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Remote minesite power solutions

Published by
World Coal,

Steve Smart, Aggreko, Canada, discusses how rental power solutions help mining companies expand into remote regions.

When it comes to fossil fuels in Canada, coal is king. The country’s recoverable coal reserves are estimated at between 6.6 and 10 billion t, approximately 4% of the world total and more than all of the oil and gas reserves in Canada combined. The vast majority of the country’s coal mining interests are in the western provinces of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, which provides strategic business advantages due to their close proximity to West Coast ports.

However, as their mining activities increasingly take them to more remote areas of the country, Canadian miners are faced with a sparse, or non-existent, power infrastructure. Even remote coal mines with their own dedicated power generation facilities often only have enough power for their existing needs, with little or no additional capacity to support expansion or the addition of new mining facilities.

While the industry is making strides in its expansion efforts by building new roads, railways, power plants, natural gas pipelines and liquefied natural gas (LNG) or compressed natural gas (CNG) refuelling terminals, this is a multi-year process that does not solve a mining operation’s expansion needs in the short term. Utility rental solutions, such as the rental power generation and distribution services available from Aggreko Canada, provide a viable temporary solution until the local power grid is expanded in an existing or new mining region.

Figure 1. Aggreko units powering mining operations in the cold weather conditions of northern Canada.

Modular turnkey rental power offers several tangible benefits, such as providing supplemental power that maintains production and reduces downtime during shutdowns and turnarounds. It also allows a mining operator to capture short-term market opportunities by avoiding delays in their expansion plans. In many situations, these rental solutions help an operator improve their balance sheet by avoiding high capital expenditure commitments on short- to mid-term duration needs. This not only helps conserve cash: it also mitigates risks associated with market volatility. Rental solutions are flexible, scalable and require no long-term commitments – regardless of the size of the plant or duration of the contract.

The past few years have also seen a rise in client requests for environmentally sustainable power solutions. In addition to its diesel-powered generators, Aggreko also provides a range of natural gas, LNG and CNG generators and power systems that reduce exhaust emissions and maximise fuel efficiency, thus minimising environmental impact. In addition, the company will leverage its Aggreko remote monitoring (ARM) solution to remotely manage power supply sources and proactively identify and resolve operational issues.

Field performance: Alberta, Canada

Coal mining operations worldwide benefit from the cost savings and operational efficiencies provided by power rental solutions.

For one Alberta-based mining company, the development of a new mine was hindered by a local lack of utility-scale power. The remote location of the mine, atop steep mountain terrain in the Smoky River coalfield of Alberta, made access to power for production operations unattainable in the timeframe required for the operator to meet customer commitments.

In addition, the minesite had a small footprint from which to set up base operations, while working conditions included wind chills of -49°C (-56°F). To realise its production plans, the mine operator not only required an alternative power source to support production, but also a supplier experienced in working in challenging environments, regardless of barriers posed by terrain or extreme weather conditions.

Aggreko worked with the mine operator to deliver a full-scale power plant that matched the small footprint requirement and could run the entire project operation. Aggreko mobilised cold weather generators with a total generation capacity of 6 MW from its service centre in Leduc, Alberta, and transported them up the Smoky River Mountain, along with a 40 t crane to lift and install the set up.

Rental power was used to run all operations, including electric mining equipment, drills, conveyors, offices and shops. The mine was able to go into production within 6 weeks, allowing the company to meet previously made customer commitments.

Throughout the project, Aggreko technicians were deployed 12 hours a day for four months, while systems were monitored around the clock to troubleshoot any issues. By assuming responsibility for the power plant, Aggreko allowed the operator to focus on other activities related to bringing the mine into production. These technicians worked with the mining operator to transition the mine to utility grid power once the transmission lines were energised for remaining production efforts.

Upon completion of the project, the company worked for 17 days in freezing temperatures and ice to safely dismantle the crane and power generators in preparation to return all of the rental equipment to Leduc.

As mining operations continue to move into remote regions in order to meet growing fossil fuel demand, more operators will likely face an inadequate power infrastructure in the short term.

Powering both opencast and underground operations

Another example includes a North American mine that had been powering its surface and underground operations using two 2 MW diesel power generators.

With the mine situated around native American Indian lands, site infrastructure expansion remained restrictive, a situation that curtailed exploration and left the mine little footprint to expand its growing power requirements. In addition, the mine’s environmental permit was set to expire, leaving the mine with emission compliance issues, likely requiring upgrades to new Tier 4 diesel generators.

Figure 2. Aggreko provides turnkey power for remote locations where grid support is unavailable.

The footprint limitations meant that the mine often incurred two to three times more production costs than those faced by comparable, less-restricted operations. It therefore became vital for the mine to consider an alternative power source.

The mine faced unpleasant choices: incur large capital expenses to upgrade the equipment; wait for utility; or simply shut down.

Working in close collaboration with one of the largest and fastest growing suppliers of LNG to the industrial sector in North America, Aggreko developed a custom configured, 3.6 MW temporary power plant solution for the mine using LNG as a fuel source. This turnkey power plant solution addressed cost, permitting and environmental requirements.

Within 14 days, the power solution was installed, including two 1.3 MW natural gas power generator units and a 1 MW diesel power generator for backup. Aggreko also equipped each unit with fire suppression and venting shutdown systems, surpassing the standard for mining safety.

The solution brought fuel consumption savings in excess of 30% and reduced the mine’s carbon footprint with low environmental impact. The temporary power plant met the operator’s higher load demands, while the more efficient natural gas power allowed for a modest power expansion increasing overall production.

Aggreko has helped deliver a reliable, cost-saving power solution that has expedited the mine’s permitting processes. It has proven to be scalable and can expand as the customer makes changes or additions in the future.


These field examples underline the importance of working with a rental partner with the right combination of technical specialists, engineers, and project management experience to execute turnkey power solutions and meet mining objectives in a timely manner.

Written by Steve Smart.

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