Modular solar technology gets nod for huge off-grid lithium mine project

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Sydney-based prefabricated solar array manufacturer 5B has been appointed as the solar technology provider for a 16 MWp PV system that will form part of a 95 MW hybrid power station being developed by remote power generation specialist Zenith Energy to help meet the energy demands of the Kathleen Valley Lithium Project.

Zenith will construct the 95 MW hybrid power station on a build, own, operate basis at the Kathleen Valley project site near Leinster, about 680 kilometres northeast of Perth. The facility will comprise a 16 MWp solar plant, 30 MW of wind capacity, and a 17 MW/19 MWh battery energy storage system. It will also include 27 MW of gas generation and 5 MW of diesel standby generation.

With a combined 46 MW of generation capacity and 17 MW of battery energy storage, the hybrid power station is expected to have the largest off-grid renewable capacity of any mining project in Australia.

The solar component will comprise 342 of 5B’s flagship modular Maverick solar systems, a PV array in which modules come preassembled onto concrete blocks that replace conventional mounting structures.

Zenith Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Hamish Moffat said the technology had been an integral part of the company’s project bid and was selected in part because it can be unfolded and installed at speed.

“5B has demonstrated that it has the potential to get the Kathleen Valley site to full solar PV generation capacity three months ahead of conventional single access tracker solutions with the potential to save more than 60% of the man hours required on site,” he said.

“This is creating a faster pathway to market for solar PV renewable energy generation assets.”

5B’s ground-mounted Maverick system features PV panels mounted on frames, allowing for rapid installation.

Image: 5B

The first of the Maverick solar systems is expected to be deployed in June 2023, and will be in place before the first production at Kathleen Valley.

Liontown Resources, which has signed binding offtake agreements for 90% of the Kathleen Valley project’s initial planned output, aims to start mining later this year with first production of spodumene concentrate from mid-2024.

Once the project is in operation it will be powered by at least 60% on-site renewables generated through wind and solar coupled to the battery energy storage system.

“It is great to see a green field mining operation incorporating renewable energy from the outset,” 5B Deputy Chief Executive Nicole Kuepper-Russell said.

The Kathleen Valley supply contract builds on an Ecosystem Framework Agreement-Deployment that 5B and Zenith signed in 2022 which formalised an agreement to deploy the Maverick system at a series of mine sites across Australia.

“We are incredibly fortunate to have Zenith Energy as an integration partner who is leveraging the prefabrication and rapid deployment of our solar technology to help mining companies and heavy industry transition to clean energy,” Kuepper-Russell said.

The $545 million (USD 377.6 million) Kathleen Valley project is expected to initially produce about 500,000 tonnes of spodumene concentrate – a critical mineral used in the production of lithium-ion batteries – per annum, but Liontown hopes to expand production to 700,000 tonnes by 2029.

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