Aussie solar cable project moves ahead with Indonesia's approval of subsea route

The Singapore Government plans for solar capacity to quadruple to 1.5 GWp by 2025. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - 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 (Sept 23), 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 on Friday.

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, such as creating a marine repair base.

"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 Panjaitan was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse in Jakarta 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.

Mr Griffin said that over the past year or so, the company has been analysing where the solar and storage technology is going to be during the latter half of the construction process - expected to start by early 2024 - and also to get a better idea of the customer needs in Singapore.

"So when we look at all of those issues, we need to supply more electricity and it needs to be a flatter profile throughout the day. So that means we need more solar and more storage so that we can discharge through the night."

The aim is 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 per year, the firm says.

The project is backed by two Australian billionaires, iron ore magnate 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 firm has also been in discussions with the Energy Market Authority (EMA), and 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: "Singapore supports the development of renewable energy sources in the region as part of a regional power grid, as they provide greater resilience and stability for all parties involved. The proposals will need to be technically and economically viable, and able to provide competitive, secure and reliable power supply to Singapore.

"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."

Singapore has been looking to meet more of its power needs with renewable energy by scaling up solar power generation across the island and to import it, including green power via an interconnector with Malaysia.

Currently, Singapore relies overwhelmingly on gas for power generation.

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