Daily life renewable energy: Creating a quieter, cleaner Ubin

Arti Mulchand The Straits Times AsiaOne 17 Nov 13;

Visit Pulau Ubin these days and you will notice something missing - the rumble of the diesel generators that used to power the island's homes and businesses.

Today, its residents are plugged into their very own 240 kilowatt micro-grid that is being test-bedded on the island by the Energy Market Authority (EMA).

Set up to assess the impact of intermittent energy sources on grid operations, it runs on biodiesel and solar photovoltaic technology and was launched last month.

Mr Markson Tang, the executive director of Daily Life Renewable Energy, is a part of a consortium powering the initiative.

As a child, he used to cycle on the island and attend adventure camps. So when the project came up for tender in 2009, he seized the opportunity.

"I am keen on developing the clean energy industry in Singapore because we are lagging behind our neighbouring countries," the 36-year-old explained, adding that part of the problem is that most Singaporeans are spoilt by Singapore's "excellent national grid system".

Many are unaware about micro-grids and the economic impact that clean energy can have, he said.

"A lot of people think putting in place a micro-grid is the same as rural electrification. It isn't. In the United States, which has the most number of micro-grids, they are everywhere from buildings and industrial estates to military installations."

His father, a retired electrical engineer who would talk about new technologies at the dinner table, sparked Mr Tang's interest in clean energy.

In 2003, he started his company to trade solar panels and wind turbines. It eventually evolved to provide turnkey solutions for the energy sector, and Mr Tang has helped developed renewable energy projects like wind farms and micro-grids all over the world.

The Pulau Ubin micro-grid is the company's 67th. Yet, it proved to be one of the most challenging to put in place.

For one thing, the project took 2-1/2 years to execute.

"It was tough. There were no precedents so all the agencies were not familiar with what was needed, and had their own requirements and inputs. We all had a steep learning curve," he said, adding that EMA helped pushed things along.

The company had to engage contractors familiar with Pulau Ubin and its limitations, he said. "We had to bring everything over, from basic construction material like sand to every nut, bolt and screw," he explained.

The project also had to be adapted to the local needs and the environment.

Resident and citizen consultative committees were consulted. At least two townhall meetings were held. And while large and bulky equipment was brought in on barges, local bumboat operators were engaged to cart over the smaller items. To preserve the island's rustic feel, all the cables, which cover an area of about 1 sq km, were run underground.

But now that the micro-grid is in place, residents are able to tap into a more reliable and cheaper power source at 80 cents per kilowatt hour compared with $1.20 per kilowatt hour when using a diesel generator, and use more high-power appliances. More than 30 of the island's residents and businesses have signed up.

Pulau Ubin's micro-grid also boasts an "invisible" world's first - a type of technology more commonly used in large wind turbines has been applied to a biodiesel generator for the first time. It allows the generator to run at variable speeds while maintaining power quality, which means that it only generates as much electricity as is needed at any one time.

There are six generators in total on three interconnected grids, and additional generators kick in to cope with mounting demand.

"Generators generally run at a constant speed, which is a waste of diesel and bad for the generator. Imagine if you tried to drive your car only on first gear - it would be less efficient," he explained.

Right now, it takes a team of five to keep the system going, with most things done remotely. Just one person is stationed on the island during working hours to monitor the system and take care of technical issues.

There is also a 24/7 response team with a licensed electrical engineer and a certified engine specialist on stand by, and two Pulau Ubin residents will be trained by next month to function as "first responders", so they can deal with any outages immediately.

Mr Tang, who studied engineering at the Nanyang Technological University, insists that he is less of an engineer than an entrepreneur "who loves to travel".

"Almost my entire skill set was learnt along the way. I had mentors who gave me invaluable lessons. My work involves the marriage of needs, technology, government policies and financing," he said.

He hopes his story will prompt more Singaporean companies to seize opportunities presented by the power business - and in more ingenious ways.

"It is not that we are lacking in engineering or systems innovation skills, but simply the entrepreneurial spirit. There are opportunities in clean energy, micro-grids and energy efficiency projects. Companies just have to break out of their comfort zones."

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Golf clubs will be told in advance if leases can be extended or not

S Ramesh Channel NewsAsia 15 Nov 13;

SINGAPORE: Law Minister K Shanmugam has said his ministry will let golf clubs, whose leases will expire within the next 10 years, know whether their leases can be extended.

He added that the ministry plans to make an announcement early next year on the government's approach to lease extension for golf courses.

Writing on his Facebook, Mr Shanmugam explained that there is a place for golf courses in Singapore. "There are Singaporeans who golf, and those who gather at golf clubs for recreation and for business. Having golf facilities also makes us a better location for business investment as well," he wrote.

Mr Shanmugam noted that in the past, many golf courses were built on land which could not be developed for high-intensity use. But Singapore is now able to make better use of some of these land.

"In the coming years, some golf course land will be redeveloped, to put to higher intensity uses, to meet Singapore's land use needs," he wrote.

Mr Shanmugam explained that golf clubs are on leasehold land. Many of them are on 30-year leases that expire in 2021.

He said the government's approach is to let the leases expire if the land is needed for another purpose.

He noted that unlike in the past, Singapore will not be able to find large tracts of land for new golf courses. So over time, the land allocated to golf courses will be reduced.

- CNA/ms

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