• Sahul Salam

Renewable Energy – The Rise of Solar Power in Singapore

Solar energy is the most promising renewable energy source for electricity generation for our country, according to the National Climate Change Secretariat. Solar energy is clean, generates no emissions, and contributes to Singapore’s energy security. The Energy Market Authority (EMA) has been taking proactive steps to facilitate its deployment while ensuring that the stability of Singapore’s power grid is maintained.


There are, however, some challenges to upscale solar technology in Singapore, namely land scarcity and weather conditions. As a result, EMA has started investing in solar forecasting and energy storage solutions.


At the same time, the Government has aims to accelerate the deployment of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems in Singapore through the SolarNova initiative.


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What is the SolarNova initiative?

Launched in 2014, the SolarNova programme is a Whole-Of-Government effort led by the Economic Development Board (EDB) and HDB to accelerate the deployment of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems in Singapore. This programme helps to promote and aggregate demand for solar PV across government agencies to achieve economies of scale, as well as drive the growth of Singapore’s solar industry.


Currently, solar power forms less than one percent of Singapore’s energy market. In a stark contrast, more than 95 percent comes from natural gas, the cleanest form of fossil fuel. Other sources, such as oil and coal which do not burn as cleanly, round up the mix.


What’s in store for the future?

By 2030, Singapore wants to ramp up its solar capacity by more than seven times from current levels, to 2 gigawatt-peak (GWp). This would power about 350,000 4-room HDB units, around four percent of the total annual energy mix. This goal was outlined by then-Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing on October 29 last year.


World’s largest floating solar photovoltaic cell (Source: The Straits Times)


In 2018, PUB and EDB unveiled plans for large-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) systems to advance the growth and adoption of solar energy in Singapore. This includes deploying floating solar panels of 50 megawatt-peak on Tengeh Reservoir, and one of the world’s largest sea-based offshore floating solar test-beds of 5 megawatt-peak north of Woodlands Waterfront Park.


Are we currently dependent on other countries for energy?


Random man admiring the beauty of a solar panel


We had an energy dependence shift in the early 2000s when Singapore switched from oil to natural gas – a much cleaner energy source which Singapore currently imports in liquefied forms (LNG) from all over the world and through pipes from our neighbors, Indonesia and Malaysia – to power our nation.


Singapore’s natural gas consumption increased from 230 billion cubic feet (Bcf) in 2005 to 400 Bcf in 2015, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy.


In the longer term, Singapore could possibly be part of a regional power grid to trade electricity with its surrounding neighbors, which would increase its energy security. Just recently, EMA announced that Singapore will import electricity from Peninsular Malaysia under a two-year trial.


The trial aims to assess and refine the technical and regulatory frameworks for importing electricity into Singapore, which would help to facilitate larger-scale imports from the region in the future. Tapping on regional power grids for cleaner energy resources is one strategy to further diversify Singapore’s energy supply.


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How can Singapore meet its solar target?

The first is to maximize the deployment of solar panels onto available surfaces, including rooftops, reservoirs, offshore spaces, and vertical surfaces of buildings. This is similar to how Singapore had turned two-thirds of its land surface area into a water catchment area. We can do the same for energy.


Under the recently awarded SolarNova Tender 4 announced in 2019, solar panels will be deployed at 30 schools, as well as 13 MINDEF sites.


Industrial developer JTC will also be deploying mobile solar panels and substations on vacant land, that is not required for development in the near future.


Singapore will also invest more in research and development into energy storage systems. These overcome the challenge of intermittent sunshine, as we experience a significant amount of cloud cover annually.


Conclusion


Singapore is limited in terms of cost-effective and reliable renewable energy sources. Solar photovoltaic is the only renewable energy source with potential to make an impact on our energy grid.


We have no indigenous hydrocarbon reserves and must import all our crude oil and natural gas. Therefore, Singapore must strive to diversify its energy sources, and in line with the nation’s commitment to reduce the effects of climate change, seek out cleaner energy sources.


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