Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the 12th Singapore International Energy Week 2019

Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the 12th Singapore International Energy Week 2019

1. Good morning and a warm welcome to the 12th edition of the Singapore International Energy Week (SIEW).

2. This morning, we intend to share with you our Singapore Energy Story. But before we talk about the Energy Story, perhaps I should take a step back, and share with you our Water Story. About 54 years ago, when we first gained independence, we did not even have enough water for this country. We had to import most of our water from Malaysia, supplemented by our own local reservoir supply. When I was young, we were taught that in Singapore we only had three reservoirs - MacRitchie, Seletar and Pierce. Three in the central water catchment area. It was barely enough for us to survive. But over the last 54 years, we have progressively built up our own water capacity. Today, instead of three reservoirs, we have 17 reservoirs. Today, no river actually flows into the sea. Every river that is possible for us to turn into a reservoir, we have pretty much done so. Today, two-thirds of Singapore’s land area is a water catchment area. Two thirds for a city like ours is quite amazing. 

3. Today, beyond water from Malaysia and our own reservoirs, we have two new “taps”; what we call the two new supplies of water. We are able to use desalination to increase our water capacity. We are also able to recycle waste water into fresh water, which we call NEWater, and drinking water for our population. And in theory today, every drop of water that falls onto Singapore from the sky will be reused twice before it is evaporated. That was the story of Singapore’s water journey for the last 50 years. 

4. But there is another story that we need to do for the next 50 years and that is the Energy Story. With energy, we will have sufficient water, and we can even considerably have sufficient food supply going forward. Now the question is, how will we build our energy supplies in a way that is sustainable, reliable and affordable for the next 50 years? So let me now move on to the Energy Story, which will be the equivalent of our Water Story for the last 50 years. 

5. Over the last 50 years, our energy supplies have evolved tremendously. In the past, from the 1950s to the 1990s, we depended very much on oil-fired power plants. Since the 2000s, we have progressively moved towards a cleaner and more reliable fuel, natural gas. Today in Singapore, more than 95% of our electricity supply comes from natural gas, and the natural gas comes from two sources. One, from the pipelines that we have with our neighboring countries and two, from the global supplies of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) through our ports. 

6. However, we are still an alternative energy disadvantaged country. Beyond natural gas, we have very little renewables. We do not have geothermal and wind and we hardly have any tidal power to depend on. So solar power is our only renewable energy. And many of you might think that in Singapore, we have loads of solar power because we live in the tropics. But unfortunately, 80% of the time, our skies are overcast because we are in the tropics. For the other 20% of the time, we hope that no other difficulties arise for us to collect solar energy. So it is not that straight-forward, even for solar energy. 

7. Our Singapore Energy Story will depend on four Switches for the next 50 years. So our plan for the next 50 years is that we will develop four Switches, and make sure that we reduce and manage our energy consumption in order to balance our budget constraints in terms of carbon and energy. Let me explain.

8. First, we will continue to rely on natural gas for the next 50 years for a substantial part of our energy needs. But having said that, we must continue to do two things better. First, we will continue to diversify our sources of natural gas, coming from all parts of the world. The second thing we need to make sure that we do equally well is to continually improve the technology we use to generate power from natural gas and to be more efficient. The technology is moving very fast and we will continue to make sure Singapore stays ahead of the curve, even as we depend very much on natural gas. Singapore will also continue to grow ourselves as an LNG trading hub. This will include studying a potential additional LNG terminal for Singapore, issuing of new LNG import licenses and continuing to strengthen our basic fundamental financial and data support systems. These will enable us to become a regional, or even global, LNG trading hub. So these are the things we will do to ensure that while we continue to use natural gas, we will diversify our sources and build up our capabilities.

9. The next Switch that we want to talk about for the Energy Story will be solar. Today, we have seen more and more solar panels being deployed in Singapore. Over the last 10 years, the grid-connected solar installations have increased from 30 to over 3000 in Singapore. But we cannot rest on our laurels. We are on track to reach a target of 350 megawatt-peak deployed by next year. The government will continue to support the adoption of more solar solutions through streamlining our regulations, the SolarNova programme and the deployment of solar panels on rooftops. HDB aims to deploy solar panels on 1 in 2 HDB rooftops over the upcoming years. 

