Singapore can tap more solar power by 2050

Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 20 Aug 14;

SINGAPORE - The sun could supply almost a third of Singapore's electricity, up from less than two per cent now, by 2050.

If predictions made by researchers from the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (Seris) come to pass, it may mean lower electricity bills and fewer carbon dioxide emissions.

It could also increase the island's energy supply security and reduce uncertainties about cost.

Singapore has no energy resources and depends on imports to support its energy needs.

Currently, the Republic gets more than 80 per cent of its electricity from natural gas and about 18 per cent from fuel oil.

The rest comes from other sources, including waste incineration.

The potential of solar energy and photovoltaic technology - which enables the conversion of sunlight into electricity - was detailed in a Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Roadmap for Singapore, which was unveiled last month.

Experts said the 30 per cent target is possible but added that it depends on whether certain conditions are met.

For one thing, Singapore must control its electricity demand. In 2012, the country consumed 42.6 terawatt-hours (TWh). By 2050, this cannot exceed 50 TWh, based on the assumption of the road map.

This is not easy. Singapore's population is predicted to grow, meaning electricity usage would surge as well.

In June last year, Singapore's population stood at 5.4 million but this has been projected to reach 6.9 million by 2030.

Maintaining electricity demand will be challenging but possible, said Seris deputy chief executive Thomas Reindl. He cited how Germany's energy efficiency measures have resulted in falling electricity consumption.

Said Dr Reindl: "It would be a great opportunity for Singapore to try to achieve future population and economic growth in an energy-neutral and carbon-neutral way."

Experts said this could be achieved through policy or pricing, such as by imposing higher electricity tariffs or giving incentives for energy savings.

Air-conditioning is one area where consumption can be slashed substantially, they said.

On the supply side, the road map also listed three conditions that would help achieve its target.

These are: ensure that areas available for PV installations - such as rooftops - are fully tapped; achieve greater efficiency and yield of PV systems; and make PV electricity cheaper.
But there could be obstacles, such as competing uses. Some rooftop spaces, for instance, are shared with chillers or gardens, said Nanyang Technological University's Energy Research Institute executive director Subodh Mhaisalkar.

The Building and Construction Authority told The Straits Times that rooftop greenery and solar panels can be located in the same place, although care must be taken to ensure plants do not cast shadows over the solar panels.

"It is possible to have greenery underneath, alongside or running parallel to the solar panels," said a BCA spokesman.

Another obstacle cited was the intermittency of solar energy due to cloud cover or storms.
A smart grid, which supplies electricity from different sources, could help, said the Institution of Engineers vice-president Edwin Khew.

But the already declining cost of PV is an encouraging sign that Singapore is on track to meeting the 2050 projection.

Pointing to cheaper solar panels and the prospect of further reductions, Mr Khew said: "With these projections being realised earlier than predicted, and with my knowledge of the pace of research at Seris, I am confident that... solar PV (can) contribute up to 30 per cent of the electricity demand in Singapore by 2050."