How Singapore Plans To Pipe Electricity From Australia

95% of Singapore's electricity comes from burning 
natural gas. They do not have many alternatives.   Not sure if you have heard, but Singapore is 
a small island. No room for sprawling solar   or wind farms. A few rooftop solar panels 
on residential buildings. That is about it. But what if you were to pipe in 
the electricity from overseas? The Australia-ASEAN Power Link is a mega-project   looking to bring renewable solar energy 
from Australia all the way to Singapore.   It is also referred to as the "Sun Cable", after 
the Singaporean company developing the project. In this video, I want to dive into 
how this company intends to bring   clean solar power all the way to the Lion City. As announced, the Sun Cable project 
proposes a ten gigawatt capacity   solar farm occupying 12,000 hectares 
in Australia's Northern Territory.   The solar panels would be prefabricated 
within the country and assembled on-site.

The generated electricity would first 
travel 500 miles (800 kilometers) to   the nearby city of Darwin, the largest in 
the area, and contribute to their renewable   energy goals. The rest would be exported 
to Singapore using an intercontinental   2,300 mile (3,700 kilometers) HVDC 
underwater power line. More on HVDC later. To meet overnight demand, a battery system 
near the solar farm has been proposed.   It would store excess power for after 
sunset. This farm, with the battery storage,   is estimated to cost about $7 
billion using current cost estimates. The project is still in the planning 
stages, so details are subject to change.   But that is what we know. And 
it still sounds super cool. But wait. How are we going to bring this electric 
power all the way from Australia to Singapore?   2,300 miles or 3,700 kilometers is almost the 
entire width of the continental United States!   Let us briefly talk about power transmission. Electric current can come in 
two forms: Alternating Current   (AC) and Direct Current (DC).

AC will flow in one 
direction for a period, and then reverse to the   other direction for the rest of the period. DC 
on the other hand, flows in one direction only. Most of the systems we use today are AC systems.   The power is generated, transmitted, and 
consumed in AC. There are reasons for this.   You might have heard about the AC-DC wars 
and that Tesla and Westinghouse defeated   Thomas Edison to have AC become the standard 
used today.

I think there is a movie about it. Setting aside dramatic Hollywood 
conflicts, the generally accepted   reason why AC "beat" DC is that AC power 
transmission systems are more economical. Power is often generated far away from where 
the consumer lives, so you have to transmit it   to them. But before you can do that, you use a 
transformer to first step up the voltage of the   electricity.

The higher the voltage, the lower 
the energy losses we get during transmission.   Once it gets to the consumer we 
use step down transformers to   dial down the voltage to a level 
where it can be practically used. AC transformers do all this more efficiently 
and affordably than equivalent DC equipment.   And that is why they dominate our systems today. There is a catch though and it has to do with 
long distance transmission.

High voltage AC   systems lose a lot of that efficiency the further 
away the power source is from the power consumer.   There are a number of reasons for this. 
But a big one is called the "skin effect". What does that mean? It involves your 
cables. DC flows evenly throughout the   entire width of your cable. Alright, fair enough. AC on the other hand, has a tendency to flow more 
densely at the surface of the cable and much less   so deeper beneath the surface. The result 
is increased resistance and thus power loss.   It is why you might frequently see multi-strand 
cables and coils in certain induction systems. High Voltage Direct Current systems were developed 
and widely adopted to deal with this shortcoming. While experiments in the space have existed 
since the 1880s, the first modern HVDC subsea   cable was implemented in 1954 in Sweden 
by the industrial multinational ABB. It linked the island of Gotland with the 
Swedish mainland, a span of about 90 km.   Since then, the technology has rapidly developed. How does it work? The main difference would 
be the inclusion of equipment to convert   AC power to DC power and vice 
versa: Converters and Inverters.

This equipment is expensive and complex, which 
adds to the overall initial cost. But in exchange,   we get substantially better economics when 
transmitting power across long distances. It is sort of interesting how 
the dynamics play out. Let us   imagine a cost versus distance 
graph charting HVDC and HVAC. The DC terminal cost is substantially 
higher than the AC terminal cost. Like I said, complex converters and inverters need 
to be purchased and integrated into the system. But the cost of the line rises faster 
with AC than DC the further out you get.   This is mostly due to the significantly faster 
rising energy losses of the line itself.

