The Desert Tech solar project is a non-profit organization as a platform that was initiated by the Club of Rome. Initially, potential investors such as Siemens, RWE, Allianz, Münchner Rück were involved, but have now jumped off the project. The aim of Desert Tech was to build a gigantic belt of solar systems in the Sahel and Sahara as the project of the century, which should supply Europe and Africa with solar power. But nothing has come of it so far. On the one hand, economic and technological reasons apparently spoke against Desert Tech, then also the pressure of the oil, gas and coal industries and, above all, as a US entrepreneur told me, political reasons, namely political stability. On the one hand, Islamism is rampant in the desert tech region (Sahara / Sahel zone) – my thesis: If the trends continue, there will be 2 Islamist belts in Africa: Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman empire with the Muslim Brotherhood in the MENA region and a second Islamist belt from Nigeria via the Sahel zone to Somalia which will be controlled by IS, Boko Haram and Al Shabab. In the best case, many companies fear a repetition of the experiences of the oil industry in the Arab states: They build the solar parks for the Africans, but these could then be expropriated or nationalized, as well as there might be a solar OPEC. Would the oil wars in the Greater Middle East be followed by solar wars in Africa and would the peace movement then have to replace its slogan “No Blood for Oil” with “No Blood for Sun”?
While Desert Tech seems to have failed on the part of western, especially European and German companies, Anglo-Saxon entrepreneurs are now taking action in the form of their own Suncable project, which has both Australian and US interested parties, above all Elon Musk, on board. A gigantic solar park is to be built in the Autralian outback between Ayers Rock and Darwin, which by far exceeds the dimensions of Desert Tech and, in addition to Australia, is to supply Singapore, Southeast Asia and Asia with solar power via underwater cables: The FAZ reported on October 26, 2020:
Solar power for Asia from Australia’s desert
Billionaires want to build the largest solar system in the world in the “outback”. The electricity will then be delivered to Singapore. Now the government is also participating in the plan, which is reminiscent of the failed Desertec project.
Australia’s investment-friendly billionaires are venturing into another area: After buying ore deposits, cattle farms or pharmaceutical companies, they are now financing the world’s largest private solar energy factory. For around 22 billion Australian dollars (13.3 billion euros), a plant is being built in the north of the fifth continent that will later supply the South East Asian city-state of Singapore, some 4,000 kilometers away.
The plan called Suncable is reminiscent of the failed Sahara Desertec project, which was supposed to supply Germany with electricity. The then Siemens boss Peter Löscher once described it as the “Apollo project of the 21st century”. But this Apollo rocket never ignited. Years later, however, there is more and more evidence for the Australians’ plans.
The solar farm “down-under” should have at least 10 gigawatts of capacity – if it were to produce around 40,000 gigawatt hours of electricity, this could be enough to supply 10 million households. For comparison: At the beginning Desertec, in which Siemens, Eon, Deutsche Bank, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Reconstruction Loan Corporation (KfW) were involved, wanted to deliver one million gigawatt hours.
However, several plants are now to be built in Australia: the “Asian Renewable Energy Hub” (AREH) in the vast, Western Australian ore region of Pilbara could also supply Indonesia. The hybrid system will generate electricity from the sun and wind. The Western Australian government supports the plan that came up in 2014. In the long term, the plant should have a capacity of 26 gigawatts and above all support domestic hydrogen production.
The longest underwater power cable in the world
Records will be easy to come by here: If the system runs according to plan and delivers to Singapore, it is – as things stand today – not only the largest in the world. It also uses the world’s longest underwater power cable, at 3,700 kilometers from Darwin to Singapore. The Guardian Geomatics research vessel will be producing maps for its construction by the end of March next year. Suncable is also planning to build the world’s largest battery in Darwin with a planned 100 megawatts.
Here, too, Tesla and Musk are likely to come back into play after their appearance in South Australia and another in Queensland. Last week, Taylor announced an order to build a large Tesla battery in Sydney. From the solar factory to the state capital Darwin another 800 kilometers have to be bridged with an overhead line through the “outback”. More than one thousand five hundred people will be used to build the plant, around twelve thousand will be used by suppliers, and Suncable will probably need a good 300 for its subsequent operation.
Billionaires scourge the government
The Singapore financial center, strongly threatened by climate change, could cover around a fifth of its electricity consumption thanks to the sun over Australia. Australia plans to sell around two thirds of the electricity it produces to the Singaporeans. A tricky business, because Canberra is currently grappling with the fact that it is supplying so much natural gas to North Asia through long-term contracts that energy prices in their own country are considered far too high and thus politically dangerous.
The Australian government is pushing the project under pressure from climate activists and billionaires – Cannon-Brookes castigated Morrison’s and Taylor’s energy policy as a “strategy without a goal” – now. Taylor just said that Australia would continue to be the “world’s leading exporter of energy”.
The targeted bulk buyer Singapore signed a letter of intent on Monday to cooperate with Australia on “green energy”. Taylor said at the digital signing, “Our vision is to be the world leader in low-emission technical solutions.” Suncable is not mentioned, but hydrogen and energy trading are mentioned. The Australians have concluded similar agreements with Japan, South Korea and Germany. The Singapore energy authority says that the planners have been met. As is so often the case in the city-state, people don’t talk about unlaid eggs, but wait until the frame is in place. The authorities said that one would “pay attention to costs and risks”. The island’s largest independent electricity supplier, Iswitch, has shown initial interest as a potential customer.
Suncable hopes that Indonesia will also appear as a customer of the Australian-ASEAN Power Link (AAPL) in the long term, as planned for the plant in Western Australia. The cable to Singapore runs along the dramatically underserved state anyway. Suncable is already talking about generating around 2 billion Australian dollars in export value a year.
“There is always doubt the first time something is touched, whether it was the first telephone line across the Atlantic or an undersea cable that supplies renewable energy from Australia to Singapore,” says Kane Thornton, head of the Clean Energy Council in Australia . “But if some of Australia’s most successful business people decide the project is worth investing, it might be worth paying attention.””
While Desert Tech was largely prevented due to the political instability in the Sahel and Sahara zones as a result of the strengthening of Islamism, Sun Cable has more favorable conditions, since at worst the increasing Sino-American conflict could play a role for the sexurity of the undersea cables and maybe Islamism in Indonesiaand Malaysia, but that seems unlikely and not comparable in size and in tensity of Islamism in Africa, but rather unlikely, so the main obstacles could be the Australian government’s energy policy, the oil, gas and coal lobby, and perhaps technological and financial difficulties as well. It therefore remains to be seen whether Suncable will be more successful than the failed German-European Deserttech.