A multi-billion dollar plan to supply electricity to Singapore from a giant solar farm in the Northern Territory has cleared a key regulatory hurdle after winning support from the Indonesian government for a subsea cable route through the archipelago.
The Sun Cable project, backed by billionaires Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest and Mike Cannon-Brookes and now expected to cost more than $30bn, also announced it was expanding its proposal by up to 40%, lifting its potential capacity from 14 gigawatts to between 17 and 20 gigawatts.
It said the solar farm, planned for the Newcastle Waters cattle station about 750km south of Darwin, would be backed by between 36 and 42 gigawatt-hours of storage from the world’s largest battery.
The company said in a statement that Indonesia’s coordinating minister for maritime affairs and investment, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, had confirmed his government had recommended the route of the transmission cables through Indonesian waters and granted a subsea survey permit.
Sun Cable’s chief executive, David Griffin, said Indonesian support was a significant milestone that brought the company closer to generating and transmitting “affordable, dispatchable renewable energy to Darwin and Singapore”.
“We are developing the technology that integrates solar, storage and high voltage direct current transmission technologies to meet the large-scale demand for renewable energy,” he said. “We want this world-leading project to create a step-change in the Indo-Pacific’s capability to achieve net zero ambitions and economic growth sustained by renewable energy.”
The company said the project would be capable of supplying up to 15% of Singapore’s electricity needs, starting from 2028, via the “world’s largest renewable energy transmission network”. It would create 350 ongoing and more than construction 1,500 jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8.6m tonnes a year, it said.
Cannon-Brookes said the announcement was “a big step towards realising our potential of becoming one of the world’s largest energy exporters”.
“Australia can become a renewable energy superpower. We can and should tap into our solar resources that could power the world five times over,” he said.
The announcement coincided with EnergyAustralia telling workers at the Mount Piper coal-fired power plant it would close by 2040, two years earlier than scheduled, as the company committed to exit coal power by that date. Analysts and climate activists said 2040 was too late, citing a United Nations call based on scientific evidence that developing companies needed to stop burning coal by 2030.
The treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, planned to tell business leaders on Friday that Australia had a lot to lose if others believed it was not transitioning to a clean economy along with the rest of the world.
Making the case for Australia adopting a net zero target by 2050, Frydenberg said trillions of dollars were being mobilised globally in support of the transition, and 129 countries had already set the mid-century goal.
It comes amid ongoing debate within the Morrison government over what new commitments, if any, it would make before Cop26, a major climate conference in Glasgow in November. Some Nationals MPs oppose Australia making any new commitments.
The conference hosts, Britain, and the US and European Union are focused on extracting greater commitments to reduce emissions this decade. All G7 members have substantially lifted their 2030 emissions reduction commitments over the past year.
Jonathan Pershing, deputy to the US presidential climate envoy, John Kerry, last month told Guardian Australia that Australia’s targets were “not sufficient” and the country should be considering a 50% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 given the urgency of the threat outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Several European representatives – including on Friday Italy’s top diplomat in Canberra – have made similar arguments.
The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, this week told the UN general assembly China would stop paying for new coal-fired power projects abroad – a step that analysts said could significantly limit the expansion of the fossil fuel in the developing world. China has made no new commitment on domestic emissions reductions since Xi pledged a year ago that it would reach net zero emissions no later than 2060.