Aussie solar farm project aims to power up S'pore too

Northern Territory govt backs firm's $19b renewable energy plan

Australia's Northern Territory has backed an ambitious A$20 billion (S$19 billion) plan for a solar farm in the Outback which will be connected by a 3,800km cable to Singapore and significantly boost the Republic's power supply.

The project, proposed by the firm Sun Cable, involves building the world's biggest solar farm - an array of 22 million panels spanning 15,000ha on a site near the remote town of Tennant Creek.

The farm would generate 10 gigawatts of power and transmit 3 gigawatts via a high-voltage submarine direct-current cable to Singapore.

It would also provide power to Darwin, the territory's capital. The company says the project could provide 20 per cent of Singapore's energy needs.

In a significant boost for the plan, the Northern Territory government announced yesterday that it would assign the initiative "major project status". This means the government will help to coordinate approvals and will assign it a dedicated case manager.

Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner said the project would help turn the state into a world-leading renewable energy hub and also deliver thousands of local jobs.

"We have the guaranteed cloud-free days, the land and a government with the vision, plan and will to make it happen," he noted in a statement.

The Northern Territory is a vast region spanning 1.35 million sq km, with a population of just 250,000.

  • 22m

  • Number of panels the world's biggest solar farm - proposed by the firm Sun Cable - will have.

Sun Cable's solar farm, along with a 20 to 30 gigawatt-hour storage facility, will be built near Tennant Creek, a town of about 3,000 people. The area has about 50 days of rain a year and an average temperatures in summer of 37 deg C.

 
 

Sun Cable chief executive David Griffin told The Sunday Times that the project would help Singapore to move away from its heavy reliance on imported liquid natural gas and also meet its greenhouse gas emissions targets.

He said Singapore was well suited to the project because "it is a sophisticated, well-governed and well-regulated market".

"No one wants to be overly reliant on single sources of energy," he said. "Singapore's electricity market is dominated by liquid natural gas. This is an opportunity to greatly diversify."

Mr Griffin, who is based in Singapore and Australia, has been working on wind and solar farms in Australia and South Africa for about 20 years. Sun Cable has offices in Singapore and Australia.

He said the Sun Cable project has been made possible by the development of more efficient high-voltage direct-current cable technology which, he added, is world-changing but "its impact has flown under the radar". He said the cable would enable electricity transmission across vast distances and was the "key to the project".

Another advantage of the project, Mr Griffin said, is that it can provide stable long-term prices for electricity. "You have to be brave to forecast the price of LNG in five years," he said.

"We can confidently predict the price of electricity in 20 or 30 years. It is a profound difference. That is very valuable for our customers and they can plan around that."

Sun Cable plans to start community consultation on the project in the coming months. Construction is due to start in 2023, and commercial operations in 2027. The project has the potential to create 1,000 jobs during the construction phase and 300 operational jobs.

The firm plans to explore integrating its Singapore cable into the Asean power grid. This could enable Singapore to become a renewable electricity trading hub.

Mr Griffin said the firm still needs to raise the necessary capital but he is confident "there are deep pools of capital for long-term infrastructure assets".

Presumably, the Northern Territory's support for the project will help it to find backers.

Mr Gunner said: "Major project status for Sun Cable is an important step towards making this vision a reality. The Sun Cable project is a game-changer for the territory and will further our reputation around the world as a place to do business and invest."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 21, 2019, with the headline 'Aussie solar farm project aims to power up S'pore too'. Print Edition | Subscribe