Solar Energy Set to Provide Power for Australia’s Mining Industry

First Solar Inc., the largest U.S. solar-panel maker, is close to announcing agreements to supply its technology to remote mining projects in Australia to help resources companies save on fuel costs.

The company expects to develop as much as 200 megawatts of capacity for the mining industry over the next three years, Jack Curtis, First Solar’s Sydney-based vice president of business development for the Asia-Pacific, said in a phone interview. The Tempe, Arizona-based company plans to combinesolar power with diesel, he said.

“In an environment where profitability isn’t what it used to be, with the mining industry focused on cost control, the electricity that powers the mines is becoming a bigger line item, and the ability to put a dent in that and hedge against fuel price volatility is something that solars offers,” Curtis said March 28. “We expect fairly shortly to announce some pretty exciting projects in that space.”

The U.S. company is increasing efforts to install solar systems at industrial sites and warehouses as utilities demand smaller projects, and is seeking deals in other regions including Saudi Arabia, India and South America. The world’s largest mining companies, including BHP Billiton Ltd. and Rio Tinto Group, at the same time are reining in spending as a decade-long boom in metal prices wanes.

Mining Sites

First Solar will target mining sites in Western Australia, the Northern Territory and South Australia and seek to expand as the solar industry proves that it can provide reliable supply, Curtis said, declining to name any companies.

The company identified 10.66 gigawatts of potential bookings at the end of 2013, with more than half of that opportunity outside the U.S. The shares closed on March 28 at $68.64 in New York, valuing the company at about $6.8 billion.

First Solar’s modules also are being used at AGL Energy Ltd.’s planned 155-megawatt solar project in New South Wales state, which received A$167 million ($155 million) in funds from the government’s Australian Renewable Energy Agency. About A$142 million in spending for the project will go to Australian companies, including suppliers that manufactured parts for its ailing car industry, Curtis said.

Copyright 2014 Bloomberg

Lead image: Mining site via Shutterstock

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