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Trade-offs and challenges ahead as Singapore moves towards cleaner energy: Tan See Leng

Trade-offs and challenges ahead as Singapore moves towards cleaner energy: Tan See Leng

File photo. Solar panels are seen here on the rooftop of an office building in Singapore. (File photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

SINGAPORE: Singapore needs to obtain energy that is secure and reliable, affordable and environmentally sustainable but seeking to achieve each means trade-offs for the others, said Dr Tan See Leng, Second Minister for Trade and Industry on Thursday (Mar 4).

Dr Tan highlighted this as he laid out how Singapore will move away from natural gas and find low-carbon energy sources to help alleviate climate change.

"Therein lies the challenge for all of us here in Singapore – how can we obtain energy that is: One, secure and reliable; two, affordable; and three, that is environmentally sustainable, for ourselves over the long haul. 

"These three objectives constitute our 'energy trilemma', as seeking to achieve each will entail trade-offs for the others," said Dr Tan in a joint segment on sustainability during the Committee of Supply debate.

READ: Singapore depends on global effort to tackle climate change: Teo Chee Hean

READ: Green Plan not a 'compilation of existing initiatives' but long-term plan that will evolve: Grace Fu

Singapore is greening its energy sources by developing four “supply switches” – natural gas, solar energy, regional grids and low-carbon alternatives such as hydrogen, he said.

Singapore's main source of renewable energy is solar power and it is speeding up efforts to make full use of suitable solar deployment spaces, Dr Tan said. This means more solar panels on rooftops and open spaces, such as reservoirs, and using untapped spaces including existing land, canals and roads.

With more solar energy, Singapore will also have to increase Energy Storage Systems (ESS) capacity, and the Energy Market Authority (EMA) will test-bed solutions with the industry and researchers, said Dr Tan, who is also a Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Manpower.

EMA is piloting Singapore’s first floating ESS, which can power over 600 four-room Housing Board flats, and this will enable EMA to study how batteries can be stacked to reduce land use.

FIRST ELECTRIC VEHICLE SERVICE STATIONS

Dr Tan also announced that a grant was awarded to a consortium led by local SME Eigen Energy to pilot Singapore’s first clean-energy powered service stations at three HDB towns, to be ready by the first quarter of next year.

These stations will provide one of the fastest public EV charging services here, he said.

Three Shell service stations in Tampines, Pasir Ris, and Lakeview will have these fast charging EV points, EMA, Enterprise Singapore and Shell said in a press release on Thursday.

"As we increase solar and ESS deployment, our power system will become more decentralised. To enhance our capabilities in grid planning, in maintenance and asset management, we are developing a digital twin of Singapore’s physical electricity grid," Dr Tan added.

READ: All HDB car parks in at least 8 towns to have electric vehicle charging points by 2025

READ: Registration of new diesel cars and taxis to end in 2025

Dr Tan said that EMA is also developing regional grids with countries in Southeast Asia.

"This will allow us to tap on the abundance of hydropower and other renewable energies that some of our Southeast Asian neighbours have," he said. 

EMA will issue a request for proposal for a two-year trial of 100MW of electricity imports from Malaysia this month and is initiating cross-border power trade of up to 100MW under the Lao PDR-Thailand-Malaysia-Singapore Power Integration Project. 

These are pilots and the first steps towards a regional power grid, and MTI plans to import more electricity to diversify its energy sources, said Dr Tan.

Addressing Nominated Member of Parliament Koh Lian Pin's concerns about the carbon footprint of Singapore's electricity imports, Dr Tan said that for the upcoming trial with Malaysia, EMA will put in place steps to verify the cleanliness of the inputs.

This includes requiring importers to submit proof of carbon output, and cleaner proposals will be scored more favourably, he said.

READ: Solar power for most schools as MOE aims for 2030 carbon-neutral target

Mr Louis Ng (PAP-Nee Soon) asked in a supplementary question if the ministry is studying the environmental impact of importing hydropower from Laos.

"I hope that MTI can consider not just importing the renewable energy but making sure that it doesn't have that big an impact on the environment in other countries," he said.

To this, Dr Tan said that EMA will be getting all prospective energy importers to submit information on their energy sources and environmental studies to assess their impact.

He added that these measures will make Singapore's economy more sustainable, but solar deployment requires space, and with Singapore's land constraints, there will be added costs. 

ELECTRICITY PRICES WILL RISE

Dr Tan then addressed MPs' questions on electricity prices in Singapore and how consumers can be encouraged to cut electricity usage.

The minister explained that while wholesale electricity market prices are depressed today due to a glut in the electricity market, but this overcapacity is not likely to last.

"Wholesale electricity prices will also rise and normalise, with rising demand driven by the growth of sectors such as data centres, 5G networks, agri-tech, as well as the adoption of EVs" he said.

"Over the medium to long run, electricity prices normalising is inevitable ... No company that's commercially run will sell electricity below cost perpetually. What we need to prevent is a swing from a glut to a severe shortage of capacity and this will result in sharp price spikes; perhaps even blackouts as we saw in Texas."

EMA has studied how other places have managed this and is consulting the industry on the way forward, he said, adding that more details will be announced later this year.

READ: Public sector to set first carbon emissions target as part of sustainability drive

"We are committed to smoothening these price surges and volatility," Dr Tan said. "Even if prices must go up, we will do our best to ensure that this increase is gradual, and the Government will act where necessary to minimise excessive surges."

Dr Tan also pointed out that fuel prices dipped to their lowest in 20 years last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic but they will rise as global demand recovers and this will lead to electricity prices rising.

"The Government will do our best to manage our 'energy trilemma' by introducing more renewable energy in our energy mix, enhancing the efficiency of our power systems, and minimising the impact on prices," he said. 

"However, 'right-pricing' energy is critical to encouraging prudent use of electricity. We must adopt energy conservation as a way of life for all of us here in Singapore."

For example, Singapore households can switch from using gas to electricity appliances for cooking, he said. 

"It is also safer as the risks of gas leaks and fires are reduced. And some of the newer electrical cooking appliances, they do produce very, very good wok hei - the heat that is required to give you very good hor fun," said Dr Tan.

TRANSFORMING INDUSTRIES

Speaking after Dr Tan, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said that existing industries need to produce and operate more sustainably.

He announced that Sentosa will become a carbon-neutral destination by 2030, when he expects that global tourism will have revived.

"Through such efforts. we will strengthen Singapore as an exemplary sustainable tourism destination," said Mr Chan.

Singapore is taking active steps to transform the Energy and Chemicals sector, he added.

"We are also stepping up decarbonisation and resource optimisation efforts at the plant and systems levels, to transform Jurong Island into a sustainable energy and chemicals park."

READ: Scheme to encourage take-back, recycling of beverage containers to be implemented in 2023

The country also needs to tap on new opportunities for green growth, such as carbon services sector and green financing, he said.

"Singaporeans can take advantage of these bright spots by upskilling and re-skilling themselves," he said.

He concluded that Singapore aspires to be a "bright green spark", by being an inspiration to the world on how it overcomes sustainability constraints. 

"This is why under the Research, Innovation, and Enterprise Plan 2025, we are attracting companies to anchor their R&D activities in Singapore," he said. 

"We will continue to support the start-up and innovation ecosystems in sustainability-related sectors. We endeavour to help others overcome their sustainability constraints, both regionally and globally."

Source: CNA/hm

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