10. This will help to boost the solar capacity within Singapore. And we will make every surface count. Remember the Water Story? Today, two-thirds of Singapore’s land surface area is a water catchment area. The challenge is this, in the next 50 years, can we dramatically increase not just the two-dimensional surface area for the collection of solar, but also the three-dimensional surface area for the collection of solar. If tomorrow, the efficiency of the solar panel can also improve to include vertical surfaces, if every one of our high-rise buildings, the walls and even the windows become solar collectors, it will fundamentally change how much solar energy Singapore can generate for our domestic supply. 

11. Today, the solar panel energy collection efficiency is still pretty low. For most conventional solar panels, the efficiency is between 15 to 20 per cent. The question is, can we increase the efficiency beyond 25 per cent? If there is a breakthrough in this, then the amount of solar energy that can be collected with the same surface area will be very different. So we have set ourselves a target. That by 2030, we aim to deploy at least 2 Gigawatt peak of solar energy. That will be about 10 per cent of Singapore’s peak daily electricity demand today. But having said that, this is a stretch target. Much of its success will depend on how the public sector and private industries can work together to bring this about. Much of this will also depend on the technology breakthrough that we can see in the next 10 years, whether we can increase the efficiency of existing solar panels beyond the conventional 15 to 20 per cent, and whether we can use vertical surfaces over and beyond the horizontal surfaces that we have today. 

12. In fact, when I was young I always had a dream. In Singapore, we allocate about 12% of all our land area for HDB or public housing. But very few people know that in Singapore, we also allocate almost the same amount of land space for roads. What if one day, the surfaces above the roads can also help us to collect solar energy? If we can do that, we will be able to double the amount of space that we can use for solar energy collection. So going forward, we should expect to see more solar panels to collect solar energy, be it on the reservoirs, be it in the sea, be it on top of the buildings or even the vertical surfaces of our buildings. 

13. Having said that, in order to do solar energy well, we need another set of technology, and that is energy storage solutions. We aim to deploy about 200 Megawatt of energy storage solutions beyond 2025. If we have a network of energy storage solutions across the entire island, it will also help us to manage the stability and resilience of our energy grid. Not only that, if we have sufficient energy storage solutions, it will also help us to shave off the difference between the peak and trough within the daily demand cycle. Now this is significant. 

14. In Singapore, the difference between the peak and the trough within the daily cycle can be as much as 30 per cent. In order to cater to the peak demand, much resources will be required to build the extra infrastructure capacity. But if we can use energy storage solutions to better balance the peak and the trough demand, then that will save on the infrastructure cost. And if we can do that well, I believe that the solutions will not only benefit Singapore but will also benefit many other countries beyond Singapore. Today, in order to cater to peak demand, most countries have to spend a lot to build the infrastructure just for that few hours of the day. So energy storage solutions are something that we would certainly like to develop further, with our partners both in the private sector and in other countries. 

15. The third Switch that we would like to explore going forward in the next 50 years will be the possibility of a regional power grid. Today in Southeast Asia, some countries have an abundance of hydro and other renewables. If we can connect the regional grid, it will provide greater resilience and stability for the entire system. The map that you see on the slide is only for illustrative purposes. But this is something that we would like to work on with our regional partners - how do we get a regional grid. This idea is not something new. In Europe, this is already part and parcel of what their energy supply network is about. Places like Denmark and Switzerland who may have excess power, are already selling some of their power to neighboring countries. This makes for a much more resilient and efficient regional network.

16. Last but not least, we need to explore the fourth Switch. The fourth Switch is for us to explore other low-carbon alternatives. There are people who are already talking about carbon capture solutions. If we can do that, and if we can produce what we call “green hydrogen” or environmentally friendly hydrogen, combine that with carbon dioxide captured from industrial processes,  we might be able to produce new forms of energy that have not been envisaged before. Today in the world, there are also many other new ideas of how people can produce energy. Some people talk about biomass and algae. But of course we all understand, the holy grail for everyone today is nuclear fusion, not nuclear fission. We believe it will take many more years to mature fusion technology before it can be commercialised. But we will never give up the search for alternative energy sources to complement the three Switches that we already have. 

17. These are all very exciting ideas of how we can boost the security and resilience of our energy supply. But having said that, one of the most important things that we need to do is manage our energy demand. And if we look at our energy demand today, there are many things that we can and we should do in the coming years. 

