Singapore's third desalination plant opened officially yesterday, with the promise of turning sea water into drinking water more productively and cheaply.
The $217 million Tuas Desalination Plant can produce up to 30 million gallons a day (mgd), enough for 200,000 of Singapore's 1.3 million households. This is as much as the volume produced by the SingSpring Desalination Plant, despite being half its size at 3.5ha.
With the new plant, 30 per cent of Singapore's water needs can be met by desalination, up from 25 per cent. Two more such plants are in the works in Marina East and on Jurong Island, and when these 30mgd plants are up by 2020, they will bring total desalination capacity to 190mgd.
With Singapore's water use set to double to 860mgd by 2060, such "heavy, but necessary investments" must be made ahead of time and demand, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli.
"We have seen in other cities the dire consequences of not planning for the long term," he added, highlighting recent water crises in Cape Town in South Africa and Sao Paolo in Brazil.
Such investment "is made possible by right-pricing water to reflect the long-run marginal cost of producing our next drop of water, which is likely to come from Newater and desalination", he said. Newater is recycled from sewage.
He said he was heartened that per capita consumption of water had fallen from 148 litres a day in 2016 to 143 litres last year.
At the same time, Mr Masagos pointed out that desalination is an energy-intensive process, and "if we continue as business as usual, Singapore's desalination energy usage will be four times (that) of today".
"We do not want to become energy-reliant in our quest to overcome water scarcity."
The technology being tested at the new plant could potentially halve the energy used for desalination, he said.
More than 7,000 sq m of the plant's roof will be covered by a photovoltaic system and, when online, the solar panels can generate 1.4 million kilowatt hours of energy a year, enough to power more than 300 four-room flats for the same period. The energy will be used to run the plant's administrative building.
The plant is the first to be owned and operated by national water agency PUB, with SingSpring and Tuaspring both run by water-treatment company Hyflux - which has been seeking to sell the loss-making Tuaspring plant.
When asked, PUB water supply (plants) director Bernard Koh said PUB's decision to run this plant was not triggered by any private sector lapses.
The new plant's opening comes soon after Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad recently criticised the water supply deal between Singapore and his country.Under the 1962 agreement, which expires in 2061, Singapore can draw up to 250mgd of raw water from the Johor River daily at 3 sen per thousand gallons. In return, Johor is entitled to a daily supply of treated water of up to 2 per cent, or 5mgd, of the water supplied to Singapore.
Asked if Tun Dr Mahathir's stance made Singapore's quest for water self-sufficiency more pressing, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy's Dr Cecilia Tortajada noted that the new desalination plant was planned years ago.
The senior research fellow from the school's Institute of Water Policy added that PUB has always taken a long-term view of Singapore's water challenges.
She said water security has been a longstanding priority for Singapore. "Johor is a very important source of water, but so are Newater, desalination and local catchments, and PUB has been working on all of them."
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