Speech by Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli at the Official Opening of the Tuas Desalination Plant
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am pleased to join you this morning for the official opening of the Tuas Desalination Plant, or TDP.
Investing in a weather-resilient water supply system
TDP is the latest milestone in Singapore’s water story. Our fourth National Tap, desalination, did not come easy. The breakthrough was only possible because of our long-term planning, and commitment to research and innovation over many decades. While the concept of tapping on seawater existed in the 1970s, the membrane technology required was too expensive and unreliable then. It was more than two decades later in 1998 when our study showed that advancements in membrane technology had become financially and technically viable. Our efforts paid off in 2005 when we completed our first desalination plant – SingSpring Desalination Plant in Tuas. TDP is our third plant. It is also the first plant directly owned and operated by PUB. This will help PUB institutionalise the knowledge and processes gleaned from earlier desalination projects, and continue to retain competencies through hands-on direct operations.
Desalination, like NEWater, is a weather-resilient water source. It helps us better cope with the threat of climate change. Singapore is especially vulnerable as climate change will hit us on two extreme ends of the spectrum. More intense and frequent rainfall causes flash floods. On the other hand, prolonged droughts threaten water security. For a nation like Singapore where water is an existential issue, climate change will only exacerbate our challenges.
We have seen in other cities the dire consequences of not planning and investing for the long term. Cape Town in South Africa is not an isolated case. Sao Paulo, the largest city in Brazil, also suffered a major water crisis. It was hit by a severe drought from 2014 to 2017, which saw the stock level of its main reservoir fall below 4 per cent. At one point, its 21 million inhabitants had less than 20 days of water. Water supplies were cut, business operations came to a standstill and violent protests erupted. This is a stark reminder not just of what climate change can do, but also how being ill-prepared can severely disrupt our lives.
Managing future water demand
Our water needs will continue to grow in tandem with our economy and population, and further impact on our limited resources. By 2060, Singapore’s water use is projected to double from today’s 430 million gallons per day. We also need to be prepared for potential threats to our water supply system, like the extreme weather conditions. This requires continued commitment to long-term planning and investing ahead of our needs. Today, we are opening TDP. By 2020, we will have two more desalination plants at Marina East and Jurong Island.
Gradually but surely, we will continue to build up the capacity of our desalination and NEWater capacities, so that by 2060, NEWater and desalination can supply a combined 85 per cent of our water needs then. Earlier this year, we began tunnelling works for Phase Two of the Deep Tunnel Sewerage System. This project will enhance our used water management, and boost NEWater production when completed in 2025.
We also need to continually expand and enhance our water supply network. We are laying more pipes to reach the population and industries in new growth nodes while maintaining and renewing existing water infrastructure. All these are heavy, but necessary investments, and they take time. We must make these investments ahead of time and demand, so that Singaporeans would not face the problems we saw in Cape Town and Sao Paulo. This is made possible by right-pricing water to reflect the long-run marginal cost of producing our next drop of water which is likely to come from NEWater and desalinated water.
Beyond expanding our water infrastructure and network, everyone needs to usewater more efficiently. For households, I am heartened that the per capita water consumption has fallen to 143 litres per day in 2017. PUB is also working with industries to develop sectoral benchmarks and best practice guides to help improve water efficiency. I urge everyone to continue with their water conservation efforts.
TDP showcases PUB’s efforts in advancing research and innovation. Desalination is an especially energy-intensive water source and if we continue with business-as-usual, Singapore’s desalination energy usage in 2060 will be four times that of today. We do not want to become energy-reliant in our quest to overcome water scarcity. We are exploring new technologies and the use of cleaner energy to make the desalination process more energy-efficient.
Where we are gathered right now is a site for PUB’s R&D partners to test-bed new technologies under true-to-life conditions, without impacting the “live” operations of the plant. One such project is experimenting with electrochemical desalination technology. This technology has potential to halve the current energy use in desalination using reverse osmosis. The development of such low-energy desalination technologies needs to be accelerated. PUB’s continual work with its R&D partners is therefore critical.
TDP is also the first desalination plant in Singapore to be fitted with solar panels. A 1.2 Mega-Watt-peak (MWp) solar Photovoltaic system will be installed on more than half of the plant’s total roof surface area by the end of this year. This will meet all of the energy needs of the plant’s administrative building, reducing its carbon footprint.
Lastly, TDP will employ the latest technologies and methods to improve operational efficiency and optimise energy use. In particular, it is the first desalination plant in Singapore to combine dissolved air floatation with ultrafiltration pre-treatment processes to treat seawater of varying quality.
The 2013 World Resources Institute study ranked Singapore with the greatest risk of water stress in 2040. We cannot afford to be complacent. We must continue to plan and invest for the long-term. We also need to continually build up our water supply system, tapping on technology as an enabler. The future operating model for the water industry has to be one built on energy and carbon efficiency, resource recovery and process optimisation. I hope that our industry partners will continue to work with PUB to create innovative water solutions. I look forward to more of such projects in the future.
It is now my pleasure to declare the plant open. Thank you.
Source: Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources