Thin film integrated solar company, First Solar, has reached an agreement with Rio Tinto and Ingenero for the development of the Weipa solar photovoltaic (PV) project in Queensland, Australia. The project has received official confirmation of funding from the Commonwealth government, with an initial commitment of $3.5 million from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to be followed by an allocation of up to $7.8 million for the project’s second phase.

First Solar will leverage its expertise in utility-scale grid integration and plant control systems to offer a fuel management solution that provides maximum fuel savings while maintaining system reliability. Combined with Ingenero’s design, development and integration experience, the project will generate electricity for Rio Tinto Alcan’s (RTA) Weipa bauxite mine, processing facilities and township on the Western Cape York Peninsula.

RTA general manager Weipa operations Gareth Manderson, says, “We expect the use of solar power will reduce Weipa’s annual diesel consumption and its carbon dioxide emissions by around 1,600 tonne.” The hybrid diesel/PV solution will introduce to the site a reliable source of electricity, with low maintenance requirements.

The project will have an initial capacity of 1.7 MW with the potential to expand by an additional 5 MW after the commissioning of the initial phase. The first phase of the project will generate sufficient electricity to offset up to 20% of the daytime electricity demand, while reducing the diesel consumption for every MWh of electricity produced.

“For the Weipa bauxite mine, solar PV complements the existing base-load generation by providing electricity in times of peak demand and reducing the amount of diesel fuel used,”  Jack Curtis, First Solar’s vice president of business development for Asia Pacific, says.

With completion scheduled for late 2014, First Solar will supply its advanced thin-film PV modules and other balance of system components, in addition to providing operation and maintenance services for the duration of the project. RTA will purchase the electricity under a 15 year Power Purchase Agreement. The project is one which all partners see as a step towards energy alternatives for remote mining operations.

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