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Singapore dips its toes in renewable waters

Sensemaking / Singapore dips its toes in renewable waters

Tidal turbines and a micro grid test bed launched as Singapore sounds out the potential for low-carbon energy security.

By Jeremy Lovell / 19 Nov 2013

Singapore, Asia’s leading oil trading and refining hub whose main energy source is imported natural gas, is testing a range of renewables with a view to enhancing its energy security. In October it launched a renewable energy test bed on the tiny island of Pulau Ubin. Then, earlier this month, it installed two small tidal turbines to sound out the potential for tidal energy in the low currents around its shores.

The two prototype low-flow turbines, stationed between Singapore’s main island and the offshore Sentosa resort, will indicate the value of developing larger ones. Their current capacity is so small that, even if everything goes according to plan, they will only generate one kilowatt per hour of electricity – about enough to power 70 fluorescent light bulbs.

Currently, Singapore gets about 80% of its electricity from imported gas. It has steadily been switching to gas from fuel oil under the Singapore Green Plan, first drawn up in 1992, which aims to promote greater environmental sustainability with targets for air quality, energy efficiency, water, waste, health and nature.

The Government claims that many of the initial targets set – such as reducing carbon intensity by 25% from 1990 levels by 2012 – have already been met. It has now issued more ambitious goals for 2030, including reducing the amount of energy used per dollar of gross domestic product by 20% by 2020 and 35% by 2030, from 2005 levels.

But it also admits that its scope for renewable power is limited. It has no hydro or geothermal power sources, low wind speeds and limited scope for solar, so every little bit helps.

“Singapore has undertaken continual and a diverse range of efforts to explore all energy options and to enhance our energy security”, said S Iswaran, a Minister for Home Affairs, Trade and Industry, speaking at the inauguration ceremony for the Pulau Ubin test bed. “As part of that effort, this micro-grid test-bed will help us assess the reliability of renewable energy sources [… and] to better understand how intermittent energy sources can be integrated into our energy system and electricity market without compromising overall grid stability.”

The micro grid incorporates biodiesel from recycled cooking fuel, supplied by Alpha Biofuels, and solar PV. In the past the island’s tiny population, numbering less than 100 people, have mainly got their power from diesel generators.

Solar energy is one of the more promising renewable energy sources for Singapore, and the costs of the technology are coming down. However, notes Iswaran, challenges include limited land area for solar farms and cloud cover. The Housing and Development Board is testing PV in housing estates, and recently launched its largest solar-leasing tender to date for a company to own and operate solar panels, producing up to 5MWp, on some 125 blocks in Ang Mo Kio, Sengkang, Serangoon North and Buangkok.

Photo credit: Anna Simpson

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