WA mulls three gigawatt-scale PV plants to export solar to Asia | RenewEconomy

WA mulls three gigawatt-scale PV plants to export solar to Asia

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Plans to build three gigawatt-scale solar farms in Western Australia’s Pilbara and Kimberley regions and sell their output to Indonesia via submarine cables, could soon be commercially viable.

Credit: Sarah Swenty/USFWS
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

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).


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

  1. Zvyozdochka 3 years ago

    Exporting PV (or CST) East from the Kalgoorlie area is hopefully being looked at too.

    • Chris Jones 3 years ago

      Yes I would think covering our own needs would be a valuable learning experience before exporting it north.

      • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

        not to mention more ROI.

        • Ken 3 years ago

          There are very limited needs in WA and especially the case in regional WA.
          There is no population and no load and a surplus of existing generation. The same applies in the south west of WA.

          As it is the remote networks in regional WA restrict domestic and commercial rooftop solar as they can’t handle the DG input and regulate the network.

          The irony of living in the hottest and sunniest parts of Australia and not being able to use solar pv !!

          • solarguy 3 years ago

            Unless you are of grid!

  2. tsport100 3 years ago

    Exporting solar energy is a seriously stupid idea… the resource (ie. the SUN) is not geo-locked in Australia… so why bother funding a $10B cable to add losses to the system? Invest the $10B in PV panels in Indonesia. Meanwhile, the revenue stream from most large scale solar / wind installations in Oz (and most electricity retailers) is exported due to the fact they’re foreign owned!

    • Ren Stimpy 3 years ago

      You are a seriously stupid idea, my friend,

      • Joe 3 years ago

        who is ‘Guest’ and what is / was their comment?

        • Ren Stimpy 3 years ago

          They deleted it. And good luck they fucking did!

        • Ken 3 years ago

          A spammer or a troll presumably.

          • solarguy 3 years ago

            Aren’t sick of those too?

  3. Kalambong Kalambong 3 years ago

    Why export the electricity to Indonesia when the same power could be sent and sold to Sydney or Melbourne ?

    What is the need for a 9.5 billion undersea cable when overland cable to the East side is much cheaper ?

    The more I read the following paragraph the more fishy it gets:
    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

    Why set up the gigantic solar farm on large track of Australia land and then turn around and sell ’em to the Indonesians?

    Are the large track of Australian land included in the deal?

    Or is this another sell out deal of Australia to the moslems?

    • Tim 3 years ago

      They’re looking for investment and a market. Both are precarious in Australia with the current federal government, so it makes sense to look elsewhere and seek new markets.

      Unless you’re xenophobic or islamophobic, of course.

    • Ken 3 years ago

      Its a matter of funding. If they are invited to fund it they can build it and therefore own it.
      It still needs to be built to Aussie rules and standards so more local jobs.

      Plus there would be a full time role cleaning the panels.. a bit like the guy who paints the Sydney Harbour Bridge,,, starts at one end and by the time he gets to the other end its time to go back and start again.
      Unless they use robotic tech in which case less aussie jobs 🙁

      Anyway the report is released tomorrow on the PDC website so all will be revealed then.

  4. Brunel 3 years ago

    If my UHVDC line that would go from WA to NSW is “probably not viable”, then why would this undersea transmission line be viable?

    How about an undersea HVDC line from NZ to NSW?

    • Ken 3 years ago

      200 million reasons why its viable…. populations and power shortfall.
      They burn a lot of coal and oil in Indonesia for power generation.

      • Brunel 3 years ago

        Solar panels can be installed in Indonesia.

        • Ken 3 years ago

          Yes they can and yes they should.

          I have a mate who is up there trying hard to get solar going but they are dealing with the usual demons you have to deal with in Indo.
          Rampant corruption, poor quality control, skills deficiency and the govt utility that is resistant to accepting the inevitable change that will come with clean energy.

          If the cost of the subsea interconnecter does not render it uneconomic, then it makes more sense to utilise our uninhabited arid and bare parts of WA into production, vs the highly populated and green/fertile land in Indo. that is needed for hosuing people and growing crops.

