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19 July 2019

Developer to create 3 GW Singapore solar farm in Aussie outback

Weirdly Australia, on the threshold of becoming the worst polluter on the planet in its own right with a coal friendly government, is about to put into action a plan to supply 20% of Singapore’s electricity directly via a monstrous cable plugged into a huge 3 GW solar farm in Australia’s unwanted outback.

If something like that can be built, it simply begs the question “Why wouldn’t Australia do it for its own use?”

But this is all about opportunities and making money, not doing the right thing by the planet. Singapore has always had an energy problem with no real natural resources of its own. It relies almost entirely right now on gas turbines for its electricity – and for many years that gas came from Malaysia and Indonesia via two pipelines – two countries which vie with Australia for natural resources.

In 2013 Singapore spent a fortune building out LNG storage and shipping routes, and began to import Liquid Natural Gas from all over the world, and to act as a trading and shipping hub for much of Asia, and in the process getting better prices for its gas. The US fracking revolution has put paid to that, with a massive global glut in gas, which has pushed the price down and made Singapore’s gas operations somewhat redundant.

Even so, the infrastructure for using gas makes it still more expensive than using solar energy, which leads us to this new plan. Singapore could not consider using solar on its own land on this scale, which is way too expensive, but in Australia’s outback access to land is cheap.

The project and company running it is called Sun Cable and will use solar power from panels built by 5B under its Maverick model brand, which uses a huge configuration called a MAV of ground-mounted solar in arrays of up to 40 modules using standard 60 or 72-cells. They are laid out as a concertina with a 10 degree tilt and arrive ready to plug and play. Each MAV weighs about three tonnes, is five meters wide and 16 meters to 20 meters long. This is a technique for rapidly rolling out vast areas of land and Sun Cable plans to put in on a 15,000 hectare region near Tennant Creek in Australia’s Northern Territory. It will be supported by battery storage though there are few details on that.

The expertise comes from Sun Cable CEO David Griffin, which a history of developing solar and wind projects in Australia and South Africa and who worked previously for Infigen Energy. He says he has installed 231 MW of solar and 416 MW of wind already and has another 2 GW in development. This dwarf’s them all. Some investors are thought to have already been lined up.

This array will then be plugged into a cable which stops off at Darwin and Indonesia and then travels a total of 3800 kilometers to reach Singapore directly, and at a single stroke puts the outback in Australia up against the coal and gas rich Malaysia and Indonesia, which are so much closer to Singapore. Some spare electricity will be traded in Australia locally and the whole project will cost 20 billion Australian dollars. This will be like a rerun of the “gold rush” bringing a huge number of jobs to the Northern territory during construction, and every solar worker in Australia will likely make a few dollars there.

This project is nothing if not ambitious and will go to community consultation in 2020 and should begin construction in 2023 and yield energy for Singapore by 2027. The Northern Territory is known for its iconic Ayers Rock.

David Griffin, managing director of Singaporean developer Sun Cable said, “If you have the transmission of electricity over very large distances between countries, then the flow of energy changes from liquid fuels — oil and liquid natural gas — to electrons. Ultimately, that’s a vastly more efficient way to transport energy. The incumbents just won’t be able to compete.”

And this is the crux of the matter, it is way more efficient to make electricity and then send it somewhere than to build a gas or oil pipeline, which makes the efforts of President Trump in the support of oil pipelines make even less sense economically.