10 Dec 2019, Blog

Powering the intelligent mine: Off-grid energy solutions and autonomous mining


These days global mining operations are shifting towards utilizing autonomous technology that seem more sci-fi than industrial. Chris Wollin, an off-grid energy specialist for SIMARK. explains why this new breed of smart mining operation demands off-grid energy solutions that are just as intelligent and even more reliable.

On almost any given day, fleets of massive autonomous haul trucks, driverless rail cars and automated robotic mining equipment criss-cross the resource-rich Pilbara region in Western Australia. It’s a futuristic sounding scene that is deliberately so. The site is part of mining giant, Rio Tinto’s, “Mine of the Future,” an integrated network of 16 iron ore mines, a 1,700-kilometre rail network and more, all supported by communications systems linking to an operations center in Perth.

Rio Tinto was early to the game when it launched this futuristic mine in 2008, but today, automated mining and transport is hardly a new concept. Increasingly, technology is enabling the large-scale implementation of more automated mining operations. Mining companies, encouraged by the economic, safety and sustainability benefits of autonomous mining operations, now have to consider how to power the communications systems that keep these systems running.

It’s a challenge that’s not lost on Chris Wollin, an off-grid energy expert at SIMARK. in Calgary. He’s been involved with remote power solutions for over a decade and says that increased automation means that the remote energy needs of mining operations are becoming even more critical. “Mine site communications is definitely a growing market segment,” says Chris.

The need for a secure, reliable power supply is just as important to mining operations as the equipment used by the mine to keep production up and running. From gold and diamond mines to the oil sands, mining operators require dependable, autonomous power sources for essential communications networks. The repercussions of an unreliable energy source can be extremely costly.

“With the move towards automating different mining equipment, whether it be the haul trucks or the dozers, it’s critical that mining operations maintain 100 percent communications uptime,” says Chris. “If the communications network goes down, the entire automated mine stops in its tracks.”

With high stakes like these, Chris believes it’s critical to have intelligent off-grid power sources that can also be remotely monitored and controlled. It makes little sense to have a remote communication network powered by an analog energy source like a diesel genset that can go down without warning. “Due to the extremely high cost of downtime caused by a power loss to the communication equipment, it only makes sense to be able to remotely communicate with the power source itself so you have full visibility into system health and fuel levels.”

EFOY Pro Fuel Cells are smart energy producers that have Modbus RTU communications built into the firmware, which allows operators to remotely monitor and control their power system as well as accurately schedule re-fueling. These are features that customers really appreciate about SIMARK’s EFOY Pro Hybrid Energy Solutions and one of the reasons he recommends them for mining operations.

Low total cost of ownership, a variety of mobile and stationary system packaging options, the ability to operate autonomously for 12-18 months at a time and a 99 percent emissions reduction over fuel gas generators are a few of the other benefits Chris points out about the EFOY. These are some of the reasons why major mining companies have fleets of EFOY Pro Hybrid Trailers and Cabinets powering their communications networks. With stakes this high, smart mining operations should also have a smart, reliable off-grid power source. “With an EFOY Hybrid solution, you can put a communication repeater site wherever you want and reliably power it for months or years at a time without any user intervention.”