Monday, July 15, 2019

Big solar is coming

Up till now, Australia has made its living by digging up coal and exporting it to other countries, destroying the global climate in the process. But now they have a new option: exporting solar power:

The desert outside Tennant Creek, deep in the Northern Territory, is not the most obvious place to build and transmit Singapore’s future electricity supply. Though few in the southern states are yet to take notice, a group of Australian developers are betting that will change.

If they are right, it could have far-reaching consequences for Australia’s energy industry and what the country sells to the world.

Known as Sun Cable, it is promised to be the world’s largest solar farm. If developed as planned, a 10-gigawatt-capacity array of panels will be spread across 15,000 hectares and be backed by battery storage to ensure it can supply power around the clock.

Overhead transmission lines will send electricity to Darwin and plug into the NT grid. But the bulk would be exported via a high-voltage direct-current submarine cable snaking through the Indonesian archipelago to Singapore. The developers say it will be able to provide one-fifth of the island city-state’s electricity needs, replacing its increasingly expensive gas-fired power.

Singapore is a long way from Darwin - 3800km, apparently. But HVDC transmission apparently makes sending power that far viable. It does invite the question of why not just send it to Indonesia, but I assume the scheme's backers think they can get more money from Singapore.

Similar schemes have been proposed for using solar in the Sahara to power Europe, but they've all been kindof colonial, focused on exploiting a poor country's resources to meet foreign demand, without doing anything for the locals (who probably want electricity too). This doesn't have that toxic dynamic. But if it goes ahead, it will help shift the global energy conversation further away from fossil fuels and more towards renewables - the direction it needs to be going in if we are to save the planet.