The mining industry is among most energy-intensive business sectors on the planet, and since much of the activity goes on below ground, mining companies may as well work the night shift—especially considering it can save enormous amounts of energy and money!
Mining at night helps balance out electrical grid activity, especially in countries trying to implement renewable energy at the utilities scale. During the day, if homes, commercial businesses and industry are all sucking energy from the grid, maximum power will be drawn from both renewable power plants and traditional fossil fuel plants like coal, oil and natural gas. Then, at night, the energy supply drops and a significant amount of energy is lost, plus the up and down demand can strain the overall grid system.
By mining at night, the abundant renewable energy generated from the day can be used more efficiently throughout the grid while the sun is still out. Fossil fuel power plants can also achieve greater efficiency in a balanced grid scenario versus constant day and night demand fluctuations.
Even better, several regions are implementing variable pricing structures in which night time off-peak electricity costs less than daytime peak-demand electricity. This can equate to a lower electricity bill for those industries moving to the night shift.
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This is the case in Ontario, Canada, where in conjunction with the province’s Green Energy Act, mining and other industrial businesses have been urged to operate at night. The transition is not just for the benefit of Ontario’s bold new vision of a renewable energy economy, but also to lower overall cost of operation for the province’s industrial sector. Nighttime operations can lower a company’s massive electricity bills by as much as 15 percent.
Vale and Xstrata are two major mining companies operating in Ontario, and have both implemented nighttime operations to reduce grid strain and save money. Xstrata reps have noted that power-intensive equipment and operations such as the skips used to haul ore from mines are being used during off-peak hours to save energy.
“Peak power drives the cost of electricity in Ontario because the power generating system has to be organized for that,” says Chris Hodgson, president of the Ontario Mining Association. “Reduce the peak power demand and the system becomes cheaper to operate.”
While working at night certainly has its challenges—namely less visibility—the allure of lower energy costs can be enticing for any company. However, this energy saving strategy seems limited to regions offering variable off-peak energy prices, for now.