          Better than continuing to dig up the Pilbara and shipping it off to Asia as we currently do.

          • Richard 3 years ago

            So if they can’t even get them installed locally what chance in hell have they got of building a massive farm in WA and piping it across oceans filled with some the biggest ocean trenches and undersea seismic activity.
            This is the most eye wateringly dumb, laugh my arse off proposal I have heard in a long time.
            And some idiot paid these guys to produce this report!

          • Ken 3 years ago

            I think you have summed it up.
            Anyway, it was government money that paid for the report.

            And it made for great state govt. PR announcement.

            If it ever went ahead the solar farm would be built by locals to Oz standards,, but the ownership and funding does not have to be local.

            Its great conceptually, but there are so many holes to plug before it could be considered a reality

          • Geoff James 3 years ago

            Well said about building versus ownership. Building up a credible local solar industry in WA that can deliver to GW scale is a prerequisite. There are lots of local industry and employment opportunities given some initiative.

    • Kalambong Kalambong 3 years ago

      UHVDC cable can be stretched as far as 8000 KM

      China and India have installed UHVDC cables. The current long distant champion is in India, over 2,500 KM in length, and China is installing one that is over 3,000KM which would be operational next year

    • solarguy 3 years ago

      Perhaps more money. NZ is almost 100% RE now anyway!

    • Geoff James 3 years ago

      I think it comes down to where the value is. Market returns on the east coast of Australia aren’t enough to justify the expense of transmission – even allowing for early evening solar contribution. The solar resource is pretty good in the east, too, so we may as well use that. On the other hand, Indonesia has strong growth targets and more limited renewable energy options – apart from geothermal where it excels and, potentially, biomass if sustainably managed. It’s a populous country and land-use issues in Java might inhibit the development of large-scale solar generation. So the proposition of a secure off-shore supply becomes interesting.

  5. Ian 3 years ago

    Seems like a much better version of turning australia into an ‘energy super power’. If it was RE they were talking about then its a great idea. Certainly better than a coal and gas ‘superpower’
    That is as long as the government doesn’t allow another reaaally crappy deal like practically giving away our gas for free, with tax breaks.
    The more solar and cables the better.

    • solarguy 3 years ago

      Well said my son. See my comment above.

  6. Malcolm M 3 years ago

    Why would Indonesia trust Australia to deliver electricity reliably ? When they were trusting us for the supply of live cattle, we betrayed that trust by stopping that trade after some animal cruelty images were shown on Four Corners. I have lived in both Australia and Indonesia, and there is a sensitivity in Indonesia about relying on other countries for what can be produced domestically. Malaysia has a strong roof-top solar power industry, but Indonesia lacks similar policy incentives, and has virtually no roof-top solar. Indonesia has some relatively dry areas such as the island of Madura, and the northern plain of Java, which would be good for large-scale solar. While the dry season haze and wet season cloud would cause lower yields that the Pilbara, it’s a domestic source, and would have a greater sense of self-sufficiency. Can the higher and more reliable solar yields of the Pilbara cover the financial overheads of an undersea cable ?

    • Ken 3 years ago

      Well as long as they were not cruel to our electrons, I don’t see why we would not supply reliably ?

      I’m in the Pilbara now,, wet season does not really apply here.
      It does in the Kimberley but not in the Pilbara.
      Moreso in the NT where it pretty much shuts down in the wet season.

      Its pretty much sunny for ten or more hours per day here.

      Am doing a study now into offsetting diesel generation with the addition of solar and battery.

      Payback looks to be around two years ( compared to the cost of diesel) so its a bit of a mystery why more mining companies don’t make the change ?!?

      • My_Oath 3 years ago

        Have you managed to get any data from the solar+battery facility at the De Grussa copper mine for use in the study?

        • Ken 3 years ago

          I heard it was mired in politics and no release of any actual data of performance as a result.

          The modelling I an doing is based on displaced diesel and reduced OMT costs, the solar insolation has already been done by others using PVsyst.
          Batteries is the unknown as there has not been too many hybrids systems put in place on a large scale.

