Thursday 30 October 2014

Semakau landfill to get green power grid

By Feng Zengkun Environment Correspondent, The Straits Times, 29 Oct 2014

THE world's prettiest landfill will soon become greener.

Singapore will start building a power grid at the lush Semakau Landfill next year, to show how renewable energy from the sea, sun and wind can be combined with other technologies to provide a stable source of electricity.

The hybrid micro-grid is the first in the region and is believed to be the largest in the tropics.

It will produce about 1MW of power for a start, which will be used on Semakau. That amount of power is enough for small islands and villages, and can act as an emergency power supply for cities.

In Singapore, it would be enough to power about 250 four-room Housing Board flats.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office S. Iswaran announced the project yesterday at the opening of the inaugural Asia Clean Energy Summit, which is part of this year's Singapore International Energy Week.

He said the project could allow Singapore and its partners to provide electricity to island communities and remote villages. The research could also be used to improve cities' power grids.

"All of these are acute needs in Asia... and Singapore aims to play a meaningful role in Asia's clean- energy journey despite our geographical limitations," said Mr Iswaran, who is also Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade and Industry.

The Economic Development Board (EDB) and the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) will invest a total of $8 million in the grid infrastructure, and the project is expected to attract some $20 million in investments from clean-technology companies in the next five years.

NTU will build the grid and develop the technologies with 10 multinational companies, for a start. These include some of the world's biggest renewable-energy players, such as Vestas, the world's largest manufacturer and installer of wind turbines.

The National Environment Agency and the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore will also support the project.

The grid will use energy storage systems and algorithms to tackle renewable energy's traditional limitations. Sunlight is needed to produce solar power, for instance, but storage systems can store the power for later use.

Professor Hans Puttgen, senior director at NTU's Energy Research Institute, said that a key research area will be technology that converts power to fuel.

One method uses electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.

The hydrogen is combined with carbon dioxide, and the two gases are converted to methane, which is then fed into a natural gas power grid. This also helps to reduce carbon dioxide's impact on the environment.

EDB executive director of clean technologies Goh Chee Kiong said such power-to-gas technology "is a very exciting frontier for a lot of major companies today", and that the Singapore project could catalyse research here in the field.

Prof Puttgen said that the work will evolve as new technologies and partners come on board.

"It will never be finished, and it has been designed to be that way," he said.

S'pore powers towards energy target with new solar projects
By David Ee And Feng Zengkun Environment Correspondent, The Straits Times, 29 Oct 2014

SINGAPORE is on track to start projects by the end of next year to produce five to six times more energy from the sun, as the Government chases its target of having solar power meet about 5 per cent of electricity demand by 2020.

These projects will add 80 to 100 more megawatts-peak (MWp) of solar power, revealed Building and Construction Authority chief executive John Keung yesterday.

On top of the current capacity of nearly 20MWp, the nation would be roughly a third of the way towards its goal of 350MWp.

Part of the new boost in tapping the sun's energy comes from the Housing Board.

HDB has closed its tender for a 20MWp solar leasing project, which will see solar panels placed on the rooftops of 500 more HDB blocks, enough to power more than 4,000 four-room flats.

It is a significant jump from the 176 HDB blocks with solar panels as of August.

By 2020, HDB will contribute 220MWp of solar power with panels at 5,500 blocks.

There are also plans to install solar panels in army camps and in schools.

"In Singapore, the solar-power adoption movement is gaining strong momentum, driven by the competitive costs of solar energy and pervasive sustainability practices," said Dr Keung at the Solar Pioneer Awards, which are part of the Singapore International Energy Week that ends on Friday.

Such growth can be seen in this year's award winners. While past winning projects were in the range of 1MWp, this year's honourees had much larger system sizes, he noted.

He added that the solar energy market's centre of gravity has shifted from the West to Asia. "Consequently, we are seeing many global solar companies increasing their focus on Asia, which includes markets in China, Japan, India and South-east Asia," he said.

Meanwhile, a solar research institute based in the National University of Singapore (NUS) will be testing a unique Swiss-made white solar panel unveiled in Singapore yesterday.

A world first made possible by applying a coat of nanomaterials to solar panels while still maintaining a workable efficiency, it is a dramatic departure from the standard blue-black colour intended to maximise sunlight absorption.

Its creators at private Swiss research centre CSEM hope this will pave the way for using more visually appealing solar panels in a variety of colours on entire building facades rather than just on rooftops.

The Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore at NUS will test these panels for at least six months to see if they are suitable for Singapore's climate.

CSEM selected Singapore for the panel's unveiling as it hopes to market it in Asia, said the director of CSEM's Photovoltaics Centre, Professor Christophe Ballif.

