Aussie plan to supply power to S'pore clears key step

Solar project gets Indonesia's nod for subsea cable route, allowing underwater surveys to start

A large-scale Australian solar project that aims to supply up to 15 per cent of Singapore's power needs has taken a step closer to reality, with Indonesia approving the subsea cable route through the archipelago.

The A$30 billion (S$29.5 billion) Sun Cable project plans to supply green power to Singapore via a 4,200km cable from Darwin in Australia's Northern Territory.

On Thursday, Sun Cable said the Indonesian government had agreed to the route for the high-voltage direct current (HVDC) cables, as well as granted a permit to conduct subsea surveys in Indonesian waters to map the underwater route to Singapore.

"That took a long time and a lot of work for the Indonesian government to identify the right route for the cables, and that's now occurred. That means we can do the subsea survey," Sun Cable chief executive officer David Griffin told The Straits Times yesterday.

The 740km subsea survey for the cables' route through Australian waters is now complete, he said.

Sun Cable will also invest US$2.5 billion (S$3.4 billion) in Indonesia as part of the project, called the Australia-Asia PowerLink.

The company will not be supplying renewable energy directly to Indonesia. But it has promised around US$1 billion in direct investments for procurement of equipment and services and an additional US$1.5 billion in operational spending over the life of the project.

"We expect this project will have a sustainable impact for our economy through various procurement programmes that will benefit the industry and the government's revenue," Indonesia's coordinating minister of maritime and investment Luhut Pandjaitan was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse on Thursday.

The power will be generated by one of the world's largest solar farms, covering 12,000ha at Powell Creek Station, about 800km south of Darwin. The project is estimated to generate between 17 and 20 gigawatt-peak (GWp) of electricity, part of which will be stored on site in what is planned to be the world's largest battery at 36 to 42 gigawatt-hours.

Smaller batteries are planned for Darwin and Singapore, with the aim to provide consistent power day and night.

To compare, the Singapore Government plans for solar capacity to quadruple to 1.5 GWp by 2025, before rising to 2 GWp by 2030. A total of 2 GWp of solar would meet about 3 per cent of Singapore’s total electricity demand in 2030, enough to power around 350,000 households.

Sun Cable aims to start supplying Darwin with electricity by 2026 and the first supplies to Singapore by 2027, with full commercial operations by the end of 2028.

Supplying up to 15 per cent of Singapore's electricity needs could reduce Singapore's emissions by six million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, the firm says.

The project is backed by two Australian billionaires, Mr Andrew Forrest, chairman of Fortescue Metals Group, and Mr Mike Cannon-Brooks, co-founder and CEO of software firm Atlassian.

Mr Griffin said the company was in discussions with a number of clients in Singapore across different industries to meet their commercial power needs, but said he could not disclose any names.

The company has also been in discussions with the Energy Market Authority (EMA), he said: "We're continuing to work on the design and the capability of the system so the project can meet the regulatory requirements of the EMA."

In a statement to The Straits Times, an EMA spokesman said: "Discussions on Sun Cable's proposal to supply power from Australia's Northern Territory to Singapore are ongoing. EMA is unable to share details at this point, given the commercial sensitivities."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 25, 2021, with the headline 'Aussie plan to supply power to S'pore clears key step'. Subscribe