GMA Garnet Group are the world’s largest garnet mining company, and they have a major operation in West Australia. Energy security has been a key concern, since they are 120 km away from the nearest electrical substation, relying on a long transmission line to meet their energy needs. In addition, GMA Garnet depend on the South West Interconnected System (SWIS), which is isolated from the National Electricity Market (NEM) in eastern Australia.
In order to meet their energy needs, GMA Garnet have decided to go 100% renewable: they will deploy a 3 MW energy generation system that combines solar and wind power, complemented with a battery array to compensate for the variable output of renewables. The mining company will meet 70% of its local energy demand internally after the first phase of the project, eventually expanding to generate 100% of their energy.
The budget for the 3MW hybrid energy project is $8 million, and it is expected to start operating in early 2019. It was announced in June 2017 at the Energy and Mines Australia Summit, held in Perth. The upfront cost for GMA Garnet will be zero, since energy will be provided through a Power Purchase Agreement. This installation will be the first of its kind connected to the SWIS.
The battery array is the cornerstone of the GMA Garnet hybrid energy system: it is capable of delivering a peak output of 2.8 MW, covering any event where both solar and wind generation are unavailable. In addition, the battery system will be designed to deliver network stabilisation services, improving the local reliability of the power supply.
GMA Garnet decided to install a hybrid solar, wind and battery system after carrying out a detailed feasibility analysis. They concluded that the hybrid energy system could deliver electricity at a lower cost than conventional fossil fuels, while decreasing their carbon emissions by more than 5,000 tonnes per year.
The project has motivated other companies in West Australia to consider their own renewable energy systems, and they have started discussing their possibilities with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.
The 3MW hybrid energy system that will be deployed by GMA Garnet in 2019 sends a clear message to the Australian industrial sector: they are not bound to fossil fuels and conventional power networks. Solar and wind power have a huge potential in Australia, and are capable of turning the country into a manufacturing hub powered by clean energy. By deploying their own renewable generation systems, Australian companies can cut their energy costs and environmental impact, while becoming independent from the local power network. Keep in mind that power network operation and retail costs represent over 70% of Australian power bills!
In the specific case of the mining industry, which has traditionally been regarded as harmful for the environment, renewable energy can also help improve corporate image. There are now many global companies who are environmentally conscious, and they prefer to conduct business with those who share their values.