SINGAPORE - Harnessing energy from the sun, wind or tides for conversion into electricity is already possible. But making them work together in an integrated system disconnected from a main power grid used to be just a theory - until now.
Scientists from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) are building the region's first large-scale, offshore power grid system on Semakau Landfill, taking up about 64,000 sq m of land, roughly the size of about eight soccer fields.
Called the Renewable Energy Integration Demonstrator-Singapore (Reids), it will combine renewable power from the sun, wind and sea, as well as diesel, storage and power-to-gas technologies, to ensure these energy sources operate well together.
Having multiple energy sources on one grid will help to overcome the challenges of using renewable energy, such as the intermittency of solar energy during cloudy days, or the lack of wind on a still day, for instance. This is because electricity can still come from the other energy sources, or from storage devices, when the supply of one is short.
Describing the offshore project, NTU's Professor Hans Bjorn Puttgen, principle investigator and Reids director, said: "It is about matching what nature gives us to what consumers want, which is energy on demand."
The deployment of Reids on Singapore's offshore Semakau Landfill was announced on Tuesday (Oct 25) by Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Mr Masagos Zulkifli, at the Asia Clean Energy Summit held at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre.
Led by the Energy Research Institute @ NTU and supported by the Economic Development Board (EDB) and National Environment Agency (NEA), the grid costs an initial $10 million and is expected to draw $20 million in project investments over the next five years.
"I am happy to announce that the first microgrid has just been deployed and it will enable the NEA to power its infrastructure on Semakau Landfill using electricity generated through zero-carbon means," said Mr Masagos. "The use of energy storage and microgrid control technologies will allow the landfill to reduce its reliance on diesel-based power and transition towards renewable energy."
Mr Masagos' announcement marks the launch of the second phase of the Reids project, first announced by Mr S. Iswaran, Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) in 2014.
The first phase of the project - the installation of 3,000 sq m of solar panels, or the first microgrid - has already been completed.
The next step is to build three more microgrids, each comprising its own composition of renewable energy sources.
Once all four microgrids are built by the third quarter of next year (2017), they are expected to produce stable and consistent power enough for about 250 four-room Housing Board flats.
Fish hatcheries and nurseries on Semakau, as well as a desalination plant that scientists hope to build there, will be among the first to be powered.
But in the future, this Singapore-developed technology could go places.
Prof Puttgen says such an off-grid microgrid system could be used to provide electricity on islands, remote villages, or during emergency situations, such as after a natural disaster.
He said that 1.2 billion people do not have access to electricity, and an even higher number do not have access to proper sanitation, including drinking water. Most of this population live in Africa, South-east Asia, and in Latin America.
"Given the sheer geographical size of the territories involved, in the near-term, it is unrealistic to access these populations by way of interconnected transmission systems," he added.
Singapore has identified microgrids as a key growth area for the clean energy industry, said EDB's executive director of cleantech, Mr Goh Chee Kiong.
"Reids is the largest microgrid research and development platform in South-east Asia and therefore is instrumental to Singapore's ambition to achieve a global leadership position in microgrids and serve the regional markets," said Mr Goh.