[133] From coal mine to solar mine – Mount Isa to Alice Spring

 Driving from Mount Isa to Alice Springs, I move from a mining town to a self-proclaimed solar city. I wonder if that is like time travelling as well, towards a renewable energy economy.

From coal to solar

Australia is one of the biggest coal exporters in the world. Moreover, recently the Queensland government gave the permission to the Indian mining company Adani to exploit a new coal mine to export coal to India. ‘Clean coal’ as Adani states in the newspaper; yet how clean can coal be, as you take the direct and indirect damage into account that it causes to the environment?

  • In terms of water usage
  • In terms of carbon dioxide emissions
  • In terms of digging holes in the ground
  • In terms of black lung diseases for the miners
  • In terms of exporting infrastructure, including railways, ports, dredging rivers, boats heading across the precious reef structures, including the Great Barrier Reef, …

Yet, coal is not the only mined product in Australia. Australia is a mining country. Australia mines about everything, from Gold, over copper and tin, to ore, back to current energy-related materials such as uranium and lithium (and coal, gas and oil of course), and rare earth materials.

Yet all this mining might bring some economic profits, it certainly has a (negative) impact on ecology and society, as I discuss in my vlog From Mining & Men.

Exporting solar energy

But soon, Australia might not only export coal, as an energy product, but solar energy as well. Say what? The Northern Territories, that state containing the centre of Australia, the Outback, somewhere from Alice Springs to Darwin, have a unique gift: sunshine. As the most sunny state in Australia (and maybe in the world), the Northern Territories might play a unique role in Australia’s energy transition.

Besides the Solar City project in Alice Springs, to uptake the share of solar energy in Alice Springs, there are various solar projects under construction from here up to Darwin. With the most remarkable one: Sun Cable.

(Solar Plant Uterne nearby Alice Springs)

Sun Cable, more than a cable.

In the middle of the Outback, a new project might be constructed soon. It will become the biggest solar farm in the world and will be connected with the largest underwater electricity transmission cable in the world as well. Where to? To Signapore !

It is a Singaporese company that will construct the Sun Cable project, consisting out of a solar photovoltaic farm of 10GW spread over 15,000 hectares, backed by battery storage, and connected with a cable of 3,800 km to Singapore.

The island-state with limited surface and increasing energy-demand must go overseas to find additional energy sources. Australia will in the future answer 20% of Signapore’s increasing demand with the Sun Cable project.

So, could this project mean a turn in Australia’s energy export policy? Rather than exporting coal and fossil fuels, exporting ‘clean energy’, such as solar energy?

Fracking or shining

The SunCable project will as well inject a part of its electricity into the Northern Territories Grid via transmission lines in Darwin. As a result, the success of the project might be moreover crucial since the Northern Territories are considering to increase fracking in the region, which has a devastating impact on human and environment, and should be avoided by all costs – but that is a story for later on.


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