Powering Singapore with Australian sunlight

Solar panels near Sydney. Photo: Jason Wong

In the Australian outback, the world’s largest solar farm is in the works – and it is set to power Singapore from 4,000km away.

By Maegan Liew

Ambitious plans to increase Singapore’s renewable energy imports are unfolding 4,000km away from the island state, near Tennant Creek, a small outback town in Australia. 

A 15,000-hectare solar park in Australia’s Northern Territory will, upon completion in 2027, meet 20% of Singapore’s energy needs. The Sun Cable solar farm will be the largest in the world, equipped with 10-gigawatt (GW) capacity solar panels and battery storage that enables a year-round, uninterrupted power supply.

Construction of the solar park is expected to begin in 2023 with development costs estimated at A$20 billion (USD$14 billion).

Sun Cable will provide greater resilience in Singapore’s electricity supply

While the park will also supply electricity to Darwin, the capital of Australia’s Northern Territory, the majority of its output would be exported to Singapore. With a well-regulated electricity market that currently relies on liquefied natural gas (LNG), the Singapore energy market is ripe for competition from renewables.  

A decade from now, up to a fifth of Singapore’s electrical supply would be transmitted via a 3,800km underwater link – a feat made possible by a High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) cable passing through the Indonesian archipelago to Singapore.

A solar farm in Arizona.
Photo: Kevin Dooley

Reliant on imported LNG for 95% of its electricity, Singapore’s energy market is vulnerable to fluctuations in global oil and gas prices. By tapping into solar power to meet the country’s electricity needs, Singapore can enhance the resilience of its energy supply.

The move to substitute the costly LNG with solar power will also benefit the Republic economically. By 2025, solar energy is expected to become the cheapest source of electricity, softening Singapore’s energy bill.

Despite being in its early stages, the project has already garnered support and attention in Australia 

While the project is still in the embryonic stages, with environmental approval applications still underway, Australia’s Northern Territory government has already expressed support for the Sun Cable development.

Australian billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes, co-founder of collaboration software firm Atlassian and a proponent of Australia’s move away from fossil fuels, has also indicated an interest to invest in the project. 

The solar park’s development promises to provide thousands of jobs in the Australian manufacturing and construction sectors.  

Tennant Creek airport near the proposed site of the 15,000-hectare solar park.
Photo: Tony Bowden

The rise of renewable energy exports can be a game-changer in Singapore’s green efforts

The Singapore government is committed to achieving its pledge to reduce its emissions intensity by 36%  (from 2005 levels) by 2030, as stipulated under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Between 2000 and 2014, Singapore’s emissions intensity dropped by 37%. The country’s move from the early 2000s to switch from fuel oil to natural gas for electricity generation has been a crucial factor behind the decline in emissions intensity.

However, Singapore faces limitations to achieving further emissions reductions through fuel switch. Natural gas already makes up 95% of the country’s fuel mix today. To continue to shrink its emissions intensity, the city-state must embrace renewable energy sources.

But for the resource-constrained island nation, renewable energy options are limited.

In sunny Singapore, land constraints pose an obstacle to the adoption of solar energy. It provides a mere 2% of the island’s electricity today. Through efforts to increase solar deployment via solar panel installations on rooftops and on water surfaces, renewable energy sources could soon provide up to 8% of the city state’s peak electricity demand.

By tapping on Australian sunlight and renewable energy exports and increasing green energy imports, Singapore make big strides towards its emissions reduction target, and a green, sustainable future.