“You say we are on the brink of destruction and you are right. But it is only on the brink that people find the will to change.”
Quoted from the 2008 film titled “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, it tells the story of an alien sent to Earth to change human behaviour or if unsuccessful, eradicate us all in order to save the planet. The quote eloquently reflects how most of us deal with this issue of climate change; we won’t until it adversely impacts our lives.
Climate change is upon us. According to the Earth Observatory, our surface temperatures have increased approximately 0.8 degrees Celsius over the past century and is now estimated to rise between 0.15 to 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade. Floods worldwide are getting more prevalent with China reporting regular flooding in as many as 641 major cities out of its 654.
During his 2019 National Day Rally speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong felt the need to dedicate a quarter of his 80-minute speech to touch on the Government’s long-term plan to combat climate change. This was an unprecedented move that highlights the severity of the issue.
Even at this year’s Singapore International Energy Week (SIEW), the focus was on “Accelerating Energy Transformation” to meet growing demands whilst reducing carbon emissions.
With various organisations coming to share their plans for the foreseeable future, let us delve deeper into what the energy players are doing to prepare for our increasingly carbon-constrained future.
Our quest to reduce emissions began some 20 years ago. Before the 21st century, Singapore’s electricity supply mostly came from power plants (or gencos) that ran on oil. Since then, we have switched to plants that run off natural gas; an option that produces half the emissions as compared to oil-powered plants.
Today, about 95 per cent of electricity generated in Singapore comes from natural gas.
Adopting Energy Efficient Technologies
To further encourage the power sector to improve on its power generation efficiency and emissions reduction, the Energy Market Authority (EMA) launched its Genco Energy Efficiency Grant Call in 2018.
The grant call targets to reduce around 100 kilo tonnes of carbon annually, and will support energy efficient projects that result in an annual carbon abatement of at least 0.5 kilo tonnes.
Under the grant, EMA will co-fund up to 50 per cent of the qualifying cost of energy efficiency projects undertaken by the energy generating company. Currently, six out of seven gencos are participating in this grant.
Upskilling of Workers
Adopting more energy efficient technologies would require upskilling of workers to handle the industry advances.
As such, a total of 10 key employers in the power and gas industry have committed to partner the Union of Power and Gas Employees (UPAGE) to upskill their workers.
This commitment will see the respective companies communicating and implementing training plans in line with developments brought about by industry transformation across the sector’s value chain.
This includes: identifying jobs that are at risk of disruption; building new competencies and mapping out new skills requirements; and enhancing productivity for workers by equipping them with adaptive, technology and technical skills.
“To ensure that our workers are better prepared for the future, UPAGE is committed to help our workers build their capabilities and upgrade their skills as the sector powers up to build a sustainable, smart-energy future,” said UPAGE General Secretary, Abdul Samad Abdul Wahab.
Some 4,000 out of 5,500 workers employed in this sector could potentially benefit from this commitment.
Being the most viable renewable energy source for Singapore, our country is currently on track to reach our solar target of 350 Megawatt-peak by 2020, and at least 2 Gigawatt-peak by 2030. In non-physicist lingo, that will be sufficient to meet the annual needs of around 350,000 households.
Meeting that target is not without challenges, and our country’s lack of space is one of those major hurdles.
However, our Government has a workaround to facilitate the large-scale deployment of solar photovoltaic systems here.
That includes rooftop installations of solar PV on public housing and public sector buildings; researching and developing building-integrated photovoltaics; deployment of floating solar panels on reservoirs and offshore spaces and utilising state land for solar infrastructure.
Solar Energy Storage
One of the major pitfalls of solar energy is its intermittent nature. Virtually no energy is collected after dusk, or even during a very cloudy day. This is where Energy Storage Systems (ESS) comes into play.
EMA is targeting to deploy 200 megawatts of ESS beyond 2025 to support greater solar deployment.
Test beds have already been deployed to ascertain the technical and safety issues when it comes to the deployment of ESS in our land-scarce, urbanised, hot and humid environment.
Exploring Emerging Energy Technologies
Sharron Angle, an American politician once said: “We need to diversify our economy, and the energy industry would be a great place to begin that diversification.”
In Singapore, we are also studying emerging technologies such as hydrogen and carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS).
A versatile energy carrier, hydrogen has the potential to diversify our fuel mix across multiple applications, such as electricity generation and transport.
If produced from renewable energy sources, it has the potential to decarbonise power generation and emissions-heavy sectors.
The National Climate Change Secretariat, the Economic Development Board and EMA recently awarded a tender to carry out a study on hydrogen imports and downstream applications, with the aim of understanding the technical and economic feasibility of importing hydrogen, as well its applications in the long run.
Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage
CCUS has a different approach to reducing emissions. While existing sources of non-renewable energy tries to reduce emissions by optimising efficiency, CCUS reduces emissions by capturing and converting the captured carbon dioxide (CO2) from power plants and industrial facilities.
The captured gases can then either be converted into usable products like building materials or synthetic fuels or stored in natural sub-surface geological formations.
I sit here and ask myself if these initiatives would even make a noticeable impact in the world’s efforts battle climate change.
I can only conclude ‘unlikely’.
However, while actual environmental impact might be minimal, our tiny nation is setting up the energy framework of which, if successful, others may follow suit or improve upon.
We can only hope that by then, it would not be too late.