Explore indoor farming, solar power, says NCMP Perera

Singapore needs to do more to explore large-scale indoor farming and the generation of solar energy, Workers' Party (WP) Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera said yesterday.

This could make the country less reliant on imported food and fuel, and help local companies develop expertise that can be exported, he said in an adjournment motion.

The motion lets him speak for up to 20 minutes before the House adjourns for the day.

He noted that the Government had acknowledged the potential of indoor farming in launching a $63 million agriculture productivity fund in 2014, for instance.

But with only $690,000 disbursed within a year of its launch, more can be done, he said, adding that economic development agencies could actively groom local firms.

He also suggested that some underground space could be developed into large-scale indoor vertical farms, noting that an underground farm opened in London last year.

Mr Perera proposed investing more in solar power as well.

Renewable power is better for energy security and economic stability, given volatile fossil fuel prices.

Investing in solar power will create "good jobs" that range from maintenance to operations to research and development.

Noting that the Housing Board aims to have solar panels on 5,500 blocks by 2020, he said: "We can be more aggressive and set a goal to install solar panels on every HDB building roof by 2025."

National water agency PUB has also been considering solar panels in Tengeh Reservoir and Choa Chu Kang Waterworks. Solar panels could also be deployed across all reservoirs and parts of Singapore's territorial waters, Mr Perera said.

He proposed a study to assess how much of Singapore's total electricity generation could be from solar power, under both conservative and "stretch" scenarios.

The WP member said he hoped his party's suggestions would lead to more fact-finding by the Government, working together with academia and the private sector.

Replying, Parliamentary Secretary for Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling thanked him for the suggestions.

On underground farming, she said developing underground space is expensive. "We do need to understand the trade-offs, the cost- benefit analysis, and so more studies need to be done to ascertain the best use of underground space."

As for solar power, she said "government-led demand is helping to grow this very nascent industry".

She also listed various government efforts to move into other new industries, such as the manufacturing of "biologics" or genetically engineered drugs.

New and emerging industries, including the two highlighted by Mr Perera, are very much on the agenda of the Committee on the Future Economy, she added.

The committee aims to complete its work in developing future economic strategies for Singapore by the end of this year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2016, with the headline 'Explore indoor farming, solar power, says NCMP Perera'. Print Edition | Subscribe