The $26 billion, gigawatt-scale solar export plans of the Sun Cable consortium made important progress this week, with the lodgement of a development application for the first phase of a solar manufacturing and assembly facility in Darwin.
The company said it had lodged an application with the Northern Territory’s Development Consent Authority for a facility that would pilot a semi-automated production line, manufacturing the Maverick solar array systems designed by Australian company 5B.
The Maverick production plant is proposed for the East Arm Business Park, which is managed by the Land Development Corporation – a location selected for its proximity to Darwin port and access to the Alice Springs to Darwin Railway.
Sun Cable said the facility would help to build industrial and utility-scale solar farms across Northern Australia, including – further down the line – the consortium’s own massive 14GW solar plant proposed for construction near Elliott in the Barkly Region of the Northern Territory.
“This application is an important step in the ongoing development of the Australia-ASEAN Power Link (AAPL); a solar energy infrastructure network that will provide Darwin and Singapore with competitively priced, dispatchable, high volume renewable electricity from 2026 and 2027 respectively,” a statement said.
As RenewEconomy has reported, the Sun Cable project – backed by billionaires Mike Cannon-Brookes and Andrew Forrest – is proposing a massive solar array of 14GW, battery storage facilities of up to 33GWh, and a high voltage direct current sub-sea cable of 3,750km linking to Singapore. Each component will be the biggest of its type in the world, by some margin.
For the solar component of the massive project, Sun Cable in 2019 tapped New South Wales-based company 5B, whose pre-fabricated, modular plug-and-play Maverick solar technology – first deployed in July of 2017 – enables deployment much faster and cheaper than traditional solar installations.
The proposed production facility is another huge endorsement for 5B, which last year attracted the attention of US energy giant AES, which oversees more than 35GW of global generation capacity and is a joint partner in Fluence, one of the biggest battery storage technology companies in the world.
As RenewEconomy reported, AES last July anchored an $US8.6 million funding-raising round for the Australian solar start-up, generating key funds and a more solid foundation for 5B to rapidly scale up its operations.
5B CEO Chris McGrath, who co-founded the company in 2013, told RenewEconomy at the time that the investment would help it roll out its technology at a more rapid pace, and grow its manufacturing options and country representations.
“Now we have the world as our oyster,” McGrath said. “We have a very attractive technology and a cost roadmap. We have a vision for the way we build solar farms as being the next generation beyond what we do now.”
Sun Cable said in a statement that phase one of the planned Maverick manufacturing and assembly facility in Darwin would supply solar projects in the NT – perhaps more along the lines of the remote and off-grid industrial applications 5B had first envisaged for its technology.
Phase two of the development – which would be subject to a separate approvals process – would expand the facility to a scale able to supply Sun Cable’s AAPL 14GW solar project, and establish a logistics and distribution centre to transport material and equipment by rail to the proposed solar farm site.
For now, however, Sun Cable says it is focusing on development of phase one of the project, and is working with ICN-NT to undertake an Expression of Interest process to select a delivery partner for the project.
The development application for the East Arm manufacturing facility will be on public display for 14 days, giving an opportunity to comment on the proposal, the company said.
Meanwhile, Sun Cables plans for the AAPL continue to hum along nicely, gaining a boost last year by being granted Major Project Status by the federal government.
Sun Cable says the 70-year, $26 billion project would create around 1500 jobs during construction and 350 jobs during operations.
“It will inject $8 billion into the local economy and generate over $1 billion in exports per annum. The provision of renewable energy to the NT will support the establishment of sustainable development precincts and power new low emissions manufacturing businesses,” its statement said.