October 31, 2016 / 8:19 AM / 3 years ago

Solar could have role in new Australia copper mine

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s Oz Minerals Ltd (OZL.AX) could turn to solar power to help run a giant copper mine it is building after a major blackout disrupted industry across South Australia state last month and raised concerns over energy security.

Mining companies have largely steered clear of deploying on-site renewable energy, preferring to rely on coal and gas-fired power and diesel fuel, which are seen as more reliable.

However, Oz Minerals Managing Director Andrew Cole said solar panels could potentially supplement the energy needs of the company’s A$975 million (608 million pounds) Carrapateena mine project, where early development work, known as a prefeasibility study, is due to be completed in November.

A state-wide blackout on Sept. 28 cut power for nearly 24 hours after a series of storms and lightning strikes, halting production at BHP Billiton’s (BHP.AX) Olympic Dam copper mine for nearly two weeks and forcing Oz Minerals to stockpile copper ore at its Prominent Hill mine.

Cole said he was looking at a number of alternative energy sources to support Carrapateena, not just solar, as the project takes shape over the next three years.

Solar technology already deployed this year by rival copper miner Sandfire Resources (SFR.AX) in a neighbouring state could also work at the much larger Carrapateena project.

“What they (Sandfire) have done is really innovative,” Cole said.

He has held talks with power companies and public officials since the blackout to seek assurances that adequate power will be available.

“You cannot run any mine off grid with just solar,” Cole said. “Until we have very good power storage solutions, renewables will always need to be complemented by sufficient base load.

Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Richard Pullin

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