Climate Tech

Mike Cannon-Brookes gets his hands on the $30 billion SunCable project

- September 11, 2023 3 MIN READ
Mike Cannon-Brookes
Mike Cannon-Brookes
Atlassian cofounder and billionaire investor Mike Cannon-Brookes has taken charge of the $30 billion SunCable solar power project he once labelled as “insane”, with the deal to buy it from the company’s administrators going through last week.

Helietta Holdings a joint venture company affiliated with his family venture capital firm, Grok Ventures, in partnership with Canadian infrastructure giant Quinbrook, has acquired the business in a deal with will see Sun Cable’s unsecured creditors paid in full. Creditors will meet this Friday for a final sign off to end voluntary administration.

Cannon-Brookes was one of the cornerstone investors in SunCable via Grok, alongside mining billionaire Dr Andrew Forrest, having co-led a led a $210 million Series B round in March 2022, as well as the initial funding in 2019.

The SunCable Australia-Asia PowerLink (AAPowerLink) project is a 17-20-gigawatt (GW) solar farm and 42GWh battery storage in the Northern Territory, connected to the world’s longest undersea High Voltage Direct Current cable system, at around 4,200km running from Darwin to Singapore. The solar farm is roughly four times the size of the current Snow Hydro scheme.

But at the start of 2023, the Atlassian and Fortescue billionaires fell out over the strategic vision for the energy startup and in January, SunCable was placed in voluntary administration. Cannon-Brookes then lent the business $65 million to keep the show on the road as the two key investors battled for control of its soul.

Dr Forrest wanted to scrap the undersea cable project believing it has too much “sovereign risk”, to focus on supplying Singapore with green hydrogen as part of his broader vision to transform his iron ore mining company into one of the world’s leading renewables producers.

SunCable International has appointed Mitesh Patel as Interim CEO and Chief Operating Officer, with Mark Branson continuing as Chief Development Officer of SunCable Australia.

Darwin plans

Cannon-Brookes remains faithful to SunCable’s original vision, while also shifting the focus to the domestic market and the Northern Territory capital, saying it will be central to Australia becoming a renewable energy superpower.

“SunCable’s AAPowerLink project has all the component parts to make the next great Australian infrastructure initiative possible,” he said.

“It will create more local jobs and support our green manufacturing and renewable energy industries. It’s set to deliver huge volumes of green energy to Darwin – powering a burgeoning green industry opportunity in the NT.

“There’s huge upside for both Australia and our neighbours, Singapore and Indonesia. We look forward to working with our partners across Asia to drive this.”

The project ultimately has the potential to generate 6GW of power, with the new Grok-owned business outlining a new roadmap where stage one will supply at least 900MW of power to industrial customers in Darwin for uses such as hydrogen electrolysis, critical minerals processing, e-fuels and green data centres.
Quinbrook Infrastructure Partners will focus on the next stage of delivering 1.75GW of power to Singapore via an undersea cable running along the Indonesian archipelago and spanning more than 4000km from the Australian mainland to the island state.

‍The final stage will see 3GW of additional renewable power supplied to Darwin. For context, that’s roughly the size of the Origin Energy’s Eraring Power Station, which the NSW government announced last week it will support to keep open past its planned.

One study found that the tropical capital has the highest commercial building energy consumption in the world has locals try to cool things down.

Approvals needed

Grok Ventures CEO Jeremy Kwong-Law said they have “a high degree of confidence” the projects will garner the capital needed for its rollout.

“Grok has always said we are willing to work alongside constructive partners who share our vision and help the AAPowerLink achieve its goals,” he said.

“Once all milestones are reached and we reach financial investment decision (FID), we have a high conviction that large institutional investors and debt providers will fund the capital expenditure to construct the project.”

SunCable’s immediate priorities are approval from the Singaporean Energy Market Authority for a conditional licence to deliver the AAPowerLink to import power, alongside approvals from Indonesian authorities to lay the undersea cable through its territory.

Key authorisations and approvals are also been sought from the Northern Territory Government and Traditional Owners in the project area.

Kwong-Law said that during the due diligence process, Grok was reassured that SunCable has received expressed interest of approximately 6x its first supply to Darwin, and over ~1.5x its supply to Singapore (reflecting 2.5GW of customer offtake interest).

The business is also looking to establish an advanced High Voltage (HV) subsea cable manufacturing and testing facility, with AAPowerLink as an anchor customer, creating  800-1000 direct jobs during the construction phase, while the operational phase will require over 400 long-term advanced manufacturing roles.