How Singapore is future proofing its energy grid with digital twins

By Sean Nolan

Interview with Jeanette Lim, Director, Industry Development Department, Energy Market Authority, Singapore.

In the Academy Award-nominated film The Mitchells vs. the Machines, a rebellious AI personal assistant shut off the world’s Wi-Fi as its first step to starting a robot apocalypse. Chaos ensued.

There’s a jarring truth underlying the tongue-in-cheek portrayal of humanity’s reliance on the internet. As most of our lives shift onto the digital realm, having a reliable energy source has become crucial for providing essential services such as transport, banking and healthcare.

Creating a reliable energy grid is one the challenges facing Singapore’s Energy Market Authority (EMA). It works to ensure citizens receive electricity while managing new energy sources for the national grid. Jeanette Lim, Director, Industry Development Department, EMA, Singapore shares how digital twins, energy storage systems and renewable energy could help.

Developing a digital twin prototype

EMA helped to develop a prototype digital twin of Singapore’s energy grid, a virtual representation of the physical network. The digital twin will give two key benefits.

First, it allows operators to remotely monitor the condition of the grid’s components, such as transformers and cables. This means potential issues are identified early, and operators may decide what they should prioritise for maintenance, Lim explains.

This reduces manpower resources, as remote monitoring limits the need for physical inspections. EMA does this in tandem with upskilling initiatives to help staff make the most of the new digital twin tools, she adds.

Second, the digital twin allows EMA to assess the impact of new energy sources and additional electricity loads, such as the charging of electric vehicles. It can then manage the energy network more efficiently during these changes, Lim explains.

The government developed the digital twin as the country's grid assets are ageing, making maintenance more complex. The country also faces rising energy demands with its increasing digitalisation, she adds.

The prototype was developed by EMA, SP Group, and the Science and Technology Policy and Plans Office under the Prime Minister’s Office, with its full launch coming in a few years. Upon completion, the system will collect real time sensor data and records of past maintenance to assess the condition of the grid’s components.

This “will help us to future-proof Singapore’s power grid” by managing changes to the electricity supply while maintaining reliability to citizens, Lim says.

Resilience in the energy grid

Another way that EMA is working to boost resilience in Singapore’s energy grid is through energy storage systems, which act as large batteries. This is especially important as it explores solar power, “the most viable renewable energy source in the near term” for sunny Singapore, Lim says.

Solar power is intermittent and dependent on weather conditions like the amount sunlight and cloud cover. This leads to “imbalances” between electricity supply and the national demand, she highlights.

Energy storage systems store solar energy for later use, helping to maintain a reliable source of power during less sunny periods. EMA sees that AI and IoT will play key roles in this, as these can help monitor and predict failures within the systems, Lim continues.

But there are challenges to adopting these systems, mainly land constraints, high costs, and limited local expertise to install and operate the technology, she explains. EMA is working with industries, research institutions and training institutes to address these challenges.

One example is the Accelerating Energy Storage for Singapore (ACCESS) programme. It looks to drive the adoption of energy storage systems and encourage approvals of their deployment.

Another initiative to build local expertise is a partnership with Nanyang Technological University for courses on this topic. It will look into storing energy from renewable sources and for powering electric vehicles, the university writes.

Decarbonising the power sector

Singapore aims to achieve net zero carbon emissions by around mid-century. The energy sector “has a key part to play, as it accounts for about 40 per cent of Singapore’s carbon emissions”, Lim says.

While natural gas is needed to maintain supply reliability, the nation will scale up the adoption of solar, electricity imports and low-carbon alternatives to achieve this.

Singapore recently built one of the world’s largest floating solar farms, which is the size of 45 football fields, with its carbon savings equivalent to removing 7,000 cars from the road, according to The Straits Times.

She highlights the Singapore Green Plan 2030, where the country committed to collecting enough solar power to power 350,000 households every year.

EMA is also looking to reduce energy demand. It recently held a challenge for the industry and research community to develop tools for greater energy efficiency.

One successful proposal plans to create a material for air conditioners that absorbs moisture and cools air more efficiently. The tool will also help recycle waste heat, which could improve the energy efficiency of air conditioning units by 30 per cent or more, reported EMA.

As nations look to become more sustainable, technology such as digital twins can pave a way for a transition to renewable energy sources. Importantly, these tools also maintain reliable and resilient energy grids so citizens can continue without disruption.