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High Voltage Undersea Transmission Lines, Green Hydrogen Could Make Australia A Clean Energy Powerhouse

The Australian government may have little interest in renewable energy, but neighboring countries like Singapore, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan certainly do.

Australia is rich in natural resources. It is the world’s largest exporter of coal and is a major exporter of natural gas. However, it has other resources that may upstage coal and natural gas soon — millions of acres of sun-drenched land in the nation’s interior that are inhabited by little more than kangaroos and wallabies. Strong breezes blow across the Outback as well, making that nation’s interior even more suitable for renewable energy projects. Two ambitious new plans have been unveiled recently, one for what could be the world’s largest solar farm and another that would be a combination of wind and solar.

Sun Cable’s Plan To Power Singapore

solar power in Australia

Credit: Sun Cable

Sun Cable recently unveiled a plan to build a massive solar power plant in the Northern Territories. Costing $20 billion and covering 15,000 hectares, it will supply some power to Darwin and other NT cities but its most unusual feature will be a 3,800 kilometer undersea high voltage transmission cable that will supply power to Singapore.

Sun Cable’s chief executive, David Griffin, tells The Guardian the project will use prefabricated solar cells to capture “one of the best solar radiance reserves on the planet”. He says the more important development that makes the farm possible is the advent of high-voltage, direct-current submarine cable, which he describes as the “greatest unsung technology development”. Sun Cable’s underwater link to Singapore will be 3,800 kilometers long. “It is extraordinary technology that is going to change the flow of energy between countries. It is going to have profound implications, and the extent of those implications hasn’t been widely identified,” Griffin says.

“If you have the transmission of electricity over very large distances between countries, then the flow of energy changes from liquid fuels — oil and LNG — to electrons. Ultimately, that’s a vastly more efficient way to transport energy. The incumbents just won’t be able to compete.” The Sun Cable facility will include battery backup to insure power is available at all times of the day and night.

The Asian Renewable Energy Hub

Asian Renewable Energy Hub

Credit: Asian Renewable Energy Hub

In the sparsely populated Pilbara region of Western Australia, the Asian Renewable Energy Hub has plans to create the largest hybrid solar and wind power installation in the world. According to its website, “The Asian Renewable Energy Hub encompasses 6,500 square kilometres of land in the East Pilbara region of Western Australia. It is on the traditional lands of the Nyangumarta People, who have been closely engaged in the project since its inception, and have actively participated in site ecological studies. The project provides enormous job, skills, revenue and other opportunities for the Traditional Owners, all enabled by renewable energy.”

Originally planned to provide 11 GW of energy, the developers, who include InterContinental Energy, CWP Energy Asia, and Vestas, with financial support from the Macquarie Group, have expanded their proposal to a truly impressive 15 GW, a shift driven by falling costs and a growing international interest in “green”  hydrogen.

Wind turbines will supply about two thirds of the electricity and solar panels the remaining one third. “To our knowledge, it’s the largest wind/solar hybrid in the world,” says Andrew Dickson, head of the development group. About 20% of the total capacity will be supplied to large industrial energy users in the Pilbara area but most of it will be used to power a hydrogen manufacturing hub.

The hydrogen would be sold domestically and exported to Japan and South Korea, both of which have expressed interest in developing hydrogen based economies. Dickson says producing green hydrogen at large volumes could open up possibilities, such as using it to replace coking coal in steel production. “People are realizing, after several decades of promise, that now could be the time for [hydrogen] to be a thing,” Dickson says.

Just A Matter Of Time

Neither project will happen any time soon. Both suggest it may take up to 4 years just to get the financing in place. They are not expected to be operational before the end of the next decade at the earliest. Despite the disinterest in renewable energy at the federal level, many Australians believe that renewables will not only help lower Australia’s carbon footprint but create plenty of new employment opportunities as well.

Ross Garnaut is a professor of economics at the University of Melbourne and chairman of the Australian-German Energy Transition Hub. He says Australia can be a center for low-cost renewable energy in a future zero carbon world. “This will be the channel through which production of energy in Australia will greatly reduce emissions in the rest of the world. It will also be a foundation for a new era of economic expansion and prosperity,” he says.

Roger Dargaville, a senior lecturer in renewable energy at Monash University and member of the Energy Transition Hub, believes the demand for renewables around the world will provide significant opportunities for Australia. “It’s not really yes or no, it’s just when,” he says.

 
 
 
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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. 3000 years ago, Socrates said, "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." Perhaps it's time we heed his advice.

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