          There is one in the area which has a 30MW battery which is being used to provide stability and ancillary services for a gas turbine generation plant ( effectively use the battery to provide your spinning reserve plus perform frequency control and not have to run an additional gas turbine).
          The owner of that plant would be unlikely to disclose any details of its performance ( we know its is there though!).

      • Mike Shackleton 3 years ago

        I do a lot of work on mines and I can give you the answer – dust. Even inside the office if you don’t regularly clean things down you end up with a layer of dust over everything. Solar panels would require constant cleaning.

        • Ken 3 years ago

          So employ a constant cleaner.
          There are solar panels up here.
          They work fine,, just get dirty as they would anywhere else.
          Middle East is putting in Gigawatts of solar for obvious reasons.
          There was an article about a robotic cleaning system, which I will try and dig out,, which would put those panel cleaners out of work.
          Otherwise its more jobs that don’t already exist.

    • MrMauricio 3 years ago

      Who betrayed the trust?????

      • Ken 3 years ago

        Julia Gillard shut down the live cattle trade based on undercover video footage of the way our cows were being mistreated in abbatoirs.

    • Tim 3 years ago

      The “trust” argument is a massive false equivalency.
      That being the case, the ROI on local vs Australian generation would be interesting. I guess presenting this discussion to Indonesia is a good way to get people to think about that.

    • solarguy 3 years ago

      The bastards haven’t got enough land for much cattle, so what choice do they have but buying from some one like us. But, shit if their going to be arseholes, teach em a lesson. No need to slaughter an animal that way.

  7. Radbug 3 years ago

    I still prefer solar methanol. Did you know that a long-lived “layered double hydroxide” anion exchange membrane has been invented which will deliver the same power to weight ratio as a proton exchange membrane? The alkaline fuel cell powered by methanol has arrived.

    • Ian 3 years ago

      If methanol is a possibility then why not higher up the carbon chain and produce a 2 carbon compound , ethanol. This could have multiple uses. Instead of moonshine we could produce sunshine!

    • solarguy 3 years ago

      Well now your talking over our heads. Please explain LOL. But hell why not do both .i,e, sell em raw MWh and Methanol.

  8. Diana 3 years ago

    I agree we need to ensure we don’t end up schmucks, with our solar yield being sent elsewhere – but is negotiating [royalties] for access to it out of the question? Minister MacTiernan said we could get 12,000 jobs out of this, not sure about that including for long term, but if its our excellent solar location being “farmed” as opposed to “mined” should we consider negotiating ongoing income from that? Having said that, anything would be better for Indonesia than what they endure now.

  9. solarguy 3 years ago

    Foreign owned my arse! This is a deal where we hold the Aces sweethearts. Our land our solar resource and our profit. Don’t let this golden opportunity slip away Australia. Business men and women of Australia unite in this and investment, it will pay big time. And don’t let this be a case of I told you so!

    • riley222 3 years ago

      Spot on Solarguy. Know I’m treading on thin ice here, but I believe Mal gets it.
      Trouble comes trying to drag the rest along.

      • solarguy 3 years ago

        No risk of falling through the ice Riley, Mal gets it alright, sure does! Just a shame he doesn’t have the courage of his convictions and has become a sycophant to the far right

    • Kevfromspace 3 years ago

      “Don’t let this golden opportunity slip away Australia.” – If only the same words were spoken before the mining boom and now the gas boom! Has nobody any foresight in Australian politics?

      • solarguy 3 years ago

        Yeah they do, but nobody listens and the others have the quick buck mentality.

