Climate Change is an imminent threat that is looming over all of us inhabiting the planet Earth. As governments lead the way in climate action, Singapore plays its part by pledging NDC to the Paris Agreement and accordingly established the Singapore Green Plan 2030, a national net-zero blueprint. The first step to a viable decarbonisation strategy starts with a forensic understanding of the emission sources. Given that the energy sector accounts for 40% of Singapore’s carbon emissions, we take a look at its energy landscape and explore its renewable energy transition and alternative solutions, including low-carbon hydrogen.
Liberalising Singapore’s Energy Market
Since self-governance in 1959 and 57 years into independence, the energy policy and the electricity markets of Singapore have been modified to suit the requirements and demands of the nation. This is implemented in a way to achieve a balanced economy and to ensure safe and reliable electricity for Singapore. Today, the electricity market has been liberalised to establish an open electricity market (OEM) for all the stakeholders to engage, thus establishing a more competitive market.
Fast forward four years from the introduction of the OEM, Singapore is exposed to the brunt of rising natural gas prices rippled from the global energy crisis.
The surging prices led to six electricity retailers exiting the Singapore market. To help tide over volatile electricity prices, Energy Market Authority (EMA), public agency under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, responsible for the energy supply of Singapore was quick to intervene. It extended the Temporary Electricity Contracting Support Scheme (TRECS) that offers one-month fixed price electricity plans to large consumers. Further safeguards were put in place to safeguard Singapore’s Energy security and resilience, including setting up standby fuel facilities for power generation companies (gencos) to leverage on, in case of gas supply disruptions.
What Does Singapore’s Energy Supply Mix Consist Of?
Today, 95% of Singapore’s electricity is generated from natural gas. Over the last 50 years, Singapore has progressively transited from oil to natural gas which is one of the greener forms of fossil fuel which emits significantly less CO2. While this marks a major milestone for Singapore, the recent events of the global energy crisis provided the impetus to decouple Singapore’s energy reliance from the global natural gas supply. This creates a logical incentive to accelerate Singapore’s energy transition towards renewable energy resources in view of long-term sustainability.
With the power sector accounting for about 40% of Singapore’s carbon emissions, decarbonising electricity generation plays a significant role in Singapore’s effort to tackle climate change, strengthen the energy reliability of the nation and bolster its position. Given Singapore’s limited renewable energy potential, the energy transition journey will require a calibrated approach, with agility to evolving global energy landscape, technological advancements, and foresight.
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Solar – Singapore’s Most Viable Renewable Energy Source
Taking a page out of the EMA’s energy story narrative, one of the four switches is the switch to solar, which is the most promising renewable energy source given the land constraints. Much progress has been made on this front to achieve its national solar target of at least 2 gigawatt-peak (GWp) by 2030.
Over the years, the government has implemented initiatives through government statutory boards such as Housing Development Board (HDB), JTC, and Public Utilities Board (PUB) and paved the way by implementing solar in the buildings, lands, and reservoirs via competitive bids for developers and independent power producers to bid upon.
Some notable mentions of solar installations in Singapore include:
1. The HDB SolarNova programme
Singapore is one of the most (if not the most) solar-dense cities in the world, measured in MWp/sq km. One reason this is not more widely known is that solar is mainly installed on high-rise rooftops and is hence out of view. To paint a picture, about 80% of Singapore’s population lives in high-rise public housing, referred to as HDB blocks. The city has a total of about 10,000 such buildings. To date, 2,700 HDB blocks have been solarised and with the launch of the 7th SolarNova tender in February, 8,400 more HDB blocks will be solarised. Under the SolarNova programme, installed solar capacity is expected to be 1.5 GWp by 2025 and 2GWp by 2030.
2. JTC’s SolarLand and SolarRoof programme
Solar panels have been installed at close to 40 sites across JTC’s estates under SolarLand and SolarRoof programmes and over 82MWp of solar energy capacity is expected to be generated over the next two years.
3. PUB Tengeh Reservoir Floating Solar Farm
At 60 MWp, the floating solar PV system on Tengeh Reservoir is one of the world’s largest inland floating solar farms.
