Canada Gets its First Large Wind and Energy Storage System

The new wind turbine at Glencore’s Raglan mine will replace about 5% of the mine’s diesel consumption.
Published: Fri 12 Sep 2014

After nearly five years of careful investigation, assessment, and analysis, Glencore’s Raglan mine finally gets its 3MW wind turbine and three energy storage devices - a flywheel, battery energy storage system, and a hydrogen storage loop with an electrolyser and fuel cells.

The wind turbine was manufactured by Enercon, in Germany for its ability to manufacture technology that can withstand the harsh Arctic conditions. According to Verret, there are not that many manufacturers that can produce Arctic-class wind turbines.

Jean-Francois Verret, director of strategy, projects, and public affairs at Raglan, predicts that this wind turbine will replace about 5% of the mine’s diesel consumption. If the wind pilot goes well, Raglan will consider installing additional wind turbines that could generate a total of 9MW to 12MW of energy. This will reduce the mine’s overall diesel consumption by 40%. The mine’s energy bill normally accounts for 18% to 23% of its operating costs.

The 3MW turbine has been strategically placed at the mining site, where it can be isolated from the grid. The objective of the project is to achieve high penetration on this microgrid within the five-year demonstration period for the storage technologies.

Storing energy from wind energy systems

In 2009, Raglan launched a study to investigate options for the mine and its fully diesel-powered operations. The nickel/copper mine’s remote locale on the Ungava Peninsula in Nunavik (about 1,800km north of Montreal) makes it impossible to connect to the hydroelectric grid or to the natural gas network.

Raglan mine sits on a very intensive wind current and after intensive research, it was discovered that wind was going to be a promising option.

Verret explained that wind turbines on their own might have a wind penetration of 15% to 20%. “The penetration level for wind turbines is very low,” he says. “When the wind blows, it’s good, but when the wind doesn’t blow, you can’t really leverage your assets.”

With energy storage systems, the penetration level of the wind turbine can increase up to 35% to 55%.

To illustrate the potential of storage technologies, Verret explains that the Raglan mine will use a flywheel to help “smooth the energy curve” because the levels of wind produced in a given area are unstable. The flywheel increases and improves upon the wind energy available to the company’s own internal power grid.

One method of storage – using the hydrogen produced by wind turbines for other purposes – might eventually lead to a wider array of green opportunities at the Raglan mine. Verret explains that the hydrogen, made from wind energy, can be used by the mine to create energy for running vehicles. This would again, replace costly diesel.

Once Raglan’s first wind turbine is in operation, the company will launch the construction and implementation of the second phase of the project: the three storage components. The second stage of construction is scheduled to run from September until March 2015.

Overcoming challenges for renewables

In the northern Quebec region where the Raglan mine is located, summer generally lasts for only one month. According to Verret, construction during this July had to be stopped due to snow.

In addition to this, the mine is not linked to roads which meant that all wind turbine components, which were built in Germany and Quebec, had to be transported by ship. “The construction schedule is very tight so you need to manage the internal project management – that’s one of the most critical components,” says Verret.

Permitting is a key component of the project management timetable. Another challenge is the financial framework. “It’s always a challenge for the mining industry to invest in renewables because most of the time the renewables are a little bit more expensive,” says Verret.

Financial challenges are exacerbated by the fact that the mining industry tends to be extremely volatile. For renewables, however, provincial and federal grants help to reduce financial risk.

The Raglan mine began its transition to renewable energy with a pilot involving a single wind turbine – a scaled approach that Verret would recommend to others contemplating similar initiatives. “Design first and then assess,” he recommends. “A pilot lets you understand and train your people. And when you understand your risk profile, then you can go with a larger scale.”

Off-grid renewable generation a market opportunity

For some mines, off-grid power generation is the only option. Due to their location, some are unable to connect to the central grid. As a result, many rely on diesel for power which is obviously very costly over time and is not a sustainable solution. Off-grid renewable generation is taking off across the globe and includes countries like Australia, South Africa and South America. [Engerati-Power Producers Going Off-Grid in South Africa.]

This is definitely a market that utilities need to tap into-either by selling the technology to the mines, maintaining it for them or buying excess power from them. Either way, it’s a market that they shouldn’t be turning a blind eye on.