Atlassian boss Mike Cannon-Brookes is funding the world’s largest solar farm here to sell energy to Asia via a cable – and even he admits it sounds ‘batshit insane’

Could the sun be about to finally rise on Australia’s solar future? (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
  • Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes has revealed he will personally be investing in SunCable, an ambitious solar project that when completed will boast the largest solar farm in the world – spanning 7,500 football fields – according to the AFR.
  • Built in the middle of the Northern Territory, it will transport the power generated along an underwater cable to Singapore, where it will supply as much as a fifth of the city’s energy needs by 2030.
  • Cannon-Brookes told the AFR that while the project sounds “completely batshit insane”, it makes good business sense given the strength of the Australian sun and the country’s proximity to Asia, a region without the space or resources to build its own large-scale renewable projects.

Even one of its biggest backers admits the SunCable project sounds “completely batshit insane” when you spell it out.

First, you build a solar farm on a scale the world has never seen with a battery system to match in Australia’s dusty Northern Territory. Then you run a 3800-kilometre cable underwater to keep the lights on in Singapore.

But the “engineering all checks out”, Australian billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes has claimed to the Australian Financial Review (AFR), announcing his intention to personally invest a chunk of his $12.3 billion fortune into the ambitious nation-building project.

“I’m backing it, we’re going to make it work, I’m going to build a wire,” he told the AFR.

The $25 billion project is expected to take around eight years to complete and will generate more than 20 gigawatts. Solar panels will span 15,000 hectares or around 7,500 football fields next to the Tennant Creek — a tiny town smack bang in the middle of the Northern Territory, and use Tesla batteries for storage.

“Elon [Musk] assures me that his batteries will work at 50 degrees centigrade, which is what they need to do to work in Tennant Creek,” Cannon-Brookes said.

The SunCable project will move solar from Tennant Creek to Singapore (Google Maps)

From there a cable will run alongside the already established railway line, connecting Darwin and Alice Springs before plunging underwater towards Singapore, where it is hoped to provide as much as a fifth of the entire city’s supply.

The project is expected to contribute $800 million to the Northern Territory’s economy each year, helping alleviate the pressure to turn to fracking, Cannon-Brookes said.

While his exact investment is yet to be disclosed, it’s the latest example of Cannon-Brookes putting his money where his mouth is on renewable energy and climate action. Just this week he announced Atlassian would be 100% renewable by 2020 and wholly carbon neutral by 2050.

With the Australian government lacking any “credible climate or energy policy”, he said it was now left to business to act.

“We have the sunniest country outside the Sahara. We have some of the best wind resources in the world – arguably the best in terms of quantity plus quality. And we have a very close proximity to billions of people who don’t have the available space and/or resources to renewably power those countries,” he told the AFR.

Instead of embracing the opportunity for Australian to capitalise, the government has been actively fighting a transitioning economy, Cannon-Brookes said. He points to their political criticism of Tesla’s South Australian battery – a project one of his tweets famously helped launch.

Scott Morrison claimed that it would be as useful as the Big Banana. Resources Minister Matt Canavan reportedly described it as “the Kim Kardashian of the energy world: it’s famous for being famous [but] doesn’t do very much”. Both were proven wrong.

READ MORE: By every measure, the giant Tesla battery is a winner for South Australia

Now Cannon-Brookes hopes SunCable will too, and drag Australia into a renewable future it has long been fighting.