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Why Singapore needs to import electricity and other energy questions answered

Singapore has an ambitious plan to achieve net-zero and slash its power sector’s carbon emissions, including the increased use of renewables and cleaner sources to generate electricity

Singapore is turning to natural gas, solar energy, regional power grids and low-carbon alternatives to decarbonise its power sector. PHOTO: ISTOCK

Most of us don’t think about how and where our electricity comes from when we flick a switch in our home. Behind the scenes, however, Singapore is making major moves to use greener power sources as it transforms the energy sector.

As you may have noticed from the hotter days and nights here, flash floods and extreme weather worldwide, climate change is real, and its effects on the weather are increasingly seen and felt. Slowing climate change is a global challenge, and everyone has a part to play in reducing the carbon emissions that contribute to it.

Singapore is greening its power sector because it makes up a significant portion – about 40 per cent – of the country’s overall emissions. It is crucial to act now because the journey towards a more sustainable power sector could take decades.

To decarbonise its power sector, Singapore is tapping on four “supply switches”. These are: natural gas, solar energy, regional power grids and low-carbon alternatives.

In time to come, when you turn on the lights, the electricity could be from a solar farm, or wind turbines somewhere in the region, or even a hydrogen power plant.

As Singapore greens its power sector, here are the answers to some burning questions you may have.

Question 1: In sunny Singapore, why can’t we just blanket the island with solar installations to meet all our clean energy needs?

Solar power is Singapore’s most promising renewable energy source. There is a limit, however, to how much solar energy we can harness, because of land constraints. Even if we maximise all available space in Singapore for solar deployment and use the latest technology, this would only meet about 10 per cent of the projected demand in 2050.

Nevertheless, we have deployed solar panels in innovative ways – not just on rooftops, but on reservoirs, temporary vacant land and sheltered walkways, making Singapore one of the most solar dense cities in the world. We are on track to meet our target of deploying at least 2 gigawatt peak (GWp) of solar by 2030, which is enough to power about 350,000 households.

Sunshine over Singapore may be plentiful, but solar power fluctuates due to cloud cover and high humidity. This intermittency could affect the stability of our power system and the reliability of our power supply.

The Energy Market Authority (EMA) has partnered firms, researchers and other government agencies to co-create solutions such as energy storage systems to support more solar energy use. The cost of solar energy is now generally lower than the retail electricity price.

Question 2: Why are we importing electricity? Wouldn’t that make Singapore’s energy supply more vulnerable to developments overseas?

Today, about 95 per cent of Singapore’s electricity is generated using natural gas which is imported from around the world. Importing electricity is the same idea. While Singapore lacks natural renewable energy sources, other countries in the region have more renewable energy options. This means that we can access cleaner energy sources beyond our borders.

Importing electricity has other benefits. By diversifying our energy sources, we will be able to strengthen the security of our energy supply, because we will not be dependent on just a few resources or providers.

Creating a regional power grid will also speed up the development of renewable energy projects in the region and increase economic growth and access to clean power in the source countries.

The EMA aims to import up to 4 gigawatts of low-carbon electricity by 2035, which would make up about 30 per cent of Singapore’s electricity supply. While the costs of electricity imports may vary widely depending on their source location and technology used, cost competitiveness will be a key factor in assessing electricity import proposals.

To prepare for large scale electricity imports in the future, Singapore is working on pilots to import 100 MW of electricity from a solar farm in Indonesia, and 100 MW of power from Laos via Thailand and Malaysia.

Question 3: What else are we doing to green our power supply?

We are also investing in longer-term solutions. By supporting promising low-carbon technologies, we can expand our options to reduce the energy sector’s carbon footprint in the long run.

For example, hydrogen does not emit carbon dioxide when used as fuel and can be used to store and transport energy. However, global supply chains and infrastructure will need to be in place for this low-carbon technology to be used widely. The Government is supporting research and development to improve its technical and economic viability through the $55 million Low-Carbon Energy Research Funding Initiative.

EMA is also collaborating with Nanyang Technological University, and various ministries and government agencies, to study the potential of geothermal energy in Singapore.

These and other initiatives will ensure that we are ready to seize opportunities in these areas when they become viable.

Question 4: If we are moving towards adopting more renewable energy sources, why do we still need natural gas?

Efforts to green the energy sector will take time to yield results. We will therefore require natural gas, which is a stable fuel source and the cleanest of all fossil fuels, to maintain a stable and reliable energy supply as we scale up our efforts on the other three “supply switches”.

Even as we continue to rely on natural gas, we are making improvements to our existing infrastructure. The EMA, for instance, supports our generation companies to improve the energy efficiency of their existing power plants through the Genco Energy Efficiency Grant Call. Existing legislation has also been amended to empower EMA to implement standards and requirements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the power sector. EMA will work with the industry to develop reasonable standards to shape a more energy and carbon efficient power sector.

Question 5: What does a more sustainable energy future mean for Singapore and Singaporeans?

Businesses will have many opportunities in emerging and fast growing fields. For example, they can offer services in deploying and maintaining solar panel installations, developing hydrogen systems and trading carbon credits. This, in turn, will create more jobs for Singaporeans.

To help Singaporeans tap the opportunities in these newly emerging areas of growth, EMA has worked with other government agencies and training providers to build up relevant capabilities. Schemes such as the Career Conversion Programme for Clean and Renewable Energy Professionals by Workforce Singapore and the Energy-Industry Scholarship by EMA are available to nurture talent for the energy sector.

As Singapore aims to move to the forefront of green energy technologies, it will also create and scale up innovative technologies and solutions, and eventually export them to the rest of the world – unlocking more economic growth.

With limited land and alternative energy options, decarbonising the power sector is especially challenging for Singapore. As we decarbonise the power sector, we need to do so without compromising energy security and reliability. Besides transforming the way we produce and consume energy, managing our energy demand is also key to achieving a more sustainable future. Households and businesses will need to reimagine the way we live, work and play, as well as adopt energy conservation as a way of life.

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