Mike Cannon-Brookes Takes Control of Sun Cable After Solar Farm Dispute with Andrew Forrest

Australian billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes has won a bidding war for control of the Sun Cable solar export project, after falling out with his former partner, Andrew Forrest. Sun Cable was formed in 2018 with the goal of exporting renewable energy from Australia to Singapore. The project requires an initial investment of $30 billion and involves building a solar farm in outback Northern Territory, which would be large enough to be seen from space, and running a 4,200 kilometre undersea transmission line to Singapore. The project also planned to supply a chunk of solar energy to the Northern Territory, provisionally reported as around 800 megawatts.

The split between Cannon-Brookes and Forrest emerged earlier this year when Forrest’s private investment arm Squadron indicated it no longer supported Sun Cable’s goal to export solar to Singapore and would prefer to use the energy it generated for local projects, such as making hydrogen. After the split emerged, Sun Cable was put into administration and up for sale. Final bids closed on May 23.

Cannon-Brookes’s Grok Ventures has now entered into a sale agreement with an entity connected to Sun Cable, and he has claimed control of the project. Under his control, it is likely the project will still pursue its original goal of exporting solar power from the outback of Australia to Singapore. Cannon-Brookes said the outcome was “a big step in the right direction” and that “it’s time to stretch our country’s ambition. We need to take big swings if we are going to be a renewable energy superpower. So swing we will.”

The project is expected to generate 20-gigawatts of power in the middle of the outback. Cannon-Brookes and Forrest had different visions over what to do with this power. While Cannon-Brookes wanted to export it to Singapore, Forrest preferred to use it for local projects, such as making hydrogen.

Tivan, a critical minerals company, signed a non-binding deal with Sun Cable earlier this year to take some of its solar energy in Darwin. Tivan wants to mine critical minerals in Australia and process some of them at a development precinct proposed by the NT Government at a site in Middle Arm. Tivan’s executive chair Grant Wilson said it hoped to take 200-300MW of solar energy from Sun Cable to power its proposed Middle Arm site. If today’s decision means they cannot access Sun Cable’s solar power, they will seek to get renewable energy elsewhere to offset production, and even floated the idea of accessing electricity from beleaguered NT solar farms not yet connected to the grid.

Sun Cable was formed in 2018 by a team of people based in Singapore and Australia, including current chief executive David Griffin. In 2019, it revealed a plan to transform Australia into an exporter of renewable energy. To do this, Sun Cable wanted to install a large battery network and run a 4,200 kilometre undersea transmission line from a spot near Darwin to Singapore. The proposed cable would go through Indonesian waters, including through magnetic sand and deep trenches.