Australia's two renewable export mega-projects say there is room for both, and more | RenewEconomy

Australia’s two renewable export mega-projects say there is room for both, and more

Australia’s two largest renewable energy export projects, planning 25GW of wind and solar between them, see the growing Asian market as more than big enough for both.

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Australia’s two biggest renewable energy export projects say they are not competing against each other as the growth in energy demand across the Asian region is huge, and will only grow demand for zero emissions energy produced in Australia.

Speaking to the Clean Energy Council’s Australian Clean Energy Summit Webinar Series, the heads of two of Australia’s largest renewable energy developments, both seeking to establish energy export links into an energy hungry Asian region, say there is room for even more Australian based renewable energy projects to supply energy into the region.

Together, the Sun Cable and Asia Renewable Energy Hub projects represent 25GW of potential wind and solar capacity, and another 30GWh of storage. That is equivalent to Australia’s entire domestic needs to replace the bulk of the coal fleet that will retire in coming decades, according to some scenarios.

Sun Cable Australia CEO David Griffin suggested that the company’s initial 10GW project in the Northern Territory could be just the first step in a much larger international energy network spanning the breadth of the Asian Pacific region, establishing connections from India to New Zealand, to take advantage of the zero emissions energy sources available across the region.

Sun Cable, which has received initial investment backing from Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes and mining billionaire Andrew Forrest, seeks to develop 10GW of solar generation capacity, along with substantial energy storage capacity, in the Northern Territory, with the bulk of the power then exported to Singapore via an undersea Australian-ASEAN Power Link connection.

“Given the scale of the opportunity in Asia, what we’re looking to do is use this as the first project, but it’s the first of many projects that would replicate this model and ultimately develop a network that extends from India to New Zealand, where we can convert energy from abundant resources where they are best located,” Griffin said.

“Whether that’s wind and hydro in New Zealand, wind and solar in Australia or wind and solar in India, to serve those large and very quickly growing loads in between.”

Such a development would represent an unprecedented interconnection between countries home to almost two-thirds of the world’s population and around half of the world’s primary energy consumption.

The $22 billion Sun Cable project was recently granted ‘major project’ status from the federal government, which will allow the project to benefit from an expedited planning and environmental approval process.

Also looking to send Australian renewable energy into the Asian market is the Asian Renewable Energy Hub, backed by CWP, Vestas and Macquarie Group, which is also aiming to build more than 15,000MW of solar and wind capacity in Western Australia, much of it to be used to produce zero emissions hydrogen or ammonia, and destined for export.

CWP Renewables director Alex Hewitt said that there was never any sense that the Asian Renewable Energy Hub project was in a race with the Sun Cable project to be the first to reach the Asian market, as its ever increasing need for energy would provide ample opportunities for both projects to find customers.

“It’s a massive market and we’re in different markets. Look, if we were both chasing to transform or move electrons into Singapore, we’d be competing,” Alex Hewitt told the summit.

“I think we’re heading for different markets. I mean if you look at Singapore, we’re having some interesting discussions around bunkering, but this is ammonia as a fuel for the shipping sector and is very different to what David’s doing.”

During the summit panel, economist Ross Garnaut flagged that the substantial opportunity that exists for Australia is for ample supplies of cheap renewables to be used to value-add Australia’s other reserves of iron ore to produce green steel. Garnaut argued that this would ultimately be the cheaper option, rather than exporting unprocessed iron ore and energy separately into Asia.

“It will be much more expensive to convert renewable energy into hydrogen, and then convert hydrogen into a tradable form, and then use it for reducing Australian iron oxide into iron metal in China, Korea and Japan, than it will be to do those early stages in Australia and take the iron metal to East Asia,” Garnaut said.

Hewitt agrees, saying that the Pilbara based Asian Renewable Energy Hub project is ideally positioned to take advantage of this opportunity.

“Wouldn’t it be great to be exporting steel instead of exporting iron ore and electricity? We’re sitting on the edge of the Pilbara and there’s a lot of opportunity there for decarbonisation of current activities, and attracting energy intensive business to the cheapest electricity in Asia,” Hewitt said.

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