Rio Tinto to triple Weipa solar capacity and add battery storage to help power bauxite mining operations
Rio Tinto has approved a new solar farm and battery storage at Weipa in Queensland, in a move that will more than triple the local electricity network’s solar generation capacity and help provide cleaner power to Rio Tinto’s operations. The Weipa operations in Far North Queensland includes three bauxite mines, processing facilities, shiploaders, an export wharf, two ports, power stations, a rail network and ferry terminals.
The bauxite mining process is the first step in the production of aluminum. Bauxite ore is found in a layer up to four meters deep in the form of small red pebbles called pisolites. Bauxite is processed into a white powder called alumina, which is then processed at smelters into aluminum.
Under the plans, EDL has been contracted to build, own and operate a 4MW solar plant and 4MW/4MWh of battery storage at Weipa. Work on the battery facilities will start this year, with construction of the whole project expected to be complete by late 2022.
The new solar farm and battery storage will complement the existing 1.6MW solar farm at Weipa, which was completed in 2015 and is also owned and operated by EDL. The 4MWh battery system will be built next to the existing Weipa power station and will help provide a stable power network for Rio Tinto’s Weipa Operations bauxite mines and the Weipa township.
The new solar farm and battery storage at Weipa will help us lower our carbon footprint and diesel use in a reliable way. The original Weipa solar farm was the largest solar facility at an off-grid Australian mine site at the time it was built, and it played an important role in showing the viability of renewable energy systems in remote locations.
The new solar farm and battery storage system is part of Rio Tinto’s group-wide commitment to reduce emissions across our operations. There is clearly more work to be done, but projects like this are an important part of meeting our climate targets.—Rio Tinto Aluminum Pacific Bauxite Operations General Manager Michelle Elvy
When complete, the combined 4MW solar capacity and 4MW/4MWh battery will provide about 11 gigawatt hours of energy annually. Combined with upgrades to the existing Weipa power generation network, the improvements will reduce Weipa Operations’ diesel consumption by an estimated 7 million liters per year and lower its annual carbon dioxide emissions by about 20,000 tonnes—the equivalent of taking more than 3,750 cars off the road.
Rio Tinto Weipa Operations will purchase electricity from EDL and the new solar plant will be connected directly to the Weipa electricity network.