Singapore's next challenge: 'Treating more seawater with less energy'

David Ee Straits Times 23 Mar 12;

EVEN if Singapore realises its quest to supply all of its own water, it faces another challenge: acquiring the energy it takes to produce the water.

That was the point raised by Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan at yesterday's book launch of The Singapore Water Story, which chronicles the country's rise to becoming a world leader in water management.

"Singapore has to realise that, in fact, we have translated a dependence on water to a dependence on long as you've got energy, you've got water," said the minister at the National University of Singapore's Bukit Timah campus.

The technologies employed in water treatment here today, for example, reverse osmosis, require substantial amounts of energy.

The Minister explained that as the country becomes more water self-sufficient, this "simply substitutes one strategic vulnerability for another".

To meet its energy challenge, Singapore will have rely on the same things that worked in its water story - political resolve, a clear vision, the right pricing, and a commitment to technology.

Today, Singapore produces at least 40 per cent of its own water needs - with three quarters coming from reclaimed Newater, and the rest from treated seawater.

National water agency PUB wants this to double to 80 per cent by 2060.

Reverse osmosis, the most common method to treat seawater here, typically uses up to 4.5 kilowatt hours to produce 1,000 litres of desalinated water.

That is enough energy to power an HDB flat for several hours.

But PUB is seeking to reduce these levels with new technologies. For example, it is working with Keppel Seghers to develop Memstill technology, which uses waste heat to treat seawater. The process can reduce energy use by up to two-thirds.

It is also exploring longer term solutions such as bio-mimicry, which copies the way some plants and animals treat seawater for their survival, using negligible amounts of energy.

By 2060, Singapore's water usage could double to almost 800 million gallons a day, enough to fill more than 1,200 Olympic-size swimming pools each day.

Managing supply of water & rising energy costs a challenge for Singapore
Vimita Mohandas Channel NewsAsia 22 Mar 13;

SINGAPORE: The government says that maintaining a stable supply of water against rising energy costs is a key challenge for Singapore.

This is because Singapore has been turning to technology to convert waste water into potable water - which requires energy.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, said this at the launch of the "Singapore Water Story" book on Friday.

The book charts Singapore's success in its water strategies over the last five decades.

It also discusses Singapore's evolving framework to meet current demands on industrial and domestic water uses. Readers will also learn about the implementation of pricing and the mandatory water conservation strategies.

But experts say hurdles remain ahead.

PUB chairman Tan Gee Paw said: "The big challenge would be to ensure sustainability of supply against rising energy costs. The sustainability of the water supply is extremely important to us. Then there's the issue of water security, going into the future, because of climate change and the threat of drought."

Dr Balakrishnan said the success of the Singapore water story is a combination of getting the right formula of politics, economics and technology.

For example, other countries which do not charge for water can learn from Singapore's strategy of charging for water.

"The price that we charge for water at the tap in Singapore...full price is 1,000 times cheaper than the price of water in a bottle," he said.

Experts also said politicians have to be steadfast, like then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, to ensure a success story like Singapore's.

Asit Biswas, founder of Third World Centre for Water Management in Mexico, said: "Every month, when the Singapore River was being cleaned up, he wanted the report on his desk... what's happening, what's the progress, what are the problems. So he was consistently looking at how to make Singapore more water self-sufficient."

Biswas is also a visiting professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School for Public Policy in Singapore.

The book is available at Books Kinokuniya, and a Mandarin version is under way.

- CNA/ir