In fact, if you compare two 1,200 
mile or 2,000 kilometer AC and DC   lines with the same high voltage, you 
find that the losses for the AC line   are twice as high as the DC line even 
if it were to carry half the power. DC costs more than AC in short 
distances like as I said before.   But at the "breakeven distance", roughly about 
62 miles or 100 kilometers, DC overtakes AC. Assuming that electrical losses for HVDC 
cable are about 3% per 1,000 kilometers,   the Sun Cable's 3,200 kilometers is estimated to 
will have about 10% electrical loss in total. An   equivalent HVAC line is likely to have over 
twice that – a substantial disadvantage. Without HVDC, a lot of renewable energy sources 
like offshore wind or hydro would not be so   economically tenable. The Three Gorges Dam 
for instance uses three overhead HVDC lines   to transport electricity 600 miles or 1,000 
kilometers to Guangzhou and Changzhou. It is perfect for undersea infrastructure, where 
intermediate substations are not practical.   There exists over 6,000 miles or 
10,000 kilometers of subsea HVDC lines   connecting power sources and consumers. 
70% of those subsea cables are in Europe,   but there are a few notables around the world.

In fact, there is already one in Australia 
connecting the island of Tasmania to the   state of Victoria: Basslink. 230 
miles or 370 kilometers long,   it is, interestingly enough, owned by a 
company in Singapore. More on this one later. So we walked a bit through the technology.   Let us look at the challenges of actually 
implementing it across 2,300 miles of seabed. When laying subsea cables, 
you have two rules of thumb: One. You want to keep the overall length 
of the cable as short as possible,   because longer cables cost 
money to make and maintain. And two, you want to avoid big deep trenches and 
steep slopes. This is self explanatory. Sharks. Most existing subsea power cables have been 
laid in relatively shallow depths (under   0.6 miles or 1 kilometer) and on flat-bottomed 
seas with thick silty, sandy, pebbled sediments. Unfortunately that will not be the case here.   Australia is surrounded by 
steep slopes and deep water. As of this writing, the finalized route has not   yet been provided but we have a 
good idea of where it will go.

The most economical and technically 
practical route would first start   from Darwin and go across the Timor 
sea south of East Timor to Indonesia. Then, it would pass through Indonesia either 
between the islands of Bali and Lombok   (or Lombok and Sumbawa) and enter the Java sea. Then finally it runs up the Java sea until 
you get to Singapore at the Changi area. For the most part, the proposed route would 
be quite shallow, less than 600 feet or 200   meters deep. But a 700 mile (1,200 kilometer) long 
section south of East Timor at the Timor trough   would see waters over a mile 
deep. This is a major challenge. It has been done before. The SA.PE.I cable from 
Sardinia to the Italian mainland, the deepest   subsea power cable in the world, got to similar 
depths. But special attention would be required. For instance, the SA.PE.I's deepwater 
cables were made of aluminum rather   than the more traditional copper. Aluminum 
is cheaper and more plentiful than copper.   But it is not as good at conducting 
electricity – so that maybe is a wash.

But since aluminum cable is also lighter 
than copper, you can carry and lay more   of it from your Cable Laying Vessel. 
Running deep water ships is expensive   and time consuming so you do not want to 
have to do more of it than you need to. Back to the Sun Cable. For the shallow bits, the 
most significant factor to consider is potential   interference. The Java Sea and Singapore Strait 
are some of the busiest water ways in the world.   The Java sea already has a bunch of pipelines, 
fishing trawlers, and communication cables   cris-crossing it.

And the Singapore Strait has 
thousands of ships passing through each year. For these busy areas, engineers will likely 
have to trench or bury the cable some 2-5 feet   (0.6-1.5 meters) deep to protect the cable 
from being dredged up by fishing nets   or damaged by boat anchors and other dropped 
things. Such things can cause blackouts   from cable damage and trigger liability 
clauses in service operating agreements. Finally, a bigger problem than laying the 
cable is getting it in the first place.

