Build it and they will come

They dream big in Western Australia. Dreams don’t get much bigger than the Asian Renewable Energy Hub, a proposed 15,000MW wind and solar energy generation project to be located across 6,500 square kilometres in the remote Pilbara region.

The project has just been granted approval by the WA Environment Protection Authority, clearing the way to start the project, although construction isn’t due to start until 2025.

That might have something to do with finding customers willing to take their electricity. The Pilbara is a long way from any major customer loads. The biggest local candidate may be the nearby resources projects, who have been “allocated” 3,000MW of the Hub’s potential supply.

The rest is targeted at selling into Asian economies to the north via giant undersea cables. That’s not cheap. Large under sea transmission can cost $2million to $3million per kilometre, meaning a 3,000 kilometre link to Singapore could cost $6 to $9 billion. The question is, could the Singaporean utilities get their renewables from somewhere a lot cheaper and closer?

The AREH web site makes some pretty bold claims, including that the combination of ¬†wind and solar on site produces “firm” renewables, because the wind blows at night and the sun shines during the day, making them “perfectly complementary”.

That’s some claim, given the major challenge with running renewable generation at scale is the stochastic nature of wind speeds and the fact that even the sunniest solar farms in the world still get the occasional clouds.

Recent weather records from the Bureau of Meteorology don’t really support this bold claim either, with virtually no wind most recent evenings (after the sun has set) and strong winds during the day. The AREH team use an annual average of wind and solar forecast output to produce their convenient chart. If only we could average out all renewable generation.

This latest dream factory is being promoted by a lot of private capital: Intercontinental Energy, CWP Energy Asia and Pathway Investments. The project has the look and feel of a big idea waiting for a big government to throw some big money at it. We’ll see if the wait pays off.