Public consultation opens for 11 GW renewables hub in Australia

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An environmental review document for the proposed 11 GW Asian Renewable Energy Hub (AREH) in northwestern Australia has been made available for public comment. The document, which describes the solar+wind hybrid project and its likely effects on the environment, will remain open for review until June 24.

The mega-project, which has been in planning since 2014, was unveiled in 2017 as a 6 GW hybrid plant. It has since been scaled up to 9 GW and more recently to 11 GW last October. The AREH was originally conceived as a way to export renewable electricity to Jakarta and Singapore via subsea high-voltage DC cables, but over time its focus has been shifted to domestic industry consumers, with more than half of its planned output now allocated for existing and new energy users in the Pilbara region, in the state of Western Australia. The plan also includes mines, mineral processing facilities and the anticipated large-scale production of green hydrogen for local use and export markets.

The AREH is now set to feature more than 7.5 GW of wind turbines and more than 3.5 GW of solar PV, which together will annually generate more than 55 TWh hours of competitively priced clean energy over the 50-year lifetime of the project. The wind turbines and solar panels will be replaced halfway through the lifespan of the project, which will also include up to 800 MW/1 GWh of battery storage.

The project developer is Adelaide-based consortium NW Interconnected Power, which includes Australian renewables developer CWP Energy Asia, Danish turbine giant Vestas, global financial services group Macquarie, and Intercontinental Energy, a privately owned developer of renewable energy hubs.

While Vestas has been confirmed to supply wind turbines for the project, the search for a solar panel supplier is still ongoing. It is also unclear how much PV capacity will be installed at the AREH. The last update from the project partners and their website stated 3.5 GW, while the Environment Review Document states 2 GW. According to the document, the project will feature “2,000 MW worth of solar PV capacity that will be divided into 37 x 55 MW modules, each of which will be up to 180 hectares in size, with each module placed adjacent to a step-up substation.” At press time, pv magazine had not yet received a response to questions it had submitted to the AREH team.

However, the document does note that the PV panels will be mounted on low-impact steel frames with single-axis tracking. It also says that each array will be paired with up to 37 inverters and up to 10 MW of lithium-ion batteries.

In addition, the environmental review document states that the project will be divided into two phases. The “Pilbara phase” will provide energy for large-scale users in the region, and will include green hydrogen production. The “Cable Export phase”, meanwhile, will export generated electricity to Jakarta and Singapore. The document goes on to state that “all 15 GW of generation required for the two phases will be undertaken by wind turbines and solar arrays within the same development envelope”, which is also different from information on the project website and the previously announced plan to build 11 GW of renewable energy capacity.

Potential impacts and perks

A total of 11,962 hectares of vegetation will be permanently cleared, with up to 1,514 km of site-access tracks to be constructed. The project will also involve the deployment of four on-site HVDC converter stations, either in the Australian towns of Port Hedland or Dampier, or in Jakarta or Singapore. In addition, 800 kV subsea export cables (4 x 3,500 km) and up to 37 substations will need to be put in place.

The AREH is expected to create a significant number of jobs in Australia’s Pilbara and Kimberley regions, including around 3,000 new full-time jobs throughout the 10-year construction period and around 400 ongoing jobs during the 50+ year operational lifespan of the project.

Should it get the environmental nod from the state of Western Australia, the AREH is forecast to reach financial close in 2021. Construction at the site would start by 2024-25.