November 20, 2019 / 6:27 AM / 22 days ago

Billionaires tip funds into ambitious Australia to Singapore solar supply project

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Two Australian billionaires have invested tens of millions of dollars to jumpstart a megaproject to supply solar power from northern Australia to Singapore via the world’s longest subsea high voltage cable, the project’s boss said on Wednesday.

Singapore’s Sun Cable, which is leading the roughly A$22 billion ($15 billion) project, raised the money from the private family fund of Atlassian (TEAM.O) co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes and mining magnate Andrew Forrest’s private company Squadron Energy.

Sun Cable plans to build a 10 gigawatt solar farm in Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory, a 22 gigawatt hour battery storage facility and a 4,500 km (2,800 miles) transmission network to Singapore. All three elements would be the biggest of their kind in the world.

The Australia Singapore Power Link would supply a fifth of Singapore’s power needs, helping to ease the island nation’s dependence on imported liquefied natural gas (LNG), according to Sun Cable’s web site.

Sun Cable Chief Executive David Griffin said the funds injected by Cannon-Brookes and Forrest, which amounted to less than A$50 million, would cover the costs of designing the project and obtaining regulatory and environmental approvals, ahead of seeking full financing.

Sun Cable hopes to secure financing for the whole project by late 2023, Griffin said.

“This is a massively exciting project with world-changing potential. We have the resources, the ingenuity and the drive to get it done — we just have to put it all together,” Cannon-Brookes said in a statement released by Sun Cable.

Cannon-Brookes has previously acknowledged the plan sounds “insane”, but is building a track record for backing ambitious renewable energy projects.

In 2016 he challenged Tesla Inc’s (TSLA.O) Elon Musk via Twitter to build the world’s biggest battery in 100 days in Australia to help prevent blackouts. The bet was dismissed as outrageous at the time, but Tesla built the battery on time and the project has made a profit and helped stabilize the grid.

Griffin said the biggest challenge for Sun Cable will be how to optimize the various parts of what will be “a very long machine”.

“It’s a really complex system that we’re designing. It’s not just a big solar farm, a big energy storage project, or a long transmission line. It all has to stitch together,” he told Reuters.

The Northern Territory government in July gave the Australia Singapore Power Link major project status, which helps smooth the approvals process for projects deemed significant to the jurisdiction.

($1 = 1.4669 Australian dollars)

Reporting by Sonali Paul; editing by Jane Wardell

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