Two new train depots to get rooftop solar panels

Xue Jianyue Today Online 5 Sep 14;

SINGAPORE — The Land Transport Authority (LTA) plans to place solar panels on the roofs of two new train depots by 2016, taking advantage of their large roofs to generate clean energy for depot operations.

It is the first tender the LTA is calling for solar panels on a rail depot. Scheduled to begin operations in 2016, the solar panels will serve the Tuas and Gali Batu rail depots, which will open that year to serve the East-West and Downtown lines.

“As both Tuas and Gali Batu depots are at-grade depots with large roof areas and are not surrounded by tall buildings, they present opportunities for the LTA to harvest solar energy for electricity to operate depot equipment,” said the authority in response to TODAY’s queries.

It did not specify how much power the solar panels will generate.

The tender specifications, released last month, require a hired contractor to monitor the panels’ performance and the amount of electricity generated over a period of one year.

The LTA’s initiative comes at a time when the Government is planning to expand the use of solar energy beyond Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats, possibly to places such as schools and military camps.

Writing on his blog last week, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said government organisations, which could include the Defence and Education ministries, will ride on the HDB’s bulk tenders for solar panels.

Currently, the five existing train depots in Singapore serve five MRT lines. Construction at the new 21-ha Gali Batu depot, off Woodlands Road, started in 2009 and will complete next year. The 26-ha Tuas Depot, located at Tuas, is targeted to complete in 2016.

When it comes to generating solar power, depot roofs offer several advantages over HDB rooftops and empty land of the same total size, said several industry players and experts.

Dr Thomas Reindl, deputy chief executive officer of the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore, said there are economies of scale when installing one large solar photovoltaic (PV) system, compared with installing many smaller ones of the same total size.

“Train depots are a very good choice as there are typically no other buildings nearby and most of the infrastructure equipment is inside the building rather than on the rooftop,” he told TODAY via email.

Unlike those on HDB rooftops, solar panels on depot rooftops need not compete with other facilities such as water tanks, said Phoenix Solar managing director, Mr Christophe Inglin.

Electricity generated by panels on the depot’s roof can be channelled directly to the depot, reducing the need for more electrical infrastructure between the energy generator and the energy consumer. “It is like working from home instead of commuting to work,” Mr Inglin said.

Installing the solar panels directly on land is also not ideal in land-scarce Singapore, said Mr Nilesh Jadhav, programme director at the Energy Research Institute at Nanyang Technological University.

Looking ahead, the experts suggested that more warehouses and schools in industrials areas with large rooftops could be installed with solar panels.

Solar leasing company Sunseap Leasing’s business development manager Brandon Lee, whose firm intends to bid for the LTA tender, noted that the Singapore American School already has a large PV system on its rooftop.

Other buildings with PV systems on their large rooftops include Sheng Siong supermarket’s distribution centre in Mandai and the Ulu Pandan NEWater plant, said Dr Reindl.

“Since the cost of solar systems has come down a lot in the past few years, we will see many more such installations in the future, simply because it makes economic sense now to generate your own solar electricity and use it to lower the electricity bill,” he added.