Australian tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes says that his $20 billion plan to power Singapore with Australian solar power was likely to be completely feasible and very profitable, but has required some ‘crazy folks’ to get it off the ground.
Speaking at the National Smart Energy Summit in Sydney, Cannon-Brookes said that each of the components of the Sun Cable project, which has received initial investment from the tech billionaire, along with resources billionaire Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest, would likely be the largest of their kind when completed.
The Sun Cable project proposes to build a mammoth solar project in central Australia combined with battery storage, that are then connected to Singapore via an undersea cable, each being built at an unprecedented scale.
“That is totally true today. So, 10 gigawatts of solar – I think about four times the size of the largest current solar farm,” Cannon-Brookes said.
“The battery will be 150 times the size of Hornsdale, so it’s insanely large.”
“The longest subsea cable at the moment is 1,900kms, there is a couple of others under construction, but at three and a half thousand clicks it is getting to the limit, but I suspect it will still be the longest by the time it’s built.”
Despite the scale, Mike Cannon-Brookes was confident the project was both financially and technically viable, and would deliver substantial benefits to an otherwise lagging Northern Territory economy.
“There’s nothing engineering wise in the individual component parts that says it can’t be built,” Cannon-Brookes said.
“There is an economic model, that means the whole thing together could make it a very profitable project for the Northern Territory, for the shareholders, and for Singapore and consumers. This is all theoretically possible.”
“Then you get to needing a bunch of crazy folks are willing to say, ‘yeah, we’ll put in tens of millions of dollars to see if we can turn that from an inactive plan into a real plan. Because you know, we’re going to need $20 billion and by the time you need $20 billion, you better be damn sure it’s going to be possible.'”
Cannon-Brookes conceded in the on-stage discussion with Smart Energy Council director Simon Holmes a Court – that the electricity produced from the Sun Cable project might be supplied at a lower cost to users in Singapore than the price of electricity in Australia.
“It is possible (that Singapore will get cheaper electricity than Australia), and if people get really upset at that, then build your own,” Cannon-Brookes said.
“If it frustrates people that it turns out to be cheaper, then all that should say is we have lots of opportunities to make our energy cheaper and solve that problem.”
But he said there was a possibility that the electricity generated from the project could be use in Australia – locally in the territory, and possibly to other areas of Australia’s main grid via connections such as the proposed Copperstring project that may link the Mt Isa mining region to Townsville.
Cannon-Brookes is not the only person getting excited by the project. Speaking earlier at the summit, former Powershop CEO and now an executive director at Telstra, said that he had wished he had come up with the idea of the Sun Cable project.
“We are just marvelling at its greatness,” Burge said. “This idea is so good it gives me the shits I didn’t come up with it.”
Burge said he saw the Sun Cable project as a kind of “land export”. Singapore doesn’t have much land, but has expensive energy and ambitious climate targets. Australia has a lot of land – 2,000 times as much on a per capita basis – and fantastic resources.
“The essence of the Sun Cable project is land exportation,” Burge said. And it also opens up more markets – both in Australia’s main grid, for desalination, and for hydrogen. “It will be difficult project – but it will succeed for sure.”
Cannon-Brookes said that he believed that concerns over the future viability of existing investments would help accelerate the transition towards a lower emissions economy.
“Large scale superannuation funds or retirement funds around the world who have pools of capital, are saying ‘it is too risky for me to be invested in certain businesses that aren’t moving fast enough at addressing their carbon intensity. Hence, I’m going to withdraw my funds and sell that share and buy something else,'” Cannon-Brookes told the summit.
“They are putting pressure on boards, to make transitions and other things. That that is a huge source of change.”
Cannon-Brookes said that his own experience in running tech company Atlassian, which recently committed to shifting its electricity use to 100 per cent renewables under the RE100 initiative.
The Atlassian co-founder said that the plan to shift to renewables would achieve substantial energy cost savings for the company, as well as helping to attract and retain high-quality staff.
“The war for talent is not just a slogan; it is really, really hard to attract great staff, right?” Cannon-Brookes said. “They want to find a place to work that identifies with them, that they can do meaningful work that they can grow their careers that can grow their skills.”
“RE100 lit a real fire pit, with staff saying ‘Wow our company can have something to do with the climate movement as a whole. That was massive. And staff have come out, from all over the place, to say it’s the reason I joined, it is the reason I’m staying, and it is the reason I’m motivated.'”