Tide rising for Singapore’s water industry

Wong Wei Han Today Online 29 Aug 14;

SINGAPORE — The Republic’s efforts to grow its water industry into a global leader has paid off, with more companies joining the sector and others making headway into global markets amid surging demand for residential and industrial water solutions.

As a testament to the strong industry growth, the number of water companies in Singapore has almost tripled since 2006, bringing the total to 150 companies today, the PUB said yesterday.

“(These companies) span the entire spectrum, from research, planning, design to manufacturing”, said Mr Chew Men Leong, chief executive of PUB. “And so far they’ve accumulated international projects totalling around S$10 billion in key markets such as China and India. The number of research centres here has also grown by nine-fold to 26 today.”

Over the past decade, much emphasis has been placed on making water and environment technologies a key growth sector.

In 2006, an Environment and Water Industry Programme Office (EWI) was set up, led by the PUB and involving the Economic Development Board (EDB), International Enterprise (IE) Singapore and SPRING Singapore. It has so far granted around S$300 million in research funding to more than 100 projects, while helping companies explore overseas markets.

The vision: To increase the value-added contribution of the water sector to S$1.7 billion, or 0.6 per cent of gross domestic product, by next year, up from S$0.5 billion, or 0.3 per cent of GDP, in 2003. In 2012, the value-added contribution of the water sector was S$1.6 billion.

New investments secured last year alone will contribute S$150 million of annual value-add and generate about 500 jobs when fully realised, said Mr Chew, who is also the executive director of EWI. The agency also aims to create 11,000 jobs by 2015, mostly skilled jobs, he added.

The heightened attention on the water industry comes as the government increases efforts to shape the sector into one of Singapore’s key service exports.

During the Africa Singapore Business Forum on Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam highlighted water solutions as one of the key areas in which Singapore can help emerging countries in Africa. Opportunities similarly abound closer to home, with Asia’s water infrastructure market set to reach US$400 billion (S$500 billion) by 2020 as modernisation and industrialisation pick up pace.

One of the local companies riding this wave is Medad Technologies. The two-year-old startup is currently building a system to help its first client — Al Safwa Cement Company’s plant in Saudi Arabia — improve its water efficiency by using waste heat to treat reverse osmosis reject water (adsorption desalination).

“We are working to complete it by the first quarter of 2015. There are plans for the second phase of that project where we will expand the current treatment volume by 10-fold, to be announced hopefully by the third quarter of next year,” chief executive Joseph Ng told TODAY, adding that his company’s technology was based on research conducted at the National University of Singapore and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.

But not every company has been successful and many face challenges in commercialising their solutions, said Mr Goh Chee Kiong, executive director for cities, infrastructure and industrial solutions at EDB.

“Clients in this sector are known to be conservative; they are risk-averse and want tried and tested solutions — this is a barrier that companies may find hard to surmount,” he said.

“EWI’s upcoming focus will be to help companies commercialise their products. This entails helping them develop a proven track record, and that’s why we currently have more than 100 pilot systems being tested at PUB premises.”