Sun Metals eyes wind, battery storage in shift to “most competitive electricity”

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Less than one year after completing its industry-leading solar farm in north Queensland, Korean Zinc refiner Sun Metals has flagged plans to develop further renewable energy assets in Australia – including wind farms and battery storage – to keep its power hungry operations competitive.

As we have reported on RenewEconomy, Sun Metals last year became the first of major energy users in Australia to build its own large-scale solar farm – a 125MW project that was completed in August, south of Townsville.

Since then – although senior Coalition politicians continue to refuse to countenance it – Sun Metals has been joined by UK steel billionaire Sanjeev Gupta, who is building more than a gigawatt of dispatchable renewables to expand Australian industry around a supply of cheap, reliable and clean energy.

Sun Metals’ Townsville solar project, pictured below, was built to underpin the $300 million expansion of its nearby zinc refinery, that is expected to boost zinc production from about 225,000 tonnes a year to 270,000 tonnes a year.

And having chalked that up as a resounding success, outgoing CEO Yun Choi now says the company is looking to expand its portfolio of renewable generation assets to further reduce its exposure to volatile grid electricity prices.

This included other generation acquisitions in Queensland, he told the Australian Financial Review last week, and potentially also commercial-scale batteries, to help the Townsville refinery become even more energy self-sufficient.

The solar farm currently supplies around one-third of its electricity needs, and that will drop to 25 per cent once the expansion of the refinery is completed.

“For Sun Metals, wind and solar generation offer the most competitive power prices,” Choi told the AFR.

“We don’t have it now but we are considering battery facilities. I think in the future, demand response in multiple forms will be very important and will play a significant role,” he said.

“Our solar farm is unique because obviously we are able to use power from the solar farm but also to export power to the grid.”

In South Australia and Victoria, Simec Energy Australia’s Sanjeev Gupta has similar plans – not only to amass large amounts of renewable energy generation, but to be an active player on the National Electricity Market, as it shifts from coal to renewables and storage.

In SA, he is building more than 1 gigawatt of solar, storage and demand management to power the Whyalla Steelworks, which is switching to renewables and expects to cut its costs by 40 per cent in doing so.

And last month, Simec Energy was granted a licence to retail in Victoria, extending its reach across all of the states of the National Electricity Market to offer its “baseload renewable energy” product to other businesses and large energy users.

Choi is leaving his role at Sun Metals in Australia to head up Korea Zinc, and will be replaced by Kiwon Park. The Coalition’s Queensland MPs, meanwhile, want to build a new coal generator in the region.

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