16 Mar 2018

Meeting capacity needs and maximising profits with efficient power strategy

Hera Mine Site - Power Station
 

A mining power strategy is influenced by many moving parts. Decision makers need to consider how their energy needs will change over time; how to only use what is needed; what are the risks; and how power consumption affects profit margins.

Mining companies are under great financial pressure as a result of fluctuating demand and uncertainty around commodity prices, so the need to improve efficiency across all operational aspects of a mine site is mission critical. Reducing costs and maximising production are key issues directly impacted by a firm’s energy choices. 

One of the most consistent issues we encounter concerns energy infrastructure. Many mines can and do benefit from a grid connection, which might suggest a certain level of reliability and permanency. 

But such infrastructure commitments come with high capital outlays and as a result, potential overspend. It is still surprising how many mine sites use grid connected infrastructure as a default.

More flexible solutions to powering a mine are available. Flexibility is an important consideration as a site can have varying demands of power throughout its lifecycle. Temporary power lends itself well to particularly remote and extreme environments, including perhaps where a grid connection isn’t viable, meaning that poor access and a lack of infrastructure does not delay construction (and eat into profits). 

Scalability of power capacity is directly linked to maximising production and operators would want to achieve this quickly. A benefit of our diesel or gas generators, for example, is that additional units can be added into the mix within days rather than months and the extra capacity is very specific, down to the MW, avoiding surplus energy and unnecessary costs.  

A benefit of this flexibility is also mirrored in avoiding uneconomical redundancy – if one generator is down for maintenance, only a small amount of power is lost and fewer engines are needed as back up.  

Efficiency is crucial but it’s often at the mercy of nature. High temperatures reduce the effectiveness of turbines, running gas or diesel, which start to de-rate in conditions higher than 40oC, reducing output by as much as 20 per cent.  Reciprocating technology however, such as Aggreko’s G3+ engine, is more resilient at higher temperatures meaning that less fuel is consumed, whilst maintaining the required power output, reducing a mine’s fuel costs and carbon footprint. This will become more important as industry emission legislations grow to be more stringent.

More importantly, the negative impact of the environment on effectiveness could have a detrimental effect on the health and safety of miners. A reliable source of energy, which is needed for the likes of ventilation and temperature control, contributes to an optimum and safe working environment. Again, this will support profit growth through optimising productivity and mitigating risk. Miners are digging deeper and for longer: providing the right working environment is critical.

Whether it’s a mix of grid, temporary or renewable power, a mine’s power strategy needs to address capacity needs and how this is likely to change. Efficiency is king and the key to maximising profits while the industry faces a fall in demand and revenue.  A flexible and reliable source of energy is the answer to maintaining a healthy profit margin.