Cannon-Brookes puts money where his mouth is on climate change

Cannon-Brookes puts money where his mouth is on climate change

27 September 2019

Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes will invest part of his personal wealth in a $25 billion project (SunCable) to create the world’s biggest solar farm, its biggest power storage system, and a 3000-kilometre cable to export energy to Asia, reports The Australian Financial Review.

“I’m backing it, we’re going to make it work, I’m going to build a wire,” Mr Cannon-Brookes told The Australian Financial Review in an exclusive interview in New York on Monday, on the sidelines of the United Nations climate forum.

The Northern Territory project, which will run alongside the railway, will take seven or eight years to connect to Darwin and Alice Springs then offshore through a cable under Indonesian waters. It will be fully unveiled in the “next couple of months for sure”.

During this week’s United Nations General Assembly, and immediately after the interview, the tech entrepreneur met with the Singapore government for talks about how to supply 25 per cent of the city-state’s energy needs within a decade.

The Cannon-Brookes family office, Grok, will invest “along with a lot of other Australian entrepreneurs”.

“We haven’t announced who is involved but it’s a pretty amazing crew,” he said.

The total project cost would be between $20 billion and $25 billion, he said.

“Call it half an NBN project – and a much more inspiring infrastructure project, if I may say so,” Mr Cannon-Brookes said.

“[The NBN] is OK, good; it’s not great. This will be absolutely great – with world-leading engineering required all up and down. But we can do it.”

The project may also expand to providing cheap large-scale energy for the production of hydrogen fuel, which could then be exported to markets such as Japan and replace coal-fired steel plants – or even revive Australia’s domestic manufacturing sector by producing “green steel”, he said.

SunCable’s plans include 15,000 hectares – equivalent to 7500 football fields – of photovoltaic panels near Tennant Creek, generating “more than 20 giga-watts” of capacity hooked up to a battery and high-voltage DC wire to the north.

“We’re showing up in New York because we have a responsibility to act,” Mr Cannon-Brookes said in a statement ahead of his arrival in New York to attend the UN climate action summit. “The world is here to address a burning issue. We know that we have to do our bit to reduce our impact on the planet. If we don’t, we’re cooked.”

The climate change activist is ramping up his charge against Australia’s lack of policy framework and pokes back against government warnings to “stay inside his lane.”

While visiting the UN climate talks, which follow last week’s rallies for action across major global cities, Mr Cannon-Brookes said Australia’s failure to act was “shameful”.

“This is a dire worldwide emergency and we need to treat it as such.”

Helping pivot Australia from a coal shipper to a renewables-exporting superpower are a number of natural advantages, he said.

“In a carbon-constrained world, Australia should be a winner.

“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.”

The SunCable project, with its focus on exports to Singapore, would eventually produce about $800 million a year in income for the Northern Territory and help it avoid a reliance on fracking, which “is very bad from an indigenous point of view let alone an environmental point of view”.

Atlassian will also adopt a target of net zero emissions by no later than 2050.

The commitment, offered through UN Global Compact’s Business Ambition for 1.5C and the Science-Based Targets initiative, will see Atlassian become the first major Australian company to join the Business Ambition for 1.5C.