Plans to build three gigawatt-scale solar farms in Western Australia’s Pilbara and Kimberley regions and sell their output to Indonesia via super long submarine cables, could soon be commercially viable, according to a report delivered to the state government on the weekend.
The report, the findings of a pre-feasibility study conducted for the Pilbara Development Commission, suggests a commercial case for the project could be established within five to 10 years, including a $9.5 billion, 1500km subsea cable from the Dampier Peninsula to east Java and three 1GW solar farms.
The solar farms are proposed for development near Newman and De Grey in WA’s Pilbara region, and one near Broome, in the Kimberley – and could be fully or partially owned by Indonesian electricity generators, the study said.
“The study finds that is an appropriate time to initiate a dialogue and seek Indonesian perspectives on diversifying its energy mix to include solar-feed-in from Australia,” it says.
Western Australia’s minister for regional development, Alannah MacTiernan, said the project – which would establish the already resource-rich state as a regional export hub for solar PV – would be privately funded, with no direct investment from the state.
MacTiernan, who reportedly says the idea “could be a goer,” says a copy of the report has been provided to Indonesia’s consul-general in Perth, while feedback is being sought from Australian industry players, to gauge whether or not there is “genuine interest.”
“We will get feedback from industry players to see what the interest might be and then to see what additional work there needs to be if there is genuine interest in this,” MacTiernan said.
The idea of piping Australian solar power thousands of kilometres across the sea floor to Indonesia is ambitious, but not unheard of.
As we have reported, there is already one interconnection between Europe and Morocco, through the Straits of Gibraltar, and there are plans to build more transmission lines to make Morocco a net energy exporter.
Saudi Arabia also has plans to export solar power to Europe, expressed as far back as 2013, when the 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 to export up to 10GW via North Africa and Italy or Spain.
And it’s not the only way to export solar. Hydrogen is also being pushed as an alternative to store “excess” wind and solar output in Australia, and as a potential transport alternative to electric vehicles as petrol-fueled internal combustion engines are phased out.
The push for hydrogen fuels in Australia has been gaining momentum over the past several years, backed by the weight of industry leaders including Ross Garnaut, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corp. And last week by climate scientist Bill Hare.
The plunging cost of solar and wind energy is creating what Siemens Australia head of strategy Martin Hablutzel has described a potential “tipping point” for the concept.
In March this year, Siemens held a series of hydrogen roadshows in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide, attracting hundreds of energy industry participants, consultants and senior government officials to their analysis of the big three opportunities in hydrogen for Australia.
ARENA has announced green fuel development as one of its key investment priorities, while a push to renewable-based hydrogen is also being led by state governments in the ACT and South Australia.
The ACT, which expects to source the equivalent of 100 per cent of its electricity needs from wind and solar, has facilitated $180 million into hydrogen investments, including an electrolyser, a fuel cell trial and using hydrogen to store excess wind and solar.
South Australia, which is already meeting 50 per cent of its local demand through wind and solar, and could jump to more than 80 per cent within five years, has also commissioned a major study into the hydrogen economy, both for storing excess wind and solar, and as a possible export, as we reported here.
In the private sector, hydrogen fuel proponents like Renewable Hydrogen’s Andrew Want have also talked 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.
All the same, the PDC report does acknowledge that the interconnections proposed to link WA to Indonesia would be “the longest and deepest to date,” and would need to “traverse complex subsea terrain.”
Minister MacTiernan, however, doesn’t appear to see this as a problem. “This is an idea we are absolutely open to,” she told Perth Now.
“We have had these (subsea) cables between Australia and Asia for telecommunications and now we are saying in this new 21st century we can send electrons up the line to transmit energy.”
(Full details of the report are expected to be released in Perth on Tuesday).