Responding to Off-Grid Challenges with Solar EnergyMon, 10/21/2013 - 16:55
Q: Since 2007, Greenergy has completed over 450 solar projects, totaling 3MW of installed capacity across 16 states. What have been the highlights in the company’s development?
A: We are experts in off-grid solar solutions. When we started, and still now, there was not much grid connected solar power in Mexico. So we became experts in off-grid, providing solutions for the Federal Government. They started the One Laptop per Child program to give 2,000 laptops to primary schools. In 28 schools they had one PC for the classroom, plus a projector and a smartbook, with a satellite connection to the internet. While this was very advanced, these were indigenous communities that had no electricity supply. The government asked us to design a system that supplies the energy needed, using 100% solar energy. That is how the company really began. Since then, the off-grid projects got bigger and bigger, and the market for on-grid solutions was also starting to grow. The market is doubling every year, and so are we. We have worked on almost all of the important off-grid projects in Mexico, which is a difficult market because you are working in hard to reach places; we have been using horses and donkeys to carry equipment. We became a respected company because we are socially responsible and we are committed to more difficult projects. In 2007 producing solar energy was so expensive that there was not much opportunity to do so, but the price of modules has dropped every year since then. Every time the price dropped there were more companies getting involved in the industry, from both the public and the private sectors. The off-grid market for solar energy is growing steadily worldwide.
Q: What are the main concerns that mining companies have regarding solar energy, and what arguments do you use to address these concerns?
A: Mining companies are already convinced of the benefits of installing solar power. Electricity accounts for around 20% of their diesel consumption, which is an ongoing expense that will not decrease, and which they cannot do much about. It is only a matter of time before they realize that solar power can be financially attractive for them. Diesel on mine sites is very expensive, so if companies can reduce consumption and recoup their investment in three years it is excellent for them, because the solar installation will last 20 years, meaning that they will be saving money for a long time. This is why it is important to build the first pilot projects for the mining industry. The mining industry is very big compared to the solar energy industry, and it offers a very good opportunity for a medium-sized company like Greenergy to penetrate it.
Q: Mines are temporary projects that might be around for 20 years but they will eventually be deconstructed, possibly after a shorter mine life. How does that affect the challenge of designing solar panel solutions for mines?
A: If the mine will only be there for 10 years the company can still recoup its investment in three years, and start saving money after that. They may not know how long the mine will be operating for, but any mining project will be operating for at least five years. If the company does not have a clear idea of how long the mine will be in operation, it can get involved in a leasing program. The panels can then be taken and moved to a different location, which is relatively easy. Mine site energy infrastructure can operate completely off-grid, relying only on an independent diesel powered grid that works 24 hours a day. These grids that are run by 2 or 3MW of diesel power are the real focus for Greenergy. We connect photovoltaic power to that grid, thus decreasing the diesel consumption. For our mining customers we would be building a photovoltaic solar energy plant on site, of between 500kW and 2MW, connected directly to their grid. We call that a fuelsave solution, because the main objective is to save on diesel consumption.
Q: Mines are often located in very isolated areas, with difficult terrain and no roads by which to access them. How do you overcome the resulting logistical challenges?
A: We have a solid background in providing off-grid solar power solutions in off-grid locations in the most isolated parts of the country, so we have a very well developed logistics strategy. The most expensive part of our service is transportation. We have amazing ways of getting around these transportation issues, because we know what we are talking about in this area, and this makes us a good match for the mining industry.