The   HVDC cable manufacturing world is pretty niche, 
the product is complex, and the output is slow.   The Sun Cable as currently proposed uses 
two cables of 3,200 kilometers each.   More than the total annual output of all 
the HVDC cable manufacturers in Europe. So additional money and time (a span 
of 3-5 years) needs to be set aside   to build up capacity from multiple manufacturers   all over the world. Speaking of money … 
how are they going to pay for all this? The subsea cable portion of the entire 
Sun Cable project is projected to cost   about $5.6 billion USD before insurance and 
administrative expenses.

The majority of that,   $4.6 billion, goes to getting the cable itself. That is over 6x the cost of the 
aforementioned Australian HVDC cable Basslink,   which cost $670 million USD.   The Sun Cable installation costs alone would 
be greater than the entire Basslink project. When also taking into account 
the cost of the solar farm,   the whole thing is likely to run 
beyond the $10 billion USD mark. Seed funding for the privately-owned Sun Cable 
corporation has come from an unlikely pair of   Australian billionaires. One is the founder of 
Atlassian and the other former CEO of Fortescue   metals. But I don't think that they are rich 
enough to fund the whole thing themselves. What will likely need to happen is some sort of 
multi-decade service agreement between the company   and the entity purchasing the power. For 
instance, Basslink derives its cash flows   from a 25-year service agreement with the 
Tasmanian energy utility Hydro Tasmania.

That allowed them to raise private money 
to eventually do the project. Those private   investors would undoubtedly be attracted to the 
regular dividends coming from such a project. Side note. Basslink can offer a couple lessons 
that Sun Cable can learn. Less than ten years   after its 2006 commissioning, Basslink suffered 
a brutal outage. It took six months to repair   the cable amid roiling seas. Hydro Tasmania 
was pissed and took them to arbitration. The arbiter found Basslink to be at fault 
and in 2020 fined them $30 million USD.   Short of what Hydro had wanted, but it still is 
a disappointing outcome for Basslink investors. The whole kerfuffle was so bad that I think 
that cash shortages forced the company into   a technical default. This delayed it in 
fixing yet another 2-month outage in 2018. I hope the Sun Cable people can learn from 
those incidents and try to avoid those mistakes.   Considering how these big-name lowest-bid 
contracts tend to end up, it makes me wonder   about the feasibility of doing infrastructure like 
this using these public-private type partnerships. The megaproject's sheer size and immense 
cost make it likely that they break up the   thing into multiple chunks and milestones 
over many years.

But once fully deployed,   the Cable will provide up to 20% of Singapore's 
energy needs. That is great for them. But the opportunity spreads far beyond just 
Singapore. From 2015 to 2040, energy demand   from the Southeast Asian countries is estimated 
to expand 65%. Almost all of it from fossil   fuels unless otherwise. There’s ample demand for 
clean energy. Indonesia might sign on to receive   that electricity before Singapore. After all, 
the cable passes through their waters first. There is a lot to gain for Australia 
as well.

The country's current economy   is heavily dependent on mining, petroleum, and 
exports of platypuses. The Aussies have gotten   rich off of these vast reserves, but it does not 
help with the whole global climate change thing. Australia has more to offer than its carbon and 
wallabies. Its Northern Territory is larger than   Egypt but has less than 250,000 people as compared 
to Egypt's 103 million. It is also one of the most   solar irradiated areas in the world, offering 
tantalizing renewable energy possibilities. For Australia, the Sun Cable explores a 
new and exciting energy export paradigm.   It will help cement better relationships with 
the Southeast Asian countries. And it will   help wean the country off its uncomfortable 
dependence on certain exports to certain areas. According to Wikipedia, the project is scheduled 
to come online some time in 2027. 2027!   That year feels like something 
out of science fiction. But alas,   less than a decade away. I am looking forward to 
following its progress and seeing it come alive. Thanks for watching. And full credit 
to Asianometry viewer shazmosushi for   suggesting this topic.

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