18. First, I think we need to see how we can save on our usage of energy. Many studies have shown that for countries in the tropics, one third of energy supply goes toward cooling needs. If you look at a typical audience hall, we just need to cool two meters up from the ground level to provide thermal comfort to the audience. Much of the cooling for the rest of the building is probably unnecessary if we can redesign the way the entire cooling system works. If we want to move the needle for energy savings, cooling needs is one big issue. In Singapore, there are at least four layers of better design that we can do, from the macro to the micro level for us to move the needle when it comes to energy usage. 

19. First layer is our macro urban distribution of industries. How do we plan our urban design and industry spread so that within the same precinct, we can reuse the waste heat more efficiently. 

20. Second layer, how do we do the macro urban design such that we do not need to waste time and energy ferrying people and goods, shuttling across different parts of the island in order to get work done. Most urban cities grow as an urban sprawl, randomly and organically. But for Singapore, we will have a tremendous opportunity to refresh the entire island’s infrastructure in the next 50 years for the next few generations. And when we do this, when we redevelop our industrial estates and HDB towns, we need to ask ourselves how can we redesign the entire island at a macro level so that we minimise the wastage of energy in transporting people and goods across the island. How can we get rid of the tidal effects of today’s traffic pattern. What is the tidal effect? We started developing the country from the South, so today in the morning most traffic flows from North to South, East to West. But if we can progressively redesign the entire Singapore, we will get rid of this tidal effect, which will lead to a much more efficient use of our transportation system and network, and certainly the amount of energy that we will need for the entire system.  

21. At the third layer, we are doing research and development at the precinct level, such that when we look at the design of our buildings or cluster of buildings, how can we prioritise and reduce the energy needs. In Singapore, which direction the building faces will be very significant in its energy consumption not just because of where the sun rises and sets, but also where the wind is coming from. So how we design the precinct to make full use of the natural ventilation to reduce the cooling needs will be both an opportunity and a challenge. 

22. Last but not least, at the fourth layer, use of technology at the micro level to determine how much cooling we need. Today we are exploring examples of what we call a Zero Energy Building. It is easy for Singapore and for other countries to do greenfield developments for new buildings to have zero carbon footprints. The challenge is how can we find cost effective ways to convert brownfield sites into energy efficient buildings and precincts. That will be the challenge and that will be the breakthrough. And that is the area where EMA, together with JTC, are looking at new capabilities to see how we can help existing brownfield sites convert into much more energy efficient sites. 

23. Take the example of district cooling. Today when we stand here, this is the Marina Bay area; the entire area in this part of Singapore has district cooling. A much more efficient way of cooling the entire district at scale. The question is how can we replicate such things to brownfield sites. The conventional air conditioning systems is actually quite inefficient. The conventional air con system transfers heat from inside the building to the outside. The neighboring buildings will need to remove this heat from their buildings and transfer it back outside. That is why conventional cooling systems in the tropics are not very efficient when optimised at the individual level. We have done better with centralised cooling, aggregating it at the precinct level or the building level, but that is still not good enough. District cooling has the potential to radically change the way cooling is done in our tropical environment but that requires us to find the breakthrough on how to do this for brownfield sites. This concept is no different from how temperate countries do their central heating not just at the individual building level but at the district level. 

24. Much of such efforts will also require us to use data to drive our actions – use of data in the upfront design of buildings, data to encourage people to change their consumption patterns so that we can be more energy-efficient. To sum up, improving energy efficiency and utilisation will be critical to support the four Switches that we have. And to do that, we need to optimise design from the micro to the macro level, we must be able to explore new energy-efficient materials and technologies, we must be able to use data.   

25. Finally, to do all these, it will require all stakeholders in Singapore to come together. There are different roles for the five groups of people. For the government, our job is to make sure that we have progressive rules to enable market innovation. Our job is to make sure that the economy can continuously innovate for the benefit of consumers and industries. Another thing that the government needs to do well is to continue to strengthen our partnerships with international bodies like IRENA, UNESCAP and IEA. For us to constantly check our blind spots and keep pace with the developments around the world. This could be in terms of rules and regulations or technologies. Whichever aspect it may be, it is our job to make sure that we do not develop our systems in isolation but in constant partnership with the rest of the world. 

