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Undersea link to export WA solar to Indonesia deemed “viable”

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A proposal to develop a 2000km sub-sea cable to supply Indonesia with renewable energy generated in Australia’s north-west has been described as financially viable and possible within the decade.

The West Australian reports that a private consultant has been hired by the Pilbara Development Commission to investigate the establishment of an underwater link to transport solar power from the Pilbara and Kimberley to Java in Indonesia.

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The consultant, named by the paper as Geoff James, is due to deliver a pre-feasibility study to the commission in January as to whether it is possible to build the ambitious 2000km underwater power link.

“We have been assisted by project partners who have advised us that it is a ‘technical stretch’ but it is quite feasible,” James said. “The technology does exist and it has been trialled at various lengths, various scales, various depths across the globe. They are developing the technology very rapidly.”

Reportedly, the project would also require a substantial solar farm to be built in the Pilbara and Kimberley, as well as the high-voltage direct cable-transmission route stretching from the Pilbara through the Kimberley and on to Java.

James said the subsea part of the cable – 2000-odd km of it – was being developed in consultation with Basslink and a silent project partner.

Of course, the idea of exporting solar power from one nation to another is not new. Having switched on his country’s Noor 1 concentrating solar thermal plant in February, the King of Morocco hopes to transform all of the nearly useless chunk of the Sahara Desert into a solar energy export hub, targeting the European market.

As reported here, there’s already one interconnection between Europe and Morocco, through the Straits of Gibraltar, although currently 5 billion kWh’s a year are imported from Spain to help meet Morocco’s power shortfall. That should be reversed in time, and there are plans to build more transmission lines.

“If Morocco is able to generate electricity at seven, eight cents per kilowatt – very possible – it will have thousands of megawatts excess,” said Paddy Padmanathan, CEO of the Saudi-owned developer of Norr 1, ACWA Power.

“This country should be able to export into Europe and it will. And it will not need to do anything at all…just sit there because Europe will start to need it.”

Saudi Arabia itself also has plans to export solar to Europe in winter, when cooler temperatures reduce demand for air conditioning in the kingdom.

In 2013, Khalid Al Sulaiman, vice president for renewable energy at the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KACARE) told a conference in Paris that it would be viable for Saudi Arabia to export up to 10 gigawatts, the equivalent of 10 nuclear plants, via North Africa and Italy or Spain.

And here in Australia, proponents such as Renewable Hydrogen’s Andrew Want were last year talking up the prospect of developing massive solar arrays in the Australian outback at a scale of “multiple tens” of gigawatts, to to tap into the voracious demand for clean energy from the big north Asian economies.

“This is a great opportunity to create a solar industry which is not limited to the scale of our electricity network,” Want told RenewEconomy at the sidelines of the 6th World Hydrogen Technologies Congress in Sydney in late 2015.

“This plan is bolted on to the prospects of the biggest economic growth region in the world.”

As RenewEconomy had previously reported, this was part of a big push in Australia to tap into Japan’s emerging “hydrogen” economy, and use Australia’s rich solar and wind resources to provide clean fuels to Japan and other countries.

News of the proposed international interconnector coincides with the findings of an independent investigation into the outage of Basslink’s undersea cable linking Tasmania with the Australian mainland.

As we have reported, the interconnector failed in December 2015, and became one of the key factors that combined to tip Tasmania into a months-long electricity crisis.

The outage, which lasted the better part of six months, was the subject of an extensive independent investigation, conducted by UK-based Cable Consulting International (CCI), and which itself spanned more than six months, including forensic examinations and laboratory analysis in Italy and the UK.

Despite the length and depth of the investigation, Basslink CEO Malcolm Eccles said on Monday that the CCI investigation had concluded that it was not possible to determine the cause of the fault.

“It is not uncommon that the cause of the fault remains unknown based on other past incidences of submarine cable outages,” said Eccles in comments on Monday.

“We have provided the report in its entirety to Hydro Tasmania and the Tasmanian government and trust it will provide them with sufficient expert evidence to accept that the fault was a force majeure event.”

These findings aside, Geoff James believes an international cable could have major benefits.

