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27 September 2019

Singapore-Australia “We’re gonna build a wire,” funding kick-off

Back in July we told you about a weird Australian plan to build 3 GW of solar in Australia, which has plenty of cheap land and sun which ironically its own government has no interest in. It will be entirely on behalf of Singapore and transmit the electricity through a 3,800 km cable to the island state.

Now it looks like it is about to get funding, with the help of Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes has pledged to help fund the project which might need as much as $14 billion. He would not have to fund it all himself, but could put a small part of that in and ease the path for other investors.

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.

It’s funny that this is happening in Australia, itself a coal based polluter, but it turns the outback into energy. This would amount to about 20% of Singapore’s energy.

Singapore relies almost entirely 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 own gas.

The expertise for the project 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. He dropped hints in July that some investors had already been lined up.

These outback arrays will 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 much closer to Singapore.

Some spare electricity will be traded in Australia locally and the whole project will cost 20 billion Australian dollars or $14 billion US dollars.

The project is due to go to community consultation in 2020 and should begin construction in 2023 and yield energy for Singapore by 2027.

Cannon-Brookes did not specify how money he is prepared to put into this project, said he was being joined by other Australian entrepreneurs and an announcement was likely before the end of the year.

“I’m backing it, we’re going to make it work, I’m going to build a wire,” the said Cannon-Brookes quoted in the Australian Financial Review.

Cannon-Brookes is a billionaire through his stake in the software firm Atlassian, which he co-founded. He has demonstrated his interest in renewable energy and when Elon Musk boasted that he could build a 100 MW battery in Australia in 100 days, Cannon-Brookes called him on it and a bet was made, which Tesla made good on. The battery was to stabilize wind power in South Australia.

If this project takes off, it represents a way of turning undersea cabling into energy for 100s of island states above a certain size.

Many have speculated that an oil or gas firm would be interested in such a deal as part of their transition away from oil, and a stake in the ground for major renewables, especially if spare electricity is used to create hydrogen. But so far no such company has emerged.