Aside from the developments in the public sector, there is growing industry interest in Corporate Purchase Purchase Agreements (CPPAs), as a pivotal solution to enable corporations to reduce their Scope 2 carbon emissions concerning electricity consumption.
Additionally, economics and net-metering are increasing rooftop solar installation and the adoption of on-site PPA. In Singapore, Sentosa Development Corporation has charted its path to carbon neutrality by 2030 by deploying solar across 18 sites on the island to be fully operational by 2023. Technological firms such as Microsoft and Facebook are actively procuring renewable energy, ranging from 50MW to 100MW.
Despite the positive progress in solar deployment across Singapore, according to the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (SERIS), even if we deploy our full technical potential of 8.6 GWp of solar by 2050, it will meet only about 10% of our projected electricity demand then. This indicates that solar will never be a major component of our fuel mix though we will still maximise our solar potential. This is due to solar inherently is not energy-dense and in Singapore, there are limited spaces for solar as a densely populated city.
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In order for Singapore’s power sector to achieve net-zero by 2050, other avenues for energy supply are explored. In March 2022, EMA released the Energy 2050 Committee report that laid out the various strategies and pathways toward power sector decarbonisation.
1. Regional Power Grids and Electricity Imports
Leveraging electricity imports to access cleaner and cost-effective energy sources beyond Singapore’s borders will be critical to diversify Singapore’s energy portfolio. In fact, the development of the ASEAN gri – a connected regional power grid borne out of a collective action in ASEAN to share clean energy resources and develop energy projects – is underway. In that direction, the import of up to 100 megawatts (MW) of hydropower from Laos under the Laos-Thailand-Malaysia-Singapore Power Integration Project has commenced this year. EMA targets to allow imports up to 4 gigawatts (GW) of electricity by 2035, for which it has issued two Request for Proposals (RFPs) for project developers to express interest. The first RFP should account for the import of up to 1.2GW of electricity to begin by 2027, while the second RFP will be for the remaining quantity by 2035. However, the downside to electricity imports is that Singapore will remain vulnerable to risks, such as energy security and affordability.
This effectively puts a cap on our reliance on importing electricity from regional power grids, while capturing CO2 from the flue gas of combined cycle gas turbines (CCGTs) burning natural gas is not economically viable due to the energy penalty. An interesting development on this front is the S$2.5 million pilot system at Tuas built by PUB – Singapore’s National Water Agency – to test the viability of carbon capture and utilisation technologies, expected to be ready by the first quarter of 2023. The technology entails passing an electrical current through seawater to remove CO2 out of seawater so that the oceans have the capacity to absorb additional CO2 from the atmosphere.
Another byproduct of the carbon removal process is pure hydrogen, which can be captured for use as a clean fuel to run the system. However, further research on the prep-combustion and post-combustion carbon capture techniques is still required to study the feasibility of new integrated CCUS facilities in Singapore.
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2. Emergence of Low-carbon Hydrogen
This brings us to the latest development announced by Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong in the Singapore International Energy Week 2022, on the launch of Singapore’s National Hydrogen Strategy. In the process of burning natural gas, blending hydrogen with natural gas for combustion in the combined cycle gas turbine (CCGTs) seems to be a promising pathway to decarbonisation power generation. The same pattern is also observed with thermal power plants all over the world.
Whether it is combusting a blend of hydrogen and natural gas, or co-firing natural gas or coal with ammonia, the aim is to eventually displace fossil fuels with zero-carbon fuels. The cost of green hydrogen is also becoming more cost-competitive due to increasing global deployment and economies of scale, akin to the decline in the cost of solar and wind power generation technologies over the years. With continued technological advancements, Wong also highlighted that hydrogen can supply up to half of Singapore’s power needs by 2050.
The Energy Dilemma and Sustainable Policy
In the midst of all efforts to make Singapore greener, the energy demand of Singapore is expected to rise with economic growth and digitalisation. With the target to phase out internal combustion engine vehicles by 2030, and other drivers such as smart nation initiatives, Singapore has to be adaptive to the changing and increasing demands of energy that are to be expected in the coming years and decades. With the ever-unpredictable nature of the modern world and the open economy, Singapore requires a consistent and agile energy policy framework to find the delicate balance in delivering sustainable, secure, and affordable energy, not only for 2050 in view but also for the decades beyond.
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