Sharing Singapore's smart-city experience

Republic keen to share with Arctic nations how it used tech to meet challenges: Sam Tan

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Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sam Tan on Singapore’s smart nation initiatives at the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromso, Norway, on Jan 21, 2019.
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sam Tan speaking at the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromso, Norway on Jan 21, 2019. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Singapore is a small country with no natural resources, but it has successfully harnessed technology, including sensors and automated meters, to help it fulfil its ambitions of becoming a smart city.

This is an experience it hopes to share with other nations looking to technology for solutions to challenges such as climate change, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sam Tan said on Monday.

Speaking to a crowd of policymakers and academics at the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromso, Norway, he said the theme of this year's event, Smart Arctic, was a timely one, with new technologies bringing about opportunities and disruptions.

For example, Singapore is investing in revamping its power grid to become more energy-efficient and deploying sensors that can collect real-time data on wind, sunlight and shade in residential areas.

By analysing this information, urban planners will be able to get more insight into how to design and site future housing estates to reduce the need for air-conditioning. "This will in turn reduce our carbon emissions," said Mr Tan.

The use of technology to strike a balance between development and the protection of the Arctic environment looks set to be a major theme during the five-day conference, which kicked off on Sunday.

On Monday, Norway's Minister of Climate and Environment Ola Elvestuen cited a recent scientific report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as being an urgent call for countries to transition to a low carbon future.

The report highlighted the differences in impacts of a 1.5 deg C global warming scenario versus a 2 deg C one, with the latter resulting in catastrophic impacts on earth systems, human livelihoods and biodiversity.

"We must be smarter and more efficient at using energy. We need smart cities and communities, and... strong policies to speed up transitions to a low emission society," he said.

Some of Singapore's home-grown innovations could help.

Local start-up Third Wave Power, for example, has designed a portable solar charger that can be used by off-grid rural communities.

"This is useful for people living in remote areas, not just in South-east Asia, but also in the Arctic region," said Mr Tan.

Ms Hema Nadarajah, a Singaporean doctoral candidate studying international relations at the University of British Columbia's department of political science, said both the Arctic and South-east Asia have many remote communities that experience extreme weather conditions and share common issues related to ageing energy infrastructure.

She said: "With similar challenges, solutions can be translated and adapted to the local context."

Mr Tan also highlighted the importance of context during the event, acknowledging that solutions from Singapore cannot be directly applied to the Arctic region due to the differences between both regions.

"But I hope this will provide examples and options to think about while you are planning for a smarter Arctic. As an observer, we would like to share our information and experience with our Arctic counterparts" he said, referring to how Singapore was granted observer status at the Arctic Council in 2013.

He added: "Together, we can make the Arctic cool again."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2019, with the headline Sharing Singapore's smart-city experience. Subscribe