BHP has partnered with US nonprofit energy firm Rocky Mountain Institute on the Sunshine for Mines program, focused on redevelopment of disused mining sites.
By conducting site analyses to assess renewable energy potential, such as solar and wind, and financial factors such as the net present value, the Sunshine for Mines team can determine site suitability.
Net present value involves an estimation of capital cost, transmission costs, operating cost, socio-environmental impact and several other factors. It is hoped the project could be beneficial to mining companies looking to lower expensive decommissioning costs while also adding new — and environmentally conscious — revenue sources.
Although solar (also known as photovoltaic) and wind energy are the main considered sources, Sunshine for Mines also considers other resources such as geothermal (steam and hot water), hydro, lithium-ion batteries and kinetic generators, such as flywheels.
The team has found suitability for solar solutions at an ex-BHP site in the US that is estimated to hold potential for over 500 megawatts (or 0.5 gigawatts) of solar and wind energy.
In 2015, Rio Tinto opened a solar plant at its bauxite mine in Weipa, Queensland, becoming Australia’s first diesel displacement solar plant.