Rio Tinto has approved a US$98 million (A$144 million) investment in a new solar plant at the company’s new Koodaideri mine in the Pilbara, Australia, as well as a lithium-ion battery energy storage system to help power its entire Pilbara power network.

The 34-MW solar photovoltaic plant is expected to supply all of Koodaideri’s electricity demand during peak solar power generation times and approximately 65 per cent of the mine’s average electricity demand when it begins operations in late 2021.

The plant, Rio Tinto’s first company-owned solar facility, will consist of an estimated 100,000 panels, covering an area of 105 hectares. Construction is expected to begin later this year, subject to government approvals.

Complementing it will be a new 12-MW/h battery energy storage system in Tom Price that will provide spinning reserve generating capacity to support a stable and reliable network. The solar plant and battery are estimated to lower annual carbon dioxide emissions by about 90,000 tonnes compared to conventional gas powered generation. This is the equivalent of taking about 28,000 cars off the road, according to the company.

“The construction of our first solar plant in the Pilbara is a significant milestone for the business and an important step in reducing our carbon footprint in the region,” Chris Salisbury, chief executive of Rio Tinto Iron Ore said. “We are investigating additional renewable energy options in the Pilbara, as well as other opportunities to reduce emissions across our entire global portfolio, building on the 43 per cent reduction in absolute greenhouse gas emissions since 2008.”

The US$2.6 billion Koodaideri mine, the company’s first intelligent mine, was approved in November 2018, and will incorporate the latest in high-tech advances in the industry. It is expected to have a production capacity of 43 million tonnes annually.

*Article published in the April-June 2020 issue of The Asia Miner