First Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ: FSLR), Rio Tinto and Ingenero announced that agreement has been reached 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 FuelSmart solution that provides maximum fuel savings while maintaining system reliability. Combined with Ingenero's proven 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.
"Rio Tinto Alcan is pleased to support the addition of renewable energy to complement the existing diesel generation at Weipa," said RTA General Manager Weipa Operations Gareth Manderson. "We expect the use of solar power will reduce Weipa's annual diesel consumption and its carbon dioxide emissions by around 1600 tons." Manderson noted that 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 megawatts (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 percent 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," said Jack Curtis, First Solar's Vice President of Business Development for Asia Pacific. "First Solar is delighted to be working with Rio Tinto, ARENA and Ingenero on this landmark project that demonstrates how solar PV can be used to power the resources sector."
"Our collaboration on the Weipa solar PV project is validation of the strength of our ongoing partnership with First Solar," said Ingenero CEO Steve McRae. "Working together, we can provide the extensive project experience required for off-grid applications and draw on the PV module technology and utility scale experience provided by First Solar."
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.