Trial to import electricity from Malaysia a 'useful first step' as Singapore prepares to connect with regional grid: Experts
SINGAPORE: A trial which will see Singapore import electricity from Peninsular Malaysia will be a "useful first step" in preparation for further moves to connect to the regional power grid, said experts.
Announced in late October, the trial will see Singapore import 100 megawatts (MW) of electricity from Malaysia for two years. This will make up about 1.5 per cent of Singapore’s peak electricity demand.
The move is part of Singapore's plan to strengthen the "regional grid architecture", said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing in a keynote speech delivered at the opening of the Singapore International Energy Week in October.
“This will allow the region to share the clean energy sources that different countries may have, and we’ll start this with Malaysia," he said. "Once the concept takes off, we’ll be able to extend this to other regional players."
READ: Singapore to import electricity from Malaysia under two-year trial
Speaking to CNA, Professor Subodh Mhaisalkar, who is the executive director of the Energy Research Institute at Nanyang Technological University, said that with the trial coming after the recent announcement on the Laos-Thailand-Malaysia-Singapore Power Integration Project (LTMS-PIP), connectivity among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) would be the “ultimate goal”.
“I think the longer term play for us is not just to connect to Malaysia, but the longer term play is to connect to ASEAN. And if the ASEAN connectivity can be managed, that will be the ultimate goal and would allow us to meet our long-term emissions target,” said Dr Mhaisalkar.
“So, from that perspective, what we are doing with Malaysia for the first two-year trial is to really get ready for that.”
Earlier this year, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore announced their commitment to initiate cross-border trade of up to 100MW of electricity from Laos to Singapore via Thailand and Malaysia under the LTMS-PIP. This will be done using existing interconnections from 2022 to 2023.
Singapore currently has plans to develop “four switches” to guide and transform the energy supply. One of them is finding ways to harness regional power grids.
Mr Tan Congyi, who is head of the Urban Solar Group at the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore, noted that proving the feasibility of regional power grids could help “pave the way” for a regional electricity market in the future.
Potential implications include allowing the region to better co-operate on a bilateral or multilateral basis as well as connecting areas with surplus power capacity - especially from renewable sources - to areas with a deficit in power capacity, he explained.
READ: Commentary: Importing electricity from Malaysia is a good thing
It would be in Singapore's interest to import carbon energy sources as part of the trial, noted Dr Mhaisalkar and renewables would be "perfect".
“(The trial is) very forward thinking and it would, in a way, create demand. Once the demand creation is happening, then new ideas and new investment opportunities are also present itself," he said.
At the same time, there could be other positive knock-on effects as a result of the move, noted Dr Mhaisalkar. For one, there could be new opportunities for Malaysia to set up solar energy farms, he explained.
“Overall we are not only contributing to Singapore's Paris Agreement goals, we would directly or indirectly contribute to adoption of renewable energy across areas across ASEAN."
As part of efforts to tackle climate change, Singapore’s aim is to halve its 2030 peak greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and to achieve net zero emissions "as soon as viable" in the second half of the century, Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean said earlier this year. This move is part of the country's long-term low-emission development strategy (LEDS).
In addition, Singapore will also enhance its nationally determined contribution (NDC) to peak emissions at the equivalent of 65 million tonnes of carbon dioxide around 2030 and expand the scope of its pledge to include a seventh greenhouse gas, nitrogen trifluoride, within this ceiling.
The enhanced NDC document updates Singapore’s climate pledge submitted in July 2015 under the Paris Agreement.
READ: Singapore targets to halve peak emissions by 2050, achieve net zero emissions 'as soon as viable' in second half of century
Given that Singapore has “ample spare capacity” when it comes to conventional electricity generation, importing electricity would only make sense if it helps to reduce carbon emissions, said Mr Tan.
This could be in the form of solar electricity from Malaysia or hydropower from Thailand or Laos at a later stage, he noted.
“One of the key challenges Singapore faces in scaling up our deployment of solar energy is the lack of space. We also lack other renewable energy resources such as wind or hydropower,” said Mr Tan. “Hence, tapping on regional power grids is one strategy we can explore to use renewable energy generated in other locations. The trial serves as a useful first step to help us get there.”
Experts also noted that the trial is unlikely to impact the cost and reliability of Singapore’s electricity supply.
“For a normal Singaporean, I don’t think it will have any impact,” said Prof Ashwin Khambadkone, who is an associate professor at the NTU's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
“But what it (the trial) does is it provides us enough knowledge to see how we can handle it when the amount (of electricity imported) increases. That's the purpose of doing the trial,” he noted.
“Singapore already is in a situation where we have excess capacity. So, from a capacity perspective, we are not constrained. Reliability could be a concern if we were capacity constrained,” added Dr Mhaisalkar.
“We are not importing energy from a perspective of energy security; I think this is more a play, a longer term play for expanding our source of renewable energy.”
In their announcement in October, EMA had noted that one importer will be selected through an “open and competitive” selection process, with potential importers needing to demonstrate their supply reliability, credibility and track record, ability to secure demand from Singapore consumers, and manage the carbon output of generation supply.
READ: Commentary: That low-carbon future for Singapore isn’t so far-fetched
Dr Mhaisalkar noted that should the electricity be generated from solar sources, there could be further upside.
“We are very pragmatic in the sense (that) the cost of electricity import will have to be competitive … The cost of electricity from solar has been dropping so rapidly, that it is cheaper from solar nowadays than from any other source,” he said.
“It definitely will be cost-competitive. But there is an upside from it that if it is really coming from solar electricity, it could be really competitive."