      • Miles Harding 3 years ago

        Foresight, no! Nothing but foreskins to be seen there!! :))

        While there are issues with such an ambitious cable, the general Idea is sound and future focused.
        This project is along lines suggested in the Beyond Zero Emissions
        2015 Renewable Energy Superpower report: http://media.bze.org.au/resp/bze_superpower_plan.pdf
        Sometime this century, the world is going to forced to operate sustainably, whether or not TRump and the Koch brothers are still alive. This sunburnt country has a vast renewable resource that could make it a renewable energy superpower sometime in the next 50 years.
        In addition to immediate electricity, some means of storing energy at grid and annual scale is needed to eliminate fossil fuel burning at that future time.
        I am swayed by the hydrogen argument – no carbon is needed, but it has serious issues with efficiency, transmission and storage. If wind or solar energy that would otherwise be foregone is used, it could make sense, but I have reservations about the motives behind this.
        The amount of over-build of wind and solar necessary to make H2 production viable will render it un-necessary at a national scale. This suggests that it is a back-door move to make the “hydrogen economy” a reality. My analysis of EROI suggests that the preferential use of hydrogen may have the effect of kIlling civilisation by reducing its capacity to conduct essential activities. Too much resource would be devoted to H2 production and use.

      • My_Oath 3 years ago

        Its not an issue of political lack of foresight. The problem is a lack of foresight in by our financiers and investors.

        We habitually and arguably criminally ignore assets, projects and ideas in Australia – so much so that the proponents are forced to go offshore for capital. Then, as expected, the project turns out a winner and all the hand wringing about how its all been sold overseas starts.

        Instead of asking what the government is doing about it, ask yourself what you are doing about it. What Australian projects are you invested in? Where does your super fund invest your money?

  10. Tom 3 years ago

    The numbers don’t quite look right to me.

    Firstly, a “second Basslink” from Tassie to Vic – 300km, 500MW, said to cost $1.1 billion (but I bet if built it would cost closer to $1.5 billion).

    Now we’re talking about a cable 5X as long and 6X the capacity. I understand that economies of scale mean it probably wouldn’t cost $33 billion ($1.1B X 5 X 6), but $9.5 billion does sound a bit cheap.

    Secondly, 3GW of solar, even if it is single axis tracking, should only cost $2/watt. The Chillamurra solar farm, although small (and not fixed tilt or SAT), was reported to only have cost $1/watt. So that’s somewhere between $3 billion to $6 billion of generation infrastructure (and probably cheaper because of economies of scale) supported by $9.5 billion of transmission infrastructure.

    Something doesn’t add up.

  11. juxx0r 3 years ago

    Best laugh i’ve had all day. Cheers.

  12. Miles Harding 3 years ago

    None of these “solutions” are without their problems.

    I’d put a cable firmly in the ‘pie in the sea’ category and it will make for entertaining reading as to how they intend to ovecome the very substantial issues with such a long cable.

    We should ignore cables that cross the Straits of Gibraltar – these are only 25 km long.

    The best example is the current record holder, the NorNed cable, which is a 580km long +/-450KV DC (900KV) bipolar type. This cable transmits 700MW with losses of about 4.2%.

    The WA PITS plan realy pushes the envelope both 3 times the distance and 3 to 4 times the power, sugesting that multiple cables will be required to manage heat dissipation and losses over the distance, which are looking to be 20%.

    It’s still better than hydroogen, which would lose 50% to 75% of the source energy by the time it gets converted to some useful form at the receiving end.

  13. Richard 3 years ago

    What a stupid idea! Someone is going to make a pile out of this sucking in the gullible and starry eyed and they won’t be seen for dust. They probably own the land that it is proposed to be built on.
    There is plenty of sun in Indonesia and their electricity prices would be a fraction of ours. So you probably make ten times as much pushing the electrons into the Aussie grid.
    Geez people are gullible.

  14. Ken 3 years ago

    Report released today.
    116 pages of words.
    5 to 10 years away at the earliest.
    I would have to say I’m sceptical.


  15. Diana 3 years ago

    Media release from Minister is here, along with link to PDC’s pre-feasibility study: https://www.mediastatements.wa.gov.au/Pages/McGowan/2017/08/Exporting-Pilbara-sunlight-to-the-world.aspx

  16. Br 3 years ago

    It’s hard to believe it would be cheaper than simply installed in solar farms in Asia.

Comments are closed.

Get up to 3 quotes from pre-vetted solar (and battery) installers.