S'pore's energy future

Given its small size and lack of natural resources, Singapore has long relied on innovation to overcome its challenges. It has reclaimed land to boost its surface area, for example, and invested in water technology and research to desalinate and recycle used water.

Today, the Singapore government has a new challenge which will also test its ability to innovate - how to continue its economic progress while fulfilling its commitment to the Paris Agreement to fight climate change.

Singapore has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions intensity in kgCO2 per $GDP - contributed mainly by transport and industry - by 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030. It is an ambitious goal for a small country with limited alternative energy options.

The country does not have geothermal energy sources, or fast-flowing rivers and strong winds. Nor does it have enough available land for the large-scale use of solar panels.

This is one of the challenges being tackled by the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE), a government-initiated body in charge of planning Singapore's economic restructuring.

The CFE, of which I am a member, is looking closely at Singapore's energy future, with an emphasis on decarbonisation as well as security of supply. It hopes to present its findings to the Singapore Government by the end of the year.

Singapore, which is the region's leading oil trading hub, a global manufacturing centre for petrochemicals, and one of the world's top three export refining centres, has already taken steps to secure its energy future.

Today, 95 per cent of its electricity is generated from natural gas, a more environmentally sustainable energy source than other fossil fuels.

And in a bid to further boost the security of its supply, Singapore officially launched its first liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in 2014. Singapore plans to reduce its reliance on piped natural gas, in favour of LNG imports. This has enabled Singapore to diversify its natural gas sources.

Singapore's long-term strategic plan to meet its energy needs with natural gas is a big step towards the low-carbon future envisioned by the Paris Agreement. But these moves alone will not be enough to meet Singapore's targets. As it did in the past, the country will need to encourage innovation to find new ways to meet its challenges.

Singapore is also exploring renewable energy with the Housing Board, which is responsible for public housing, issuing tenders for companies to deploy solar panels on rooftops of housing estates.

Of course, the onus of innovation is not on the Government alone. Companies like Shell also aim to encourage innovative energy ideas.

Next March, Shell Singapore will, for the first time, host Make The Future, a festival promoting innovation, collaboration and conversations around global energy challenges.

The festival's highlights include the Shell Eco-marathon, a contest that challenges students to create the most energy-efficient car, and the Bright Ideas Challenge, an innovation competition to solve some of the world's most pressing energy problems.

With the Paris Agreement entering into force on Nov 4, the world is focusing on ways to combat climate change. In the future, it is likely to derive its energy from a mix of different sources: natural gas, oil, biomass, hydrogen and solar, all working together.

Singapore, with its willingness to work with partners, and its track record and reputation for forward-thinking and innovation, is well-equipped to be a leading city of the energy future.

  • The writer is chairman of Shell Singapore.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore's energy future'. Print Edition | Subscribe