“This could be our key pillar of our relationship with Indonesia, a symbol of mutual benefit, the ability to improve its clean energy and meet its very ambitious growth targets,” he said in comments to The West.

“The main challenges are the relationships and the business models to make this work.”

   

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  • phred01

    This must be making Barnaby & Josh mad we need to sell more coal to the power poor Indonesians!

  • Ken Dyer

    Aargh!!!! How about just building a few windfarms in Indonesia or even a solar farm or two. It must be April 1.

    • FeFiFoFum

      Ummm its not especially windy up there :0)

      But a subsea cable does sound a little far fetched.

    • Brian Tehan

      It’s definitely not windy at all near the equator due to no Coriolis effect, thus no cyclones. If you’ve ever been to Java, the most crowded land mass, I believe, you’ll see that there’s very little room for large scale solar. Rooftop solar would be good though. However Java has over 180 million people and lots of industry, so they’d need a lot of electricity.
      BZE’s renewable energy superpower publication proposes exporting power as one of the industries to come from our very large renewable energy potential with our move to 100% renewables. We would have a cost advantage due to the high output per system and lots of space.
      Some others have said that the cable could connect much closer to Australia and go across the islands. I’m sure it’s more complicated but might be cheaper.
      Australia could also choose to make hydrogen from the excess renewable energy, by electrolysis, then export that, similar to the gas exports – albeit a bit more complex.
      Both of the above would be exporting renewable energy.

      • Ed

        There’s scope for floating solar farms in Indonesia. Plenty of sea to be found. http://www.ecowatch.com/worlds-largest-floating-solar-farm-to-provide-10-million-people-with-c-1882182932.html

      • Rav Soin

        Java has adequate land area to install solar PV plants; these plants can be located outside urban area, industrial area roof-tops and even residential. Central Java is less populated.
        Indonesia has so many islands with sparse population (as Java has 60% of total) and thus wonder why the need of submarine cable from Australia.

        • DJR96

          Yeah, but do you want to encourage them to clear even more rain-forests? Not the geography or topography to be viable.

          • Rav Soin

            The main subject was whether submarine link from Australia is worthwhile when natural energy resources are available locally. If rain forest is to be preserved, then that itself is the answer, i.e. biomass is via sustainable forestry. Unless, the locals choose not use too much energy, but we can’t make that decision, as the locals have their own aspirations.
            Solar PV as decentralised source is already deployed in Indonesia.

  • Steve159

    Big solar arrays in near-coastal areas (WA, NT) could convert seawater to synthetic fuel – enough to power the whole planet (pretty much using existing infrastructure).

    Or export hydrogen (from the same systems) for the emerging hydrogen fuel-cell economy in Japan, etc.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if some Chinese, or Japanese consortium are already looking at such areas in Australia with that in mind…

  • Brunel

    How about one from WA to NSW?

    And with so many power cuts in SA, time is overdue to build such a link.

  • john

    Considering the tidal movements In the North West the highest in Australia this should be tied into the proposal as well.
    If the figures stack up and because the energy sources are zero and the only costs are capex, operations, repairs and maintenance, then it may go ahead.
    Capital funding is the most important in my view.
    The outcome depends on the cost of capital and the expected return these figures will tell the story.

    • DJR96

      I made a similar comment only yesterday.

      King Sound is about 20,000 gigalitres if you build about 36km of wall/turbines.
      Or there is a couple of smaller inlets, one is about 20 gigalitres with only 500m of wall required. Just a matter of how ambitious you want to be.

      Also, a cable from there to Dili would be half the length.

      • john

        I agree the potential is there it only needs the engineering to be done.

  • Rav Soin

    I do not doubt the good intentions, but having solar farm in Australia and then transport via submarine cables negates the advantage of solar energy as distributed form of energy to use generated and used at situ, rather than losing 15% or so via transmission lines.
    The Investment in submarine cables can go directly to investment in Indonesia on solar farms via an agreed commercial structure, which will also improve relationship between two countries.
    Of course, if the business venture is going to produce transportable fuel, such as hydrogen, then it could be worthwhile.

  • Radbug

    How utterly insane! In the Greens the issue of Solar Methanol, sourced from the Pilbara, has been discussed for YEARS!!!