what was driving development. In companies where it was difficult to get energy to the mine site, whether it was diesel, gas or the electrical grid, there was increased interest in looking at how to generate power locally.

“Ultimately, it’s a value proposition that each company – and, in some cases, each site – needs to evaluate for its own needs,” Bongiovanni said.

HONING THE KEY MESSAGES

McAlpine emphasised the importance of continuing to clear up misconceptions around renewables.

One key message that still needed to be fully addressed was stability. “We need to overcome the perception that renewables are unreliable,” says McAlpine.

As renewables companies became better able to explain how intermittency could be managed, mining companies were growing more confident in the potential of wind and solar energy. “The most important message is that renewables can be a stable source of power,” he said.

Other important messages to convey were economic. McAlpine believed that renewables companies excelled at illustrating the benefits of solar plants or wind farms in terms of carbon savings and emissions reductions, but they needed to do an equally compelling job of explaining the dollars-and-cents equation for mining companies.

“Renewables are price competitive in a number of areas, particularly in the mining sector, in which you have isolated and remote mines,” he said.

Bongiovanni agreed: “Mines want to reduce the cost of energy and they want reliability. If they can reduce the cost of energy and improve the reliability of their operations, it’s a very simple decision.”

A MEETING OF THE MINDS?

Oleg Popovsky, global business development director for SunEdison and board member at American Vanadium, noted that renewable energy went through an identity crisis in its very earliest days.

“Renewable energy is this big, interesting animal. Is it going to be part of the technology sector? Or the clean-tech sector? Or part of the traditional energy sector? What is it?” he asked. “Well, it’s all of the above.”

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