Realizing Energy Savings, Sustainable Power and Enabling Community Engagement with Renewables for Mines
Enel Green Power has developed a number of wind, solar and geothermal projects in Chile as well as a hybrid power plant for the Ollagüe Village combining PV, wind, battery storage and diesel. In this Q&A, Country Manager of Enel Green Power Chile and Andean Countries, Salvatore Bernabei discusses the opportunities for further collaboration between renewables and mining in the region.
Q: Through EGP’s experience developing projects in Antofagasta, you are very familiar with the resource potential in this area and the energy challenges of the mining sector. What are your views on the potential for new partnerships on renewables projects for mines in the region?
A: Enel indeed has developed a large diversified portfolio in Chile, and especially in the region of Antofagasta where we are operating two wind farms – Valle de los Vientos which is 90 MW and Taltal which is 99 MW of installed capacity.
We also have two solar photovoltaic power plants – Lalackama 1 & 2 (78 MW). Also in this region, we are currently building four new power plants: the 160 MW Finis Terrae solar photovoltaic plant; the 79 MW Pampa Norte solar photovoltaic; the 112 MW Sierra Gorda wind farm and the first geothermal plant in South America which is called Cerro Pabellón (48 MW).
We are convinced that establishing long-term contracts between mining and renewable power plants will continue to diversify the energy matrix; delivering mining companies more competitive prices and ensuring sustainable power availability.
Additionally, both sectors – mining and energy – are deployed in common areas, so they can establish partnerships that assist with community engagement. An example of this kind of social partnership is Ollagüe, where we built a hybrid plant thanks to an agreement between Minera El Abra, EGP and the local community.
Q: How can solutions like Ollagüe’s Hybrid Power Plant be tailored to meet the specific needs of a mine-offtaker that is looking to reduce their dependence on diesel?
A: EGP has had a very successful experience with Ollagüe. This local community is powered through a hybrid plant that mixes solar, wind, diesel and batteries. During the day, wind and solar energy are used to supply the consumption, to charge the batteries, and to inject into the grid. At night, the charged battery is used to supply the consumption. Diesel supports the nightly supply only if necessary. This model can be replicated to supply off-grid mining consumption.
The SING system (Sistema Interconectado del Norte Grande) and the north area of the SIC system (Sistema Interconectado Central) share the largest number of mining operations and have excellent solar resources, so there is tremendous potential.
Q: Where do you see the most opportunities for hybrid solutions for mines in South America?
A: Throughout South America there are opportunities to explore, however, Chile and Peru are two countries very well known by Enel. Both have a great potential, especially in terms of solar and wind, as well as a large number of mining companies.
Q: What are the common questions that come up when discussing a hybrid solution for a mine – what are the most common misconceptions and potential barriers to project uptake?
A: Renewable hybrid solutions are still seen as expensive alternatives, even though there has been a tremendous decrease in costs for solar PV and battery technologies over the last 5 years. Long-term PPAs are still required to achieve competitive prices. Regarding the maturity of the technology, our experience with Ollagüe Hybrid Plant has been very successful and we are confident it can be now a commercial product.
Q: What have been some of the lessons learned from developing and operating these projects in Antofagasta?
First of all, the remote aspect is an important element to consider carefully because all the logistical aspects have to be planned properly in order to ensure proper operation and maintenance of the plants. Lots of things need to be be evaluated with a great level of detail including ensuring safe access to roads, telecommunications coverage, vehicles equipped for harsh conditions, the use of satellite phones, and GPS.
It is recommended to centralize all administrative activities from an office in the nearest city. In this case, Antofagasta or Calama, and from there generate a shift system to work on the plant.
Another aspect that must be analyzed in advance is the response time of local providers to fulfill requirements. Sometimes small businesses don’t react as fast as expected and it could present delays. Another lesson learned during the construction of the project was the need to schedule double shifts and work at night to avoiding a delay in the deadlines, since the wind factor wasn’t initially considered as a limitation for building.
Q: Can you give us an update on Enel’s Hybrid Power Plant for the Ollagüe Village that com- bines PV, wind, battery storage and diesel?
A: The hybrid plant has been operating for almost a year without major technical problems adapting the different renewable energies as main source for the electricity generation.
One of the most important effects observed after the implementation of the project has been the increase in the consumption habits of the local users, due to the availability of energy 24/7 and because of their acquisition of different types of domestic appliances.
Currently we have initiated the Phase II of the project, where smart meters will be installed allowing users to regulate their consumption and monitor in real-time the energy demand of the community. At the same time, a review process is taking place to certify and standardize all facilities and consumption points.
Q: How do you see the market for renewables for Chilean and Argentinian mines evolving over the next few years? What needs to happen to drive further collaboration between these two sectors?
A: Both, Chilean and Argentinian territories are characterized by excellent renewable resources. Wind, solar, hydro and geothermal are all possibilities to implement into the energy matrix allowing more competitive prices, diversifying the actual energy mix and reducing the dependence on and volatility of fossil fuels
Moreover, mining companies could also decide to participate actively on renewable power plant investments as project partners. This way they can become not only clean energy buyers but also generators and, when associated with partners like Enel, they will get strong technical expertise and support.