Power grid revamp among projects for $19b R&D fund

Council reviews progress under 5-year plan; diabetes research, AI work also under way

Solar panels on the rooftop of Jurong Town Hall on June 21 2017. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Singapore's power distribution system could see its most ambitious overhaul a decade from now, following research on a new Grid 2.0 power system.

This new energy grid aims to consolidate gas, solar and thermal energy into a single intelligent network, with the end goal of more efficient, sustainable and resilient energy networks.

Plans for Grid 2.0 were unveiled yesterday as the 10th Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council met to take stock of progress on its $19 billion initiative to support research and development (R&D) in Singapore, announced in January last year.

This massive investment, spread over five years from 2016 to 2020, aims to build a base of scientific development to create new industries and job opportunities in Singapore, and to improve Singaporeans' quality of life through technology.

Some $375 million is being pumped into energy research under this Research, Innovation, Enterprise 2020 Plan (RIE2020), which Grid 2.0 falls under.

Dr Yeoh Lean Weng, director of urban solutions and sustainability at the National Research Foundation, said the new energy grid would allow for greater use of clean energy, such as solar power.

"But Grid 2.0 doesn't just look at energy sources. We are also focusing on how to make buildings energy efficient, especially for air-conditioning, which consumes more than 50 per cent of building energy," he said.

Research is also being done on specialised air-conditioning membranes that can cool air more efficiently, which will lead to reduced power consumption costs for building owners, he said.

Singapore will look to invest in key component technologies, such as solid state transformers, whose cost could fall by 2025 when tests can be carried out in the field.

Research on this new energy grid falls under one of the four broad areas of research outlined by the RIE2020, namely the urban solutions and sustainability domain. The other three are: Health and biomedical sciences, services and digital economy, and advanced manufacturing and engineering.

On the health front, a $25 million study is being conducted on the genetic predisposition of a diabetic patient to kidney diseases.

This September, the HealthHub online health portal will also be updated with a new diabetes risk assessment tool.

Singapore's efforts in the artificial intelligence and digital space were also reaffirmed at the meeting, such as through the $150 million national AI programme, AI.SG, established in May. Next year, at the National University of Singapore, researchers and industry partners can work together on AI-powered tools generated by this project.

More public-private partnerships to drive innovation will be created under the advanced manufacturing and engineering domain.

The Agency for Science, Technology and Research will open two model factories where companies can sample and test technology such as 3D printing and advanced robotics.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who chairs the RIE Council, said that Singapore's R&D base is maturing and has raised the quality of research here.

"I am encouraged that companies are investing more in research, innovation and enterprise activities, and some have set up corporate laboratories," said PM Lee. "We still have more to do, but we have made good progress."


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2017, with the headline Power grid revamp among projects for $19b R&D fund. Subscribe