Australia-ASEAN Power Link: Exporting Solar Energy to Singapore
29 Aug 2020
Australia gets enough sunshine to cover its energy needs 10,000 times, according to the government agency Geoscience Australia. The Australia-ASEAN Power Link (AAPL) is an ambitious project to export this resource, using a massive submarine cable to deliver solar power to Singapore.
Given the scale of the project and its engineering complexity, the Australia-ASEAN Power Link has an estimated cost of $22 billion. The project is also known as the Australia-Singapore Power Link, and is expected to start operating in 2027. Contrary to Australia, Singapore is a small city-state with frequent cloudy weather, and these conditions limit the usefulness of solar panels.
Singapore is 10,661 times smaller than Australia, but its economy is only four times smaller. According to 2019 statistics from the Energy Market Authority, Singapore has 13,667 MW of installed capacity, and natural gas provides 95% of electricity. By importing solar power from Australia, Singapore could cover around 20% of its electricity needs, reducing both energy costs and carbon emissions. The AAPL was endorsed by the Australian government in July 2020, and has received funding from two billionaires, Mike Cannon-Brookes and Andrew Forrest.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been planning a regional power grid for several years, and the Australia-ASEAN Power Link is a first step in that direction. While the AAPL will only deliver power to Singapore at first, it could eventually be used for other countries like Indonesia and Malaysia.
How Does the Australia-ASEAN Power Link Work?
The basic principle behind the AAPL is simple: installing a very large solar farm in the Northern Territory, and sending the power to Singapore with a submarine cable. However, this project brings major investments and engineering challenges.
The AAPL will use a 10,000-megawatt solar farm near the town of Tennant Creek, which is located 990 km from Darwin. This is one of the sunniest regions of Australia, and it has been chosen to maximise the electricity output of solar panels. Since you need around 3,000 solar panels for one megawatt, this project will require around 30 million individual panels. When completed, this project will break three records globally: the largest solar farm, the largest battery, and the largest submarine power line.
To provide power at all times, the AAPL will combine the 10 GW solar farm with a 30 GWh battery. To visualize the size of this battery, consider the following figures:
- The AAPL battery will be over 230 times larger than the Tesla big battery in South Australia, which has a storage capacity of 129 MWh.
- One Australian home consumes 15,000 kWh per year, on average. When fully charged, the AAPL battery will hold the annual electricity consumption of 2,000 homes.
The transmission line used by the AAPL will have a total length of 4,500 km. There will be an 800-km overhead power line between the project site and Darwin, and then a 3,700 km submarine cable between Darwin and Singapore. The project will use high-voltage direct-current transmission (HVDC). For comparison, the North Sea Link between Norway and the UK has a total length of 750 km, six times smaller than the AAPL.
While the AAPL will have an installed capacity of 10 GW, the transmission line will only be designed for 3 GW. All generation that is not transmitted during the day will be stored in the battery systems, to continue supplying power to Singapore at night. Designing the submarine cable is a key challenge: it must have the physical toughness for exposure to seawater at high pressure, but not so bulky that it breaks apart under its own weight. Also, the optimal underwater route between Darwin and Singapore must be mapped precisely with sonar.
Exporting solar power through the AAPL would be a major economic shift for Australia, which has been a major exporter of coal and natural gas. The concept could then be replicated with other countries in Southeast Asia, or in other parts of the world. Solar energy is a very abundant resource in Australia, and other countries in the region could purchase it by deploying submarine transmission lines.