Mining companies taking advantage of cheap off grid renewable power

Plunging solar module prices drive massive boom in off-grid renewable projects

in Renew Economy by Rachel Williamson

The off-grid renewable energy market is booming, particularly for large mining operations, as customers look to switch out of expensive fossil fuels and tap into the falling costs of solar modules.

David Griffin, the CEO of Australian solar innovator 5B, a specialist in building prefabricated solar modules, says companies looking for off-grid solutions have ramped up their ambitions over the last 18 months and the company is in talks over projects “totalling several gigawatts”.

The company has a little over 144 megawatts (MW) of completed solar installations, mainly in Australia but also in Panama and Chile. Of these, slightly more than half are in the off-grid sector.

Griffin says the pipeline is accelerating on the back of plunging solar module prices, which are down 50 per cent since October last year.

“We expect the downward trajectory to continue through the rest of the decade, as modules continue to undergo a process of dematerialisation (less polysilicon, less aluminium, thinner glass, etc), and the learning rate inherent in global production capacity growth continues,” Griffin told Renew Economy.

The company currently buys panels from China and assembles them in Adelaide into a prefabricated set of 50kW solar panels which can be trucked to a location and quickly unfolded for a speedy install.

In February, 5B also signed a deal with major Indian solar panel manufacturer Waree to build and assemble its units after winning a 69MW contract in Puerto Rico. The US effectively banned Chinese-made solar panels in 2022, meaning companies like 5B had to find alternative manufacturers.

Griffin told RenewEconomy the company is looking forward to buying Australian-made solar panels, an industry he says is justified by the scale of demand in the local market.

This week the company finished up its latest project at Northern Star’s Jundee mine site, installing a 16.9 MW system that comprised 342 of its Maverick solar sets.

“The 5B units low ground penetration technology, small footprint and high power density design enabled us to make use of our existing waste rock dump, which opens up a traditionally underutilised land resource for us to install clean renewable power stations on,” said Northern Star Resources manager Gerard Major.

Rachel Williamson is a science and business journalist, who focuses on climate change-related health and environmental issues.

Pledge Your Vote Now
Change language