Crazy Energy Ideas? Oz Is the Place

By way of prelude to an even crazier scheme, there’s a crazy scheme inland from Port Hedland in the north of Western Australia. It’s called the Asian Renewable Energy Hub. Leave reality behind. Imagine wind turbines and solar panels covering 6,500 square kms. A desalination plant to produce vast quantities of pure water. Industrial scale electrolysers, supplemented with plants to turn hydrogen into ammonia for safer shipping. And, voila! Magically, affordable green power delivered to foreign shores. And pigs might fly.

The project has metamorphosed since its beginning. It’s got bigger and quite different. It started as 5 gigawatt (GW) project designed to deliver wind and solar power by undersea cable to Indonesia. Now it’s a 26 GW project designed to produce ammonia from green hydrogen for export. It’s gone from the untenable to the unbelievable, you might say. Can’t wait for the next iteration. There will be one. Probably insolvency. Because dreaming things up doesn’t make them so.

Wherever you look now in Western countries there are mind-blowing projects on drawing boards. Utopian plans to green the world, to become world leaders, to save the planet; all creating jobs galore. Governments have their messy fingers in them all, with taxpayer money in their saddlebags to reward corporate high-flyers and billionaires whose delusions of green grandeur would in past times have had them institutionalised. These days they don’t stand out. All of the great and good have been captured by the climate cult. Apropos the Cheshire Cat’s observation, “we’re all mad here.”

“Imagination is the only weapon in the war with reality.”

I’d like to feel I’m exaggerating for effect. Sadly, I don’t think so. Which brings me to a second scheme; the even crazier one, to which I referred above. This one is called the Australia-Asia Power Link project from the onomatopoeically-named Sun Cable Company. This indeed is an awe-inspiring visionary scheme, far more ethereal than anything before it; in fact, beyond anything yet dreamt up in the whole wide world. Truly, we Australians are now leading the way down the rabbit hole to our own Wonderland. Hold onto your hats.

What we have here is a project to supply solar-powered electricity to Singapore; apparently, 15 percent of Singapore’s needs 24x7 and, presumably, at a competitive price. I assure you I am not about to make anything up. Have a look at the company’s site, if, understandably, you don’t believe me.

The project, on paper, is situated deep in the Outback in the Northern Territory, about 200 kms north of Tennant Creek (pop. ≈3000) and 800 kms south of Darwin. Envisaged, surely only possible in fevered minds, is the biggest solar array in the world covering 12,000 hectares, generating 3.2 GW of electricity. The biggest battery in the world by far (in Darwin) storing between 36 and 42 GWh of power. The longest continuous submarine cable in the world by far, measuring 4,200 kms which, in turn, joins the 800 km cable between the project site and Darwin. It’s described as a A$30+ billion project. A joke. Multiply that by 10, I’d say, and still run out of money with no completion in sight. Imagine you’re in an Australian pub explaining it. “Pull the other one, mate.” It simply wouldn’t pass the pub test.

Take the battery. The biggest one I could find in the world was the Moss Landing Energy Storage Facility in California; claiming to store 1.6 GWh. The Sun Cable battery is about 25 times the size. And it needs to be. Sunshine in Tennant Creek averages about 11 hours a day. That’s a lot. New York averages less than 7 hours. Still, 11 hours leaves 13 hours to fill. Do the sums. Power required 3.2 GW for 13 hours equals 42 GWh. Phew! Just made it. Mind you, the minimum monthly daily sunshine in Tennant Creek is less than 10 hours. Oops! Need a bigger battery.

Take the cable. According to the European Subsea Cables Association:

The NorNed cable between Norway and the Netherlands [at 580km] is the longest submarine power cable in the world… with a capacity of 700MW. However, the very latest cable technology has the potential capability of reaching up to 1,500km.

So they say. What do they know? They ain’t seen nothing yet. Sun Cable is going to build a cable carrying 3.2 GW across the bottom of 4,200 km of deep sea; and they’ve worked out how to lay it and repair it too. Yep!

"Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

Unsurprisingly, Sun Cable was placed in voluntary administration on January 11. The CEO and founder is still pleading its case. The Northern Territory government remains jejunely optimistic. And the Commonwealth government in the guise of Chris Bowen, federal Minister for Climate Change and Energy, remains upbeat; seeming to think it’s just a matter of “corporate restructuring.” Really? Dumb thy name is climate-change government ministers.

Reportedly, the principal backers, mining billionaire Andrew (Twiggy) Forest of Fortescue Metals and tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes of software company Atlassian, fell out; having different views on funding, among other things. Funding, an issue? I wonder why. Surely investment banks would be lining up to pour billions into this moolah-sucking chimera.

To sum up. A pie-in-the-sky-project has bit the dust. Don’t think for a moment that anything will be learnt. Not in this generation. I saw some press speculation that Twiggy might buy it out and convert it to making (hypothetical) green hydrogen, of which he is especially fond. Maybe. That’s pie-in-the-sky too but at least it avoids the need to smash world records on laying submarine cable and installing humongous batteries. Methinks, in desperation, where and when will this madness ever end?

