Interventions by Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, at the East Asia Low Carbon Growth Partnership Dialogue on 15 April 2012
INTERVENTIONS BY DR VIVIAN BALAKRISHNAN, MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER RESOURCES, AT THE EAST ASIA LOW CARBON GROWTH PARTNERSHIP DIALOGUE ON 15 APRIL 2012
Our vision for Singapore is a climate-resilient global city that is well-positioned for green growth. Our National Climate Change Strategy and plans will be set out in a document called the National Climate Change Strategy 2012.
In a resource-constrained and environment-challenged world, it is imperative that we find solutions to meet our energy needs in a cost-effective, reliable and sustainable manner.
We must begin by recognising the unique circumstances of every country.
Singapore’s circumstances and areas being developed
Singapore is a small island state. It is about 700 sq km or slightly bigger than the 23 wards in Tokyo (620 sq km). Most alternative energy sources are not available in Singapore. Both hydroelectric power and tidal energy cannot be harnessed as Singapore lacks a major river system and has relatively calm seas. This lack of land, coupled with the low average wind speeds of 2-3 m/s, make the installation of wind turbines impractical. Singapore also does not have access to sources of geothermal energy. Nuclear energy poses considerable challenges in safety and waste disposal and is thus not a viable option for a small country like Singapore in the near future.
Even solar energy is severely constrained in Singapore. Preliminary studies indicate that at current levels of technology, installing compact solar photovoltaic panels on all suitable rooftop space can only meet a small proportion of Singapore’s total energy needs by 2020.
My second point is that we need major technological breakthroughs in order to realise our low-carbon ambitions. Research and development is essential –and requires international collaboration between governments, universities, and the private sector.
Despite our small local market, many companies and research institutes see value in using Singapore as regional hub for research and innovation for low carbon technologies and as a living test-bed for urban solutions.
This is because we have placed priority on developing the clean-tech industry, spanning the areas of clean energy and energy efficiency, green buildings, smart grids, carbon management, as well as waste and water management. We have also built up complementary expertise in the electronics, chemicals, precision engineering industries, and this also helps draw in clean-tech investments. For example, the manufacturing process for solar wafers, cells and modules has many parallels with semiconductor manufacturing processes. Our capabilities in equipment manufacturing, precision engineering and chemicals industries also offer Singapore a head-start in relevant fields, such as solar photovoltaic (PV) development.
Leading clean-tech companies have chosen to make Singapore their pan-Asian base for innovation, headquarters and high-value manufacturing activities. In 2011, major solar companies such as Yingli, Trina Solar, MEMC and Phoenix Solar established their regional or global headquarters and innovation centres in Singapore. Wind technology leader Gamesa also set up its wind R&D centre here, and adds to the growing wind industry cluster that includes Vestas, Siemens, DNV and Keppel. Panasonic also set up their energy solutions team here to develop and trial their new-generation energy systems that combine solar systems, energy storage, grid and home energy management systems.
On water resource management - to improve our resilience to water scarcity, Singapore has continued to develop and harness new technologies such as water recycling and desalination to create a diversified and sustainable water supply. Notably, an R&D project in Singapore by Siemens is developing an advanced desalination technology that is able to halve the energy required to produce desalinated water. Singapore is now recognised as a global hydrohub, home to more than 70 water companies, including global water R&D centres of major players such as Siemens Water, GE Water and Toray. 2011 saw new investments such as Mann+Hummel’s global R&D, manufacturing and headquarter operations in water systems.
The purpose of describing this laundry list of companies is to show that it is possible even for a small country like Singapore to attract private sector investment.
High commitment to Research, Innovation, CommerciaIisation
New advances in smart grids, green buildings, and carbon capture and utilisation will help mitigate energy demand and carbon emissions. The Energy Innovation Programme Office, an inter-agency workgroup responsible for implementing strategies to develop the energy sector, was set up to support the pursuit of such technologies.
Our public sector R&D centres have made steady progress. For instance, the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (SERIS) at the National University of Singapore (NUS) has succeeded in widening its industry outreach through key collaborations with REC and Trina Solar. Another major centre, the Energy Research Institute @ the Nanyang Technological University (ERI@N), which leads broader-based research in areas such as wind, fuel cells, green buildings and e-mobility, have entered into research tie-ups with Vestas, Gamesa, Philips, IBM, and Rolls-Royce to set up joint research laboratories in Singapore. Other partners such as Bosch, Det Norske Veritas, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories are involved in joint research projects. The Experimental Power Grid Centre (EPGC) under the Agency for Science, Technology & Research (A*STAR) officially opened last year and is making good progress in the field of smart grids and distribution generation research. The Nanyang Environment & Water Research Institute (NEWRI) is now among the world’s largest water and environment research organisations, with wide-ranging research fields in membrane technologies, environmental biotechnology, water and waste management, and resource reclamation.
We have also sought to augment our research capabilities by partnering top global universities and institutes to set up research centres in Singapore. Many of these centres are working on technologies with potential applications to climate change mitigation and adaptation. For example, TUM-CREATE Centre for ElectroMobility conducts research in innovative technologies and future transportation concepts for Singapore and tropical megacities worldwide. The project team has developed an electric car prototype that was demonstrated at the Frankfurt Autoshow in September 2011. The University of Cambridge has also set up a collaborative research centre in Singapore in partnership with NTU and NUS to develop solutions for carbon reduction in chemical technology. Peking University, NUS and NTU have also set up a major collaborative research programme to focus on carbon capture, conversion and utilisation as well as low-carbon footprint technologies and processes.
Third, we need a comprehensive, integrated approach. We have had to be innovative in urban planning, traffic management, public housing, environment and water management. Singapore has also designated large-scale integrated platforms for the testbedding of systems-level solutions customised for the urbanised tropics. The living labs can be a means for companies to co-create, testbed and commercialise future-oriented urban solutions
Working together going forward
Fourth, we need stronger international platforms to achieve synergy, particularly between our governments, companies, research institutes and academia. The US, China and India are leaders in clean energy investments. Japan is also a forerunner in promoting smart energy technologies. Being major energy consumers and innovators, your efforts will impact the regional energy landscape and catalyse opportunities in the development and deployment of low-carbon technologies. Southeast Asia needs your contributions. Recognising the importance of achieving low carbon economic growth, ASEAN countries are also collaborating with the IEA and UNEP to identify technological options and chart development pathways for such a future. The EAS is hence an important platform that can facilitate collaboration, given rich capabilities and resources.
We note Japan’s proposal to establish an “East Asia Knowledge Platform for Low Carbon Growth” as a network to strengthen cooperation between research institutions, governments, development agencies and the private sector.
At the inter-governmental level, Singapore has been collaborating with other countries such as Japan, Korea, Thailand, France, Germany and Norway, as well as international organisations such as the World Bank, Commonwealth Secretariat and the various UN agencies to organise programmes to promote training in environment-related issues, including sustainable urban development, water management, and energy efficiency and emission reduction. Over 3,500 participants from about 170 developing countries have attended our courses on environment and climate change management to date. We look forward to working with other EAS countries to strengthen such collaborations.
Looking ahead, EAS countries will play an increasingly major role in the global sustainability landscape. Notwithstanding our limited access to alternative energy, Singapore will continue to do our part in driving green growth, harnessing research and supporting companies and businesses to test-bed new technologies and solutions.
Finally, I wish to say that if we force people to choose between the environment and the economy, some will choose the economy. However, the choices do not have to be mutually exclusive. We have to find a way to make it a win-win outcome for both the environment and the economy, to find the right formula that will allow countries to adopt a low-carbon roadmap and strategy.