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Big data strikes gold for miners

Tamara Brooker

By Tamara Brooker
Executive Manager, Business and Customer Service

With a cry of Eureka, gold was first discovered in the Goldfields in 1893. This kickstarted a wave of investment and development in the region that has established Kalgoorlie as one of the world’s foremost mining towns.

Tempted by the gleam of gold and other precious minerals, the Goldfields has made and broken many people’s fortunes.

We found ourselves in somewhat of a make-or-break situation with large industrial customers in the region over the past few years.

The establishment of new mines and expansion of existing sites drove a thirst for more electricity to help power these massive projects.

14 sites – a mix of gold mines, lithium and nickel processors – have been pushing for increased access to capacity from the grid.

The current network doesn’t have enough capacity to offer these mine sites more power 100% of the time – as the peak time requirements of Kalgoorlie and the surrounding area means there are times when there is nothing left to spare.

To upgrade the electricity network to meet the needs of these customers would require an investment upward of $1.5B with a build timeframe of more than 10 years – a figure that just couldn’t be justified economically. It also wouldn’t work for our big customers – they need power now.

And in talking to our customers, we found out something else: some of them said they didn’t need power all the time – they were prepared to take as much as we could give them, as any amount would be cheaper than running on diesel.

So it made us think anew: was there a different way for our customers to grow, the region to continue to flourish and the State to maintain its reputation as Australia’s mining heartland?

Enter the data analysts, and our own Eureka moment.

Using data science and advanced modelling which ran simulations against millions of datasets, we mined the data to unlock how much capacity is running through a conductor on a minute-by-minute basis.

This granularity of data has been a game changer for us.

The minute-by-minute analysis helped us drill down and unlock between 70-90MW of capacity on an interruptible basis that we could make available to these mine sites.

Kalgoorlie mine site

But what’s the catch?

The miners will have access to this capacity most of the time, just not the 100% they were initially requesting. There are still times when the lines are at peak capacity, and when this happens the mine sites will run off their backup generators for those short periods.

However, our use of smarter data means that the miners can access grid power for up to 99% of the time. It’s important to note that this 99% figure is based on historical data for these miners and, depending on how much scheduled maintenance we do on the network in a given year, and how many customers we have on the line, this number could fluctuate.

Still, it’s an excellent outcome for all involved…and a lot better than a network bill of more than $1.5B for the State.

This solution maximises the use of our lines in the region, while helping these mine sites draw more power from the grid and reduce their reliance on expensive diesel generation to offset their energy needs. Each mine site will save on average $1.3M per MW, per year if they were to run 100% of the time, by signing up to this solution. It provides the miners with greater energy security and cost-certainty, so they can get the most out of their operations.

Currently the 220kV feeder line supplying the region underpins the $32B of total direct contribution to the economy of Western Australia from Kalgoorlie, giving this new solution a dollar per MW value of around $80 - $90 M.

And Western Power gains the extra revenue by freeing up this load that can be used to maintain and support the vital infrastructure for the region. It’s win-win-win.

This is the first solution of its kind, and it will be formalised with the Goldfields customers later this year. It’s exciting to think of the business opportunities this big data can provide us and, most importantly, our customers.

Our mantra of trying to squeeze every electron down the lines to our customers hit pay dirt in the Goldfields, and we will continue to pursue these opportunities in the future to help our customers and WA grow.

Tamara Brooker has been at Western Power since 2012. Her current role is Executive Manager, Business and Customer Service and has executive accountability for Human Resources, Commercial, Property and Fleet and the Customer Service functions. Tamara, a chemical engineer (Hons) by trade, has over 20 years’ experience across a range of industries including oil and gas, construction, chemical and utilities both within Australia and internationally.