Copper producer Aurubis Bulgaria, part of Germany's Aurubis Group, has started the construction of a 10-megawatt solar power plant near its production site in the town of Pirdop. That is the largest in-house photovoltaic park in Bulgaria and the largest solar project at all for nearly a decade.
Though the generated electricity can supply 3,500 households, which is a small Bulgarian town, the effect for the company operating in one of the most energy-intensive sectors will be much smaller: the park will cover just 2.5% of the site's average consumption. However, the project is the first step to reducing external energy consumption and the goal for Aurubis Bulgaria is to cover 20% of its energy needs with renewable sources by 2030. The new focus is especially important in the light of rising emission costs and Europe's commitment to carbon neutrality.
More than 20,000 photovoltaic panels will be installed by the end of the year on a plot of 104,000 sq. m. That will be an interesting green transformation for the plot itself: the solar power plant is located on an old landfill ironically known as the Blue Lagune, which was remediated and recultivated after the privatization of the copper plant.
The photovoltaic plant will optimize the smelter's external electricity consumption by 11,000 MWh a year and generate nearly 170,000 MWh of renewable energy for the planned operating period of 15 years. Compared to coal-fired power generation, this will save 15,000 tons of carbon emissions per year, Aurubis reckons.
The company did not disclose the investment, as it is part of a much larger investment program. The market valuation of such a power plant at present is about 6 million euro. The construction itself is carried out by CEZ ESCO, a company of CEZ Group in Bulgaria.
Besides securing part of the electricity a company needs, the big advantage of such in-house renewable projects is that they save the owner a number of fees that otherwise substantially increase the electricity bill.
Therefore, the solar park under construction, which is called Aurubis-1, will be just the first stage of the company's plans to increase the share of renewable energy used. Aurubis Bulgaria is already discussing a possible plot of land for a second park; buying green power from other owners' projects is also an option. However, that will only be done at competitive prices, Aurubis Group CEO Roland Harings told Capital Weekly in an interview.
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In line with the European policy, the German group has set itself the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. And the solar power plant in Pirdop is just a small part of its projects. The plant in Hamburg recently started a series of tests for hydrogen use on an industrial scale in copper anode production, replacing natural gas as a fuel and generating only water vapor as a by-product. Three years ago, industrial heat from the plant in Hamburg was included in the heating network of one of the city's districts.
Environmental projects are part of a four-year investment program currently carried out in Pirdop, too. It amounts to 260 million levs (130 million euro) and is due to be completed in 2022. A substantial part of the investment will go to infrastructure refurbishment but the program also includes R&D projects that will allow the company to implement new processes to use a more diverse input mix and extract more copper from the concentrate.
Aurubis recorded a strong last year which saw it become the biggest company in the country, overtaking long-time leader Lukoil. Last year's increase in copper prices despite the corona crisis shows that demand stays strong. New technologies like renewable energy sources and e-mobility, which require more copper than conventional power plants and automobiles, are also a factor. "Demand is strong, which means there will be more business for metallurgical companies and that is why the industry is investing," said Harings.