"If we are serious about using more renewable energy, we should make buildings net energy producers," he said.

"One day, we should really consider that buildings be covered entirely with photovoltaic panels."

Dynamic future in power generation
Singapore's plans announced yesterday to ramp up solar energy production is part of a longer-term trend for the Republic to diversify its energy resources.
By Euston Quah And Christabelle Soh, Published The Straits Times, 29 Oct 2014

IT TAKES a certain degree of courage to try to envision what Singapore's environmental landscape will be in the far future. By this, we are referring to at least 30 to 50 years' time - and this is sufficiently distant not to be too bothered if the predictions do not pan out.

In the energy sector, three developments will converge to create two shifts in the way energy is obtained here.

The first shift will be in fuel mix. Currently, the bulk of Singapore's fuel comes from natural gas piped in from Malaysia and Indonesia. However, with improvements in technology to harness and store electricity, we expect to see a greater reliance on renewable energy, specifically solar energy. Already, it was announced yesterday that Singapore will be able to produce five to six times more energy from the sun by the end of next year, as the Government chases its target of having solar power meet about 5 per cent of electricity demand by 2020.

Singapore is well-suited for solar energy, given the perennial sunny climate. Prices of solar panels have also fallen dramatically since China's entry as a producer into the solar panel market.

The obstacle that has prevented more widespread adoption of solar energy has not been price, but dependability - the difficulty of storing cheap solar energy produced in the day for use at any time. As electricity storage technology improves, we foresee a shift away from natural gas to a greater use of solar energy.

The other development that will drive the shift in Singapore's fuel mix away from piped-in natural gas is developments in clean technology regarding burning coal and shale gas extraction. Coal and shale gas are very similar in that both are abundant and, therefore, extremely cheap.

However, concerns about their environmental impact have limited their growth. For shale gas, the concern is over the pollution - such as groundwater poisoning - caused in the "fracking" extraction process. For coal, it is over the large amounts of carbon emissions when it is burnt. With technology that mitigates pollution from fracking, and improvements in carbon capture technology, we expect to see a migration towards these cheaper energy sources. Singapore is already exploring importing shale gas from the United States.

The third development is the trend towards a more cooperative world as Singapore's neighbours become prosperous. As the region grows from greater trade and investment links, friendlier ties will enable the full implementation of a smart energy grid with every Asean nation plugged in.

This will allow for more stability in electricity supply as energy deficits in one country can be made up for by surpluses of another, and more energy efficiency as more will be produced by the one with the lowest marginal cost. For Singapore, this also means a general shift in energy generation from internal to external sources.

Policy-wise, we expect a broadening of markets where the economic principle of taxing negative externalities (costs to third parties that are unaccounted for) are applied. A number of these taxes are already in place - cigarettes are taxed for the health cost imposed on passive smokers; road usage is taxed (via electronic road pricing) for the congestion caused; and car emissions are taxed for the pollution created.

For some existing markets, the taxes will be expanded to include the whole market. For example, to deal with congestion, every road will be priced. "Smart" gantries will adopt dynamic pricing - the greater the congestion, the higher the price for using it, adjusted instantly.

For other markets, taxes will be increased or introduced to correct for other externalities, such as those related to waste generation and noise creation. Carbon taxes will be introduced.

In the case of climate change, while carbon taxes will help reduce carbon emissions, adaptations will be made to accommodate the reality of an already warmer world.

Existing policies, such as higher building bases to prevent flooding and regulation on coastline development, will be expanded. Buildings will be built further inland in response to higher expected sea levels and land reclamation may be curtailed until it becomes clear that it does not contribute to flooding. Similarly, for waste management, policies will be developed to complement taxes. Closer relations with Singapore's neighbours will enable it to lease land from Malaysia and Indonesia for landfills for non-toxic waste.

A holistic approach

THERE will be a fundamental paradigm shift that will influence Singapore's population size, in that policy will be guided by the concept of an optimal population that can maximise the quality of life.

Systems will be established to elicit the public's preference for environmental goods. One part of this would be requiring all proposed public projects to be accompanied by environmental impact analyses (EIA). Perhaps even as early as 10 years from now, the combination of increasingly developed valuation techniques and the shift towards more holistic welfare will promote the use of EIAs.

Singapore's environmental landscape in the far future will be a dynamic changing one that utilises modern technology, pragmatism as cost-benefit analysis and efficiency-based decision-making.

Euston Quah is professor of environmental economics and head of economics at Nanyang Technological University. Christabelle Soh is a former teacher now working with the Ministry of Education.

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