Diary of an Acclimatised Beauty: Mad Hatting

I’m back in Old Blighty where we seem to want to party like it’s 1999. Judith (mummy) asked me to come back because she’s afraid of the stupid new Covid variant—of which there are three cases and no deaths. So I appeased her, but truth be told, I’d had enough of Silicon Valley and their oppressive mask-wearing. Plus Californians are living in abject fear because their state is going to hell in a handbasket. And they’re in full denial over Florida’s bragging rights. They’ve thrown a wobbly, but if lockdown really happens I’m headed straight back to Lyford Cay. It won’t be another spate of take-away curries and skulking off to underground parties from my childhood home.

When I arrived I found Daddy sadly away, so I let myself be dragged to a Mad Hatter Party. Rather early on I got separated from my friends, and found myself recognised as ‘the bug hostess.’ I guess I should be flattered but sometimes even talking about it gets me rather queasy. I took a big gulp of my ‘million dollar cocktail’ and tried to change the subject. Now outed as an eco-warrior, I was being asked about Bill Gates’ plan to blacken the sky. Like I know? ’He’s not really a client of mine,’ I said to a girl with a Viking ship on her head, and anyway why do I have to be responsible for him?

"Some say, to survive it, you need to be as mad as a hatter. Which, luckily, I am."

‘But you do know him…’ She pressed.

‘I don’t !’ I insisted. ‘I mean…he comes to the WEF and sure—I’ve met him but…’

‘TELL !’ She squealed, ‘Did you go to his daughter’s wedding?’ Seriously? This was getting nuts. I almost wanted to tell her who my real client was and I excused myself under the guise of needing the loo. Moments later I was bombarded again. This time she had a friend with her and it was rapid-fire from the two of them --

But he wants to obscure the sun, right?

Why does he own more farmland than anyone else in the States?

Why does he want to vaccinate all of Africa?

What about the fake meat—does it really grow in a lab?

Are you dating him—?

‘Excuse me.’ I said, this time making no excuse and getting far away from them. It seemed they knew more about Mr Gates than I did and I just didn’t want to be talking about my job when it wasn’t my job. And certainly not about a client that wasn’t my client. How childish they were! I pushed through until I found a quiet place to make a call.

‘Yes, Jennifer.’ Daddy answered. ‘How’s mummy?’

‘Dunno exactly. I’m at a Mad Hatter party.

‘How mad exactly?’ he asked.

‘Reasonably so… they seem to think that just because I care about the planet and attend the World Economic Forum in Davos that I personally know every big climate enthusiast, including Bill Gates.’

‘Well don’t you?’


‘It’s a fair question, poppet.’

‘Not at a party it isn’t.’

‘Ah. Only green during bankers hours are we? Sorry, that was unkind. How was California?’

‘I was in Northern California… I flew in with my client. But I wanted to ask what you know about Bill Gates and shooting calcium into the atmosphere to block the sun.’

He thought for a moment. ‘Is it calcium now? Originally it was sulphur. Either way it’s reason for concern.’

‘Why exactly?’ I asked, not wanting to face this party uninformed. 

‘Think, Jennifer. It’s the whole atmosphere we’re talking about. There are still pieces of the very first atom bomb in every corner of the atmosphere… I think you call it the ecosphere, but don’t you imagine we’d have done something to remove them if we could? Add to that nothing they say rings true, it’s more double-speak than even your green-science allows.’

‘But what if…?’

‘If what? If they’re right? Einstein was right—the atom bomb worked as intended. But would we sign up for that a second time? Not likely. And to what end? Most of Europe’s gone fascist again anyway. Sweetheart, I’m surprised at you. And to solve what problem exactly? The possibility of lowering the temperature of a planet by two degrees? It’s not going to happen. Even they admit it could make things worse than having done nothing.’

‘Worse isn’t good.’ I said. Ugh.

Bear in mind it was not that many years ago you were begging me to buy land on the equator because your science reader told you we were headed toward an ice age.’

‘Daddy— I was a kid!’

‘Yes a kid quoting science. And now without any additional proof, you are convinced of the polar opposite. And likely part of the team who also—without much more knowledge or education, will install the deciders. Why do you think they brought in Prince Charles instead of MIT?’

Did somebody mention Prince Charles?

Double ugh. Daddy was right about that. Neither me, nor my client, nor Bill Gates nor Klaus Schwab, nor Prince Charles for that matter, had any science or engineering cred. This was embarrassing. He was right calling them space cowboys and I felt like an idiot.

With the sun rising over this party our host came round with sausage rolls and Alka-Seltzer. I watched the reaction of the fizzy tabs in water. Calcium bicarbonate—stable until plunked into the water. The dramatic change made me shiver because SCoPEx -- the Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment at Harvard -- had argued that calcium was stable… and the ideal compound to be jettisoned into space.

I realised too, I’d missed the obvious. They just want to be the ones in charge. They want to tinker and manipulate because when you’re playing chess games with God, you can afford the really big toys. This wasn’t what I’d signed up for. This wasn’t about the planet. I looked round and remembered the Mad Hatter’s words to Alice: ‘People who don't think shouldn’t talk."

Make sure of it Alice, make very sure.