Singapore may tap region's low-carbon energy sources in future

Singapore now largely relies on natural gas for its energy needs. Although there are plans to ramp up the deployment of solar panels on the island, harnessing solar energy is a challenge due to, among other things, the intermittency of sunshine and t
Singapore now largely relies on natural gas for its energy needs. Although there are plans to ramp up the deployment of solar panels on the island, harnessing solar energy is a challenge due to, among other things, the intermittency of sunshine and the shading of solar panels by surrounding buildings. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Singapore may not be able to generate most forms of renewable energy, but in future, it may be able to tap low-carbon energy sources - such as wind or hydro power - in the region.

Last week, Singapore, Laos, Thailand and Malaysia announced their commitment to initiate cross-border trade of up to 100MW of electricity under the Laos-Thailand-Malaysia-Singapore Power Integration Project.

The project currently involves the sale of electricity from Laos to Malaysia, with Thailand acting as a transit country, The Business Times reported last month. It cited a report in September last year by the International Energy Agency.

Speaking at the 38th Asean Ministers on Energy Meeting last week, Second Minister for Trade and Industry and Manpower Tan See Leng said the region should continue to take bold steps towards accelerating its energy transition to enhance energy security, accessibility, affordability and sustainability for all.

Dr Tan also said Singapore was committed to developing multilateral power trade in the region through the Power Integration Project.

The minister's remarks followed an announcement last month of plans for an electricity import trial with Malaysia.

Under the two-year trial, Singapore will import 100MW of electricity - about 1.5 per cent of Singapore's peak electricity demand - from Malaysia.

A renewable energy source from across the Causeway will be the preferred choice for Singapore under the trial, the Energy Market Authority (EMA) said then.

EMA plans to issue a request for proposals by next March, and the imports could begin as early as the end of next year, via the existing electricity interconnector between the two countries.

Singapore now largely relies on natural gas - a fossil fuel - for its energy needs.

There are plans to ramp up the deployment of solar panels on the island, with the aim of harnessing 1.5 gigawatt-peak of solar energy by 2025, which is enough to power about 260,000 households annually, meeting about 2 per cent of Singapore's total electricity needs.

Harnessing solar energy is a challenge for Singapore due to, among other things, the intermittency of sunshine and the shading of solar panels by surrounding buildings.

Professor Subodh Mhaisalkar, executive director of the Energy Research Institute at Nanyang Technological University, said the trial with Malaysia will help to establish the viability of electricity imports for Singapore.

"This opens up the possibility to import electricity that could also be based on solar photovoltaics or other renewable sources," Prof Mhaisalkar told The Straits Times.

"This also opens up the possibility to extend the connectivity to the Asean grid when it becomes a reality in the near future."

Prof Mhaisalkar noted that Singapore's neighbours have large swaths of land where solar farms can be deployed.

Furthermore, nations like Vietnam have good sources of wind energy, which could also be fed to a grid linked to Singapore in the future, he added.

"So, with a long term perspective, the electricity import trial with Malaysia is an excellent first step," Prof Mhaisalkar said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2020, with the headline 'Singapore may tap region's low-carbon energy sources in future'. Subscribe