A power cable from Darwin to Singapore sounds very vulnerable to attacks and accidents
Take 125 square kilometres of solar panels, a battery that’s 150 times bigger than the biggest in the country, three billion people and a giant extension cord. Then call it “Sun Cable”.
It sounds like a sci-fi scheme cooked up by a Bond villain. In fact it is Mike Cannon-Brookes’ plan to power Asia with energy from the Australian sun and it is fast becoming real.
The Atlassian co-founder and tech guru is an investor in the world’s biggest solar farm in the middle of the Northern Territory and what is literally a giant power cable from the Simpson Desert to Singapore.
Once complete the project will give the 5.5 million-strong island metropolis up to 15 per cent of its total power needs but for Cannon-Brookes that is only the first step.
He says the AAPowerLink project will just be the first of many. He predicts that soon there will be power lines from Australia to all over Asia, selling them our cheap and abundant solar energy.
“Think about it as a giant extension cable that runs from our sunny deserts up to Asia,” Cannon-Brookes said. “There are two or three billion consumers that want cheap energy and want a lot of that energy and we have it and can provide it. “I’m hopeful it’s the first of many, many, many cables that we string across to neighbouring countries.”
If the scale of the ambition seems staggering, that’s because it is. But everything about the Sun Cable project is on a staggering scale.
The initial stage of the project alone involves 5,000 kilometres of power lines stretching from the middle of the NT to Darwin and then 4,200km underwater past the full length of Indonesia to Singapore.
This alone will be the world’s longest High Voltage Direct Current cable system.
There it will provide up to 15 per cent of the island city-state’s electricity needs – all clean, all green and all from a single power plant in Australia.
As well as being the world’s largest solar plant, it will also feature the world’s largest battery, capable of storing 36 to 42 gigawatt hours. By contrast Australia’s so-called “Big Battery” in South Australia is just 129 megawatt hours, currently being expanded by 64.5 MWh.
In other words, when Cannon-Brookes says his is 150 times bigger he is actually underestimating it.
The whole project is expected to cost upwards of $30 billion, with construction to start in 2024. Sun Cable says it will be providing power to Darwin just two years later in 2026 and to Singapore the year after that, with the whole project to be completed by 2028.
If true that would be an astonishingly fast build.
Approximately 2,000 direct jobs are expected to be created in the development, construction and operation alone and over $8 billion of investment is expected to be ploughed directly into Australia.
Once complete the project is expected to generate up to $2 billion in energy exports for Australia per year.
As well as being a cheap energy source for the giant Asian market, it will also flood the Australian market with cheap energy, starting with far cheaper rates in the NT.
“Australia should have the cheapest power on the planet,” Cannon-Brookes said. “We have so many resources opportunities in our sun and wind. We are the lucky country in terms of where we sit geographically in the world and our natural resources when it comes to renewables. “We can turn that into by far the cheapest energy anywhere in the world – which we should have, by rights.”
And when it comes to exports, Cannon-Brookes said Australia had all the ingredients needed to be an energy superpower.
“We have, as I mentioned, these two to three billion consumers to the north of us who are rapidly coming up the economic curve and what happens when a country gets wealthier is its average salary goes up and its energy consumption also goes up, and energy consumption goes up faster than salary,” he said.
“And so that is the market for it. Think about us creating this energy and then we have that market right up close to us.
“That is just a beautiful position to be in, and we should take advantage of that. I would say it’s the biggest economic opportunity than Australia has ever seen. It’s such an amazingly large opportunity.”