Here comes the sun: Inside Singapore’s sustainable energy switch

By Shirley Tay

Ralph Foong, Deputy Chief Executive of the Energy Market Authority’s Energy Planning and Development Division, shares more.

The recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report details five possible scenarios, ranging from the best to worst case scenario. Reduce emissions to net-zero by 2050 and global temperature will rise by 1.5 degrees; or carbon emissions double and the world is a scorching 4.4 degrees hotter.

The latter would have drastic impacts on countries like Singapore. “As a small, low-lying island city-state, we are vulnerable to the impact of climate change, particularly due to rising sea levels,” says Ralph Foong, Deputy Chief Executive of the Energy Market Authority’s (EMA) Energy Planning and Development Division.

He shares how Singapore is making the switch to sustainable energy, and the challenges and opportunities ahead.

The big solar switch

Sustainable energy production presents both challenges and opportunities for Singapore, Foong says. The island is “alternative-energy disadvantaged” with low wind speeds, low tidal range, and no hydro resources - which makes it difficult to produce wind, tidal, and hydropower.

Solar is the most viable source of renewable energy for the island, he adds. But it must ensure that the energy supply is secure, competitive and environmentally sustainable.

To tackle land constraints in the tiny nation state, the agency is pursuing “creative ways” to maximise solar deployment and “make every space count”.

It has deployed floating solar panels on reservoirs. One the size of 45 football fields opened this July, and will provide enough electricity to power 16,000 public housing flats a year. Solar panels have already been deployed on the rooftops of public housing blocks.
Image by PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency

EMA is also looking at how to combine solar deployment with crop cultivation, Foong says. The Yuhua estate is converting a multi-storey carpark rooftop into an urban farm powered by solar energy.

The agency is “mindful of the competing uses for some of these spaces”, and is working with the National Parks Board and environmental experts to ensure solar deployment is done sustainably.

Solar energy can also be intermittent depending on weather conditions. EMA is using data from sensors installed on rooftops and weather data to forecast solar output more accurately, he says.

It aims to deploy 200 megawatts of energy storage systems beyond 2025 that will “store and use energy as and when needed”. EMA has partnered Keppel Offshore & Marine, for instance, to pilot Singapore’s first floating energy storage system.

Singapore has deployed over 400 megawatt-peak of solar capacity as of 2020, Foong says. The recent Singapore Green Plan aims to ramp it up to at least 2 gigawatt-peak by 2030.

Moving to hydrogen energy

Hydrogen produces only water when it is burnt, making it the “ultimate clean fuel”, according to Professor Subodh Mhaisalkar, Executive Director, Energy Research Institute at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

Low-carbon alternatives lsuch as hydrogen can help to “reduce our carbon emissions significantly”, but such technologies are “still nascent”, Foong says.

Singapore is looking to develop low-carbon energy technologies like hydrogen and carbon capture utilisation and storage, a process that traps carbon emissions and stores it underground. It has set up its first Low-Carbon Energy Research Funding Initiative of S$49 million (US$36.3 million) to this aim.

The city is collaborating with countries including Australia, Chile and New Zealand to develop hydrogen energy. This could reveal how hydrogen can be part of Singapore’s fuel mix in the future, he says.

It’s also looking to tap into low-carbon energy sources available in the region. EMA is carrying out a two-year trial to import 100MW of electricity from Malaysia, Foong says. This will help the agency understand how to scale low-carbon energy imports from the region.

The opportunities ahead

“We will also need to do more to reduce energy consumption. No amount of energy supply can ever satisfy demand if it is left unfettered,” Foong says.

EMA is encouraging large consumers to reduce their energy demand during peak periods in exchange for incentive payments. All households will also have an advanced electricity meter by 2024 that will allow them to better understand and manage electricity consumption, he adds.

The transformation of the energy industry will create new job opportunities, Foong says. EMA is working with unions, higher learning institutes, and training providers to develop programmes that will “attract, develop, and retain workers”.

These programmes cover clean energy areas, such as solar and energy storage systems, he explains.

The world’s actions in the next 30 years will determine the future of the Earth. Efforts to switch to sustainable forms of energy and reduce carbon emissions are key.