SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday (Nov 11) mapped out Singapore's action plan to take full advantage of the changing energy landscape, in which oil prices are low and the cost of producing clean energy is falling.
Mr Lee charted three paths that will help the country to stay ahead in the energy and chemicals sector, which makes up one-third of manufacturing output.
It also provides good jobs for more than 25,000 people, about 70 per cent of whom are professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs).
Mr Lee held up these challenges facing the sector at a dinner organised by energy giant Shell to celebrate its 125th anniversary in Singapore. He noted that Shell is transforming itself into an energy solutions company.
Similarly, Singapore is working on reducing its carbon emissions, transforming the energy and chemicals industry, and upgrading its workforce.
On reducing emissions, Mr Lee said Singapore will work towards its pledged goals "in an economically efficient way that will enable us to remain competitive", with incentives that will fuel these efforts, Mr Lee said.
These include pricing energy right: fuel for vehicles as well as electricity for homes and industries.
"We cannot and will not subsidise energy prices," he said. But lower-income households do receive government help for their electricity bills.
Another measure Mr Lee highlighted is giving priority to reducing emissions that are least costly, like mandating minimum energy efficiency standard for new buildings and home appliances like refrigerators and air conditioners.
Singapore is also working with the biggest carbon emitters, like the petroleum refining, chemicals and semiconductor sectors, which contribute about 78 per cent of industry's emissions.
He acknowledged that "we are not best-in-class by some distance" because refineries are older, noting that Shell's refinery was built in 1961.
While it is difficult to compete with the efficiency of newer plants elsewhere, he noted that Shell had installed a co-generation unit at Bukom last year to improve efficiency.
And the Government is committed to work with Shell to meet its carbon targets in a sustainable way.
On transforming the industry, Mr Lee said Singapore has to go beyond broad strategies and work with each industry from the ground-up, to address its specific needs and challenges.
The Government is also exploring how new technologies such as robotics and automation can raise productivity.
Shell has partnered a local start-up, Avetics, to use cameras mounted on drones to inspect manufacturing facilities instead of having people manually climb up and down pipes and reactors, saving time and manpower, he added.
The industry could also be transformed by moving into promising growth areas, such as specialty chemicals that produce less carbon emissions and yield higher value products. Work is also ongoing to see how byproducts from refineries can be tapped, Mr Lee said.
As for skills upgrading, Mr Lee said it is key to keep workers up-to-date with relevant skills throughout their working life.
This was why an 18-month SkillsFuture programme of structured on-the-job training and mentorship was offered across eight companies in the energy and chemicals sector in May, he added.
"This has opened up new pathways for polytechnic and ITE graduates to progress," he said, adding he was glad that unions are cooperating with management to upgrade workers.
Such cooperation, he noted, was a "unique Singapore formula, especially important in such uncertain times".
"If we work together, we can ride the technology wave, and prepare our workforce and economy for change... and seize new opportunities," he said.