26. Second, our workforce will also need to evolve. The current workers who are in the energy industry operating our power plants will need to acquire new skillsets. These include how to use data, how to use the digital systems to enable the smart grid, how to run alternative energy systems. This evolution is not just about the individual skillsets. We also need to build new skillsets at the team level and at the macro level, for us to operate the entire system and optimise it. 

27. Third, our researchers in the Institutes of Higher Learning and research institutes have their hands full. We have thrown you the challenge to see how we can achieve the improvements from macro urban design to micro material use. There are many things that can be done.We will also need to build up new capacities in our research institutes for things like macro urban design to micro materials use, so that we can have more buildings that are net carbon neutral. 

28. Fourth, our industry also needs to change. Our industry needs to continue to work with the researchers to innovate and bring the innovations to market. This is the challenge, not just for Singapore but for many other countries. Many countries have good research outcomes but the challenge is how do we translate those research outcomes into positive market outcomes, and that requires the industry to be in constant conversation with the researchers. The industry also needs to lead in the adoption of some of these technologies. One of the things that we need to challenge ourselves on is this – today when we build a building, very few people look at the life cycle cost. Most of us fall into this fallacy – while we try to optimise the cost of construction, many of us fail to optimise the cost incurred over the entire life cycle. This is a challenge for our business model. If we do not optimise it over the entire life cycle, we will easily fall into this problem of building a very cheap building which will cost us a lot to operate and maintain over its life cycle, with adverse consequences on our energy consumption. 

29. Finally, every individual in Singapore will also need to play a part, just like the Water Story. In the Water Story, every Singaporean learnt to treasure every drop of water that falls onto Singapore. In the Water Story, every Singaporean learnt to keep our waterways clean so that even the drains that flow into our reservoirs will not be contaminated. For the next 50 years, all Singaporeans will similarly have to develop the same type of instincts – how do we make sure that every bit of energy available to us counts, how to optimise our design, how to change our habits, how to use data to nudge and shape our behaviours to make better decisions. In Singapore, we will progressively roll out smart advanced electricity meters. We want to empower our people to make the best decision for themselves and their families. And we believe that if we give people the information and data, they will be able to make the best decisions for themselves. EMA will be launching an inaugural Singapore Energy Grand Challenge. We want to challenge ourselves, our students, our researchers, our industries, to come together to develop innovative ideas to transform our entire energy sector. 

30. Singapore by all accounts is an artificial country. From the historical lens, there are not many people who think Singapore would survive or even succeed. We have survived and succeeded in spite of our lack of natural resources, in spite of our lack of land mass. We always pride ourselves that so long as we continue to be innovative and creative in the way that we tackle our challenges, not only will we survive, we will also thrive. Not only will we find solutions that are suitable for our own country, those solutions can also be suitable for many other parts of the world. This was Singapore’s Water Story. Today, we do not just provide sufficient water for ourselves. Today, we export water solutions to different parts of the world. Tomorrow, the world will face the same challenges for energy as it faces for water. So we believe in managing our own energy challenges, we will not only do ourselves a favour by making sure that we provide the next generation with more secured energy supplies and a cleaner environment, but we also believe that if we do this well, we will be able to offer solutions to the rest of the world. 
31. So whether we can overcome the energy challenge for the next 50 years will depend on our innovation, creativity and drive. And we are confident that there is nothing that will stand in our way if we stand united and focus on this challenge. For those of you who are here in Singapore for the first time, the place we are standing on now did not exist 54 years ago. Marina Barrage and Marina Bay did not exist 54 years ago. We did this because we want to leave behind a better future for the next generation. In Singapore, we like to pride ourselves that our success is not defined by how well we do for this generation only, we pride ourselves that we define success by how well we enable the next generation to do even better than us. This is the reason why 50 years ago, we embarked on our Water Story to make sure that we have a better future for our next generation. And now the onus is on this generation to make sure that we leave behind a cleaner, more sustainable, more affordable, and more reliable Energy Story for the next generation. And if every generation of Singaporeans can continue this spirit of leaving behind something better for the next generation, then we are confident that not only can we solve our challenges, we will be able to offer the world possible solutions to many of their challenges as well.

32. On that note, thank you very much for joining us today.    
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