The world’s most ambitious renewable energy project to date is proposed Australia – ASEAN Power Relations. The project will combine the world’s largest solar power plant, largest battery and the longest underwater power cable. The 10 gigawatt (GW) solar farm will cover 30,000 acres in Australia’s sunny Northern Territory. That’s the equivalent of 9 million rooftop photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. The solar power plant will be paired with a 30 gigawatt-hour (GWh) battery storage facility to enable round-the-clock delivery of renewable energy. It’s not enough to build a solar power plant in the middle of nowhere if you can’t turn off the electricity. The project currently envisions an 800 kilometer high-voltage power line to deliver 3 GW of Darwin on the northern coast of Australia’s Northern Territory. From there, it will transfer to a 3,700 km 2.2 GW underwater power line to Singapore. Sun Cable, a Singapore-based company founded in 2018, is behind the proposed $ 16 billion project.
As an illustration, this undersea line will be five times longer than the longest in the world so far – the 720 km Norwegian-to-UK North Sea Link scheduled to come online in 2021. Storage facilities will be 155 times larger than 193 , 5 megawatts Australian. -hours (MWh) Hornsdale Power Reserve, currently the largest operational lithium-ion battery in the world. And it will also be 100 times larger than the largest utility-scale battery in the world, the 300 MWh sodium-sulfur battery at Japan’s Buzen Substation.
The Australia-ASEAN project is scheduled to start operating in late 2027. The project developers expect it to create up to 1,500 jobs during the construction phase, and up to 350 jobs during operation. Given the interest in this type of project, it is important to understand the challenges and final costs of transporting renewable energy over long distances. The ability to do this economically has important consequences from the Sahara Desert to the American Midwest to the Arctic.
Related: Oil Prices Soar High on Expectations for a New Vaccine Indeed, the world has tremendous renewable energy resources, but often these resources are found far from population centers. For example, the best wind resources in the US can be found in the stretches of Texas and Oklahoma, as well as throughout the sparsely populated central Midwest. Likewise, many of the world’s best solar resources can be found in sparsely populated desert areas.
US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has stated that the development of renewable power plants on a large scale will require additional transmission lines to overcome regional constraints.
In fact, there is tremendous interest in linking some of these rich renewable resources with population centers via transmission lines, but the costs are often high. These infrastructure projects are generally multibillion dollar projects that also require approval from regulators and landowners.
Obviously, the challenges will be significant. There is always a risk when building the biggest, and this project envisions doing it in three separate categories. That substantially increases the risk of failure. There are many challenges that need to be overcome.
For example, submarine cables usually cross shallow water. In this case, the cable must pass through a deep trench. That, combined with the length that will need to be traversed, will present an unprecedented challenge for ships trying to lay the cables. This is just one example of the type of challenges such megaprojects can face.
In order to estimate the cost of solar power generated by this system, we must make several assumptions. The first is the lifetime of the system. The general rule is that a solar PV system will last around 25 years. The system can still generate power beyond this timeframe, but a significant reduction in power output will occur during this time.
Second, the amount of power generated during that time must be estimated. The capacity factor represents the percentage of energy produced during a period (usually one year) divided by the installed capacity. As solar output varies throughout the day and year – and by location – the capacity factor for solar panels can vary from about 10% to 25%.
For example, if a 10 GW system could run at full output 24 hours a day, it could produce 24 x 365 x 10 = 87,600 GWh per year. Across Australia, the average capacity factor for large-scale PV systems is estimated at 21%. Given the scale and location of Sun Cable’s projects, it is not unreasonable to assume that they can reach a range over a 25% capacity factor.
In this case, over the life of the system, it will yield 87,600 GWh * 25 years * 25% capacity factor = 547,500 GWh power, or 547.5 terawatt-hours (TWh).
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But there are line downsides to consider. Although direct current is a more efficient way of transmitting power over long distances than alternating current, some of the transmitted power is lost as heat. For DC, the line losses depend on the line voltage and the distance over which power is transmitted. Most HVDC lines use a voltage between 100 kilovolts (kV) and 800 kV. Given the strength and distance traveled, the Australia-ASEAN Power Link will probably be at the top end of the scale.
Siemens has stated that for 2.5 GW of power transmitted over 800 km of overhead lines, the line loss at 800 kV HVDC is only 2.6%. Extrapolating that to the full length of the 4,500 km line would imply an overall power loss of 14.6% (assuming losses in underwater HVDC are comparable to those in overhead lines).
Thus, the overall power delivered can be estimated at 547.5 TWh * 85.4% = 467.6 TWh. Then the simple leveled electricity cost resulting from this project would be $ 16 billion divided by 467.6 TWh (which equates to 467.6 billion kilowatt-hours), or $ 0.034 / kWh.
That is an attractive price, but only provides a simple and modest estimate of the capital cost contribution to the project. This needs to be added to ongoing maintenance costs – some of which can be significant if submarine cables require repair – and financing costs. The available solar subsidies, which have also not been considered, could partially cover these costs.
By Robert Rapier
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