World's biggest solar farm in the NT to export energy to Singapore

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A remote part of the Northern Territory is set to become the world’s biggest solar farm – and transmit power to Singapore through the world’s longest undersea cable.

Australian renewable energy company Sun Cable has ambitions to cover 12,000 hectares of land near the small town of Elliott with solar panels.

Engineering group Bechtel is overseeing construction and project management. 

Construction is set to begin in 2024 and from 2026 could see Darwin become Australia’s first capital city to be fully powered by solar energy.

By the end of 2028, the project will provide Singapore with 15 per cent of its energy needs as part of the $30billion Australia-Asia PowerLink project that will transfer solar energy to Asia via overhead powerlines and undersea cables.

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New technology will transport power 4,200km from Darwin to Singapore through the world’s longest undersea high voltage direct current cables.

This will also transfer solar energy between two utility-scale batteries.

The solar farm at Powell Creek, south of Elliott, would be the world’s biggest solar farm if it were operational now. 

Nonetheless, in just five years the complex in the NT’s Barkly Region – between the tropical Top End and the red centre of Alice Springs – could start generating energy exports worth $2billion a year and $8billion of worth of investment directly into Australia.   

Construction is expected to create 1,500 jobs with 350 continuing jobs once it was operational. 

Details of this project, funded by billionaire entrepreneurs Andrew Forrest and Mike Cannon-Brookes, are being announced as Prime Minister Scott Morrison prepares to head to Glasgow for the Cop26 global climate change conference.

Australia is under pressure to formally adopt a net zero by 2050 climate change target to bring it into line with the US, Japan, South Korea and the UK.

Sun Cable chief executive David Griffin said the solar farm would hasten Australia’s transition to renewable energy.

‘This project is designed to significantly accelerate the carbon zero ambitions of the region,’ he said.

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Northern Territory Minister for Renewables and Energy Eva Lawler promised the solar farm would provide affordable power.

‘Territorians can look forward to affordable energy that’s reliable and renewable by the end of the decade,’ she said. 

Tasmania has been 100 per cent powered by renewable energy since late 2020, but this includes hydroelectricity, along with wind energy.

While Hobart is the first Australian capital city to be fully renewable energy powered, Darwin would be the first to be fully powered by solar energy.

Canberra is renewable energy powered but it still draws coal-fired energy from outside the Australian Capital Territory.

The ACT offsets this by feeding solar power back into the National Energy Market grid, effectively making it net zero on carbon emissions.

The Northern Territory has since the late 1980s been powered by natural gas, since the completion of the Amadeus pipeline near Alice Springs in central Australia to Darwin.

Tasmania and the Northern Territory have both managed without coal-fired power stations.

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Dr Saul Griffith, the founder of the Rewiring Australia energy think tank, estimated the average Australian household could save $5,000 on energy costs by 2030 if they replaced their petrol powered car with an electric vehicle and installed solar panels on their house.

‘The future looks like vastly cheaper energy, better homes and nicer cars,’ he said.

‘No nation is better placed to seize this opportunity for cheaper energy, self-reliance and cleaner air than Australia.

‘Australians already lead the world in harvesting solar electricity. Now we have the technology available to use it.’

Dr Griffith has also advised US President Joe Biden’s administration on renewable energy electrification.

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