Power Link

Ambitious project to transport solar energy from Australia to Singapore

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, several positive developments have taken place during the past year. Among other things, there has been an increased focus on encouraging green energy adoption with many renewable energy projects being undertaken.

A very ambitious AUD 22 billion project to transport solar power from Australia to Singapore and further to Indonesia has seen significant progress. Called the Australia-ASEAN Power Link (AAPL), the project proposes to combine the world’s largest solar farm and the largest battery storage system to produce solar energy primarily to be transported to Singapore through a high voltage direct current (HVDC) subsea electricity cable. Since energy transition is fundamental to achieving sustainable green energy goals, Australia, abundant in renewable energy resources, has been actively working towards meeting its climate change objectives.

The company behind this mega project is Sun Cable (founded in 2018). It is being backed by two of Australia’s very successful business leaders who are also renewable energy enthusiasts – Andrew Forest and Mike Cannon-Brookes. Sun Cable’s chief strategy officer, Dr Fraser Thompson, gave a presentation on this project at Global Transmission Report’s conference held on “Power Transmission in Asia” on December 7, 2020. Details about the project…

The power link involves the construction of a 10 GW solar farm paired with a 22 GWh battery storage facility over an area of 12,000 hectares near Elliott in Northern Territory (NT) in Australia. The developers intend to tap into the rich solar energy resource of this region. Sun Cable plans to deploy prefabricated solar arrays, to be built in a proposed factory in Darwin.

Phase I of the interconnection will encompass the laying of a 750 km long, 3 GW, 525/600 kV overhead transmission line to Darwin; the installation of two voltage source converters (VSCs); and the laying of a 3,750 km long, 2.2 GW subsea electricity cable to Singapore, with approximately 106 km of the cable proposed for NT waters. The proposed overhead line will be located within the existing Adelaide to Darwin railway corridor.

In Phase II, the electricity transmission system will be further extended to Indonesia and then eventually to the larger ASEAN power grid.

To put this project in perspective, China completed a 2.2 GW solar farm in the northwest province of Qinghai in October 2020. India’s largest solar farm has a capacity of 2.25 GW and is located in Bhadla district of the western state of Rajasthan. The largest solar farm in the US is the 579 MW Solar Star project, which is located north of Los Angeles. When this project was completed in 2015, it was the world’s largest solar farm.

The world’s longest undersea cable is the 580 km long, 700 MW NorNed interconnector between Norway and the Netherlands, operational since 2008. Two more large-scale HVDC undersea interconnectors are under construction in Europe – the 720 km, 1,400 MW North Sea Link between Norway and the UK, expected to be operational in 2021, and the 760 km, 1,400 MW Viking Link between the UK and Denmark, anticipated to be operational by 2023.

Given the scale and magnitude of the AAPL project, it certainly dwarfs most of the large-scale renewable energy and transmission projects that have been proposed across the world. According to the developers, the feasibility of this project is primarily driven by technological advancements, falling solar power generation costs, and low cable costs.

The project has also caught the government’s attention. It was granted “major project status” by the National Territory government in July 2019 and by the Australia Commonwealth Government in July 2020. This means that the government will provide extra support to the project for approvals through its Major Projects Facilitation Agency. AAPL is one of the 22 projects across all sectors to receive major project status. The developers have already submitted an environmental impact statement referral to the Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority. They hope to receive all the major environmental and regulatory approvals by 2022. Sun Cable has awarded the contract for undersea cable route survey to Guardian Geomatics Pty Limited.

Once completed, the AAPL project will establish Australia as an exporter of clean energy and positively alter its image from being a major coal and gas exporter. The project also aims to help Singapore achieve its 2030 renewable energy targets.

Singapore currently generates about 95 per cent of its electricity from natural gas. In recent years, its reliance on imported liquefied natural gas (LNG) has increased significantly. While LNG will continue to play a major role in Singapore’s energy mix in the near future, the government hopes to ramp up its solar energy generation capacity. However, the non-availability of space and a lack of good solar resource could be two major hindrances for Singapore. This puts Sun Cable’s project at an advantage over other projects in terms of project location in Singapore.

According to Sun Cable, the proposed project site near Darwin features annual global horizontal irradiation (GHI) of 2,292 kWh per square metre, compared to Singapore’s GHI of 1,580 kWh per square metre. This means there is 31 per cent more solar energy available at the site in Australia compared to that in Singapore. Abundant land and year-round availability of solar energy make this location suitable for the development of such a large project. Further, the export of renewable energy through AAPL will help meet up to 20 per cent of Singapore’s electricity demand and earn about AUD 2 billion in export revenues per year.

The developers expect to begin construction by end-2023. Connection to the load centres in the NT region is planned for 2026 with the link to Singapore likely to be completed in 2027-28.

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