The Green Potential of Singapore’s Energy Industry

Emily Koh    George Loumakis

Abstract

The Southeast Asian city-state of Singapore is well-known to be a technologically advanced and affluent country. It has a GDP per capita of US$105,689, ranking 3rd in the world according to the International Monetary fund.  It also scores 0.935 on the Human Development Index coming in at 9th in the world.

Despite this, Singapore is powered by only a small percentage of renewable energy, relying almost exclusively on imported natural gas. By 2030, only 8% of its electricity demands would be met by renewable energy sources (Singapore’s Approach To Alternative Energy, n.d.). In contrast to other developed nations, this is hugely underwhelming.

This article aims to present a potential future in which Singapore is powered using the best available clean energy technology and renewable energy sources. The following analysis explores the impact of fully exploiting its solar potential, transitioning towards the use of electric vehicles and buying clean energy from neighbouring countries to fuel the ever-increasing energy demand of its population.

International energy position

Singapore is regarded as a major energy-trading hub of South-East Asia and the world’s third largest oil refining centre. It plays an important role in supplying Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, China and other neighbouring countries with petroleum products, with a refining capacity of about 1.5 million barrels per day (Statistical Review of World Energy 2020 | 69th edition, 2020). Singapore is also the world’s largest marine refuelling, or bunkering, hub which provides refuelling and repairing services. It consumed nearly 830,000 b/d of fuel oil in 2015, a vast majority which serves its bunker fuel demand (International - U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), n.d.). These operations contributed to 16.2 % of Singapore’s GDP in 2018 and is expected to remain a key contributor to the country’s economic growth in the future (Singapore (SGP) Exports, Imports, and Trade Partners, n.d.).

One might be surprised to find that despite its role in the global petrochemical industry, Singapore has no primary energy resources available domestically and therefore imports heavily from China, Malaysia and India for refined petroleum and the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait for crude petroleum (Singapore (SGP) Exports, Imports, and Trade Partners, n.d.). Most of the energy imports are refined and exported globally, only about 6% was used to fuel the country’s domestic energy demands in 2018.

Domestic energy position

Due to extremely limited resource availability, Singapore is heavily reliant on imports to meet its energy demands.  In 2018, Singapore imported a total of 167 Mtoe of energy products and exported 77.5 Mtoe of energy products (Singapore Energy Statistics - Energy Supply, 2019). In 2019, total primary energy consumption included approximately 86% of crude oil and petroleum products, 13% of natural gas, 0.8% of coal and 0.3% of renewables (Statistical Review of World Energy 2020 | 69th edition, 2020). Electricity generation efficiency is currently around 50% and fuelled mainly by natural gas, forming 95% of the fuel mix in 2019 (Singapore Energy Statistics - Energy Supply, 2019).

 

Figure 1: Singapore’s Electricity Balance in 2018 

(EMA | Singapore Energy Statistics - Energy Balance, 2019)

 Singapore’s Electricity Balance in 2018

 

Figure 2: Singapore’s Natural Gas Balance in 2018

(EMA | Singapore Energy Statistics - Energy Balance, 2019)

 Singapore’s Natural Gas Balance in 2018

 

Essentially, Singapore is powered almost exclusively by fossil fuels, which is strange for an affluent nation given the increasingly prominent global agenda to steer away from such energy sources in response to concerns about the effects of anthropogenic global warming. While developed nations have increasingly made the switch to invest in renewable energy solutions which emit less greenhouse gases that contributes to global warming, Singapore has been noticeably lacking in this department.

To date, renewable energy only contributes to 1.3% of the country’s electricity demand and based on future projections given by the Energy Market Authority, is expected to contribute up to a mere 8% in 2030 (Singapore’s Approach To Alternative Energy, n.d.). Reasons for minimal implementation of renewable solutions include a lack of viable natural resources and land space, where solar energy remains as the only potential renewable energy to be used. Furthermore, Singapore is reported to contribute only 0.11% of global emissions of GHG (Singapore’s Emissions Profile, 2018). However, the previous figure only takes into account emissions produced within the country. Emissions produced over international waters and airspace are not included in a country’s national carbon budget. While the impact of indirect emissions on Singapore’s total carbon emission figure has not yet been quantified, it is likely to be highly significant. This is due to the fact that Singapore imports 90 percent of its food and is the world’s second busiest port, supplying a quantity of aviation and marine fuel which generates almost three times as many GHGs as its domestic emissions alone.

Based on the fair share calculation of carbon emissions for countries, Climate Action Tracker ranks Singapore’s efforts as highly insufficient in keeping global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels by 2050 (Singapore - Assessment, 2020).

Future energy outlook

Looking into future energy strategy, the Singapore government plans to promote long-term growth in refining capacity and oil storage capacity in order to maintain its market position as a refining and oil-trading leader. It also aims to become a regional LNG trading hub, expanding its existing LNG importing facility and creating an LNG price index: the “SLing” (International - U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), n.d.).

Although still participating in non-renewable energy, Singapore’s Energy Market Authority has announced that it will expand its solar PV capacity from 203 MWp in 2018 to 350 MWp by 2020 and 1 GWp beyond 2020 (The Future of Singapore's Energy Story | EMA Singapore, 2020). This is quite a small increase given the country’s high solar irradiation of around 1,640 kWh/m2 annually. Insufficient land and cloud covers were cited as the reason for lack of implantation for greater solar capacity. However, to its credit, Singapore has established itself as a solar research hub and test site through the Solar Energy Research Institute Singapore (SERIS).

Based on the future outlook, it seems that Singapore’s efforts are not likely to improve its Climate Action Tracker ratings. The IPCC recommended slashing net emissions to 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 and achieve net zero by 2050. Singapore is a signatory of the Paris agreement having ratified it in 2016. As it stands, its government aims to reach peak emissions in 2030 and halve these by 2050, with a vague goal of achieving net-zero emissions in the second half of the 21st century. The following solutions can help to bridge the gap between current efforts and the goals set by the IPCC.

Scaling up floating PV systems

Following the successful testing of a local floating PV system and the subsequent installation plan of a 60 MWp PV farm on Tengeh Reservoir, expansion across the other local reservoirs and lakes could scale up the country’s solar PV capacity. Specifications about the Tengeh Reservoir FPV system are still unknown given its recent announcement, although it is said to cover a surface area of about 24 hectares estimated to provide around 2.5 MWp/ha and generating a total of 77,000 MWh of electricity. The following water bodies in Singapore provide potential for further construction of FPVs.

Table 1: (List of dams and reservoirs in Singapore, n.d.)

 

  Potential Water Bodies for FPV installation

  Surface Area (hectares)

  Marina Reservoir

  240

  Bedok Reservoir

  88

  Jurong Lake

  70

  Upper Pierce Reservoir

  304

  Lower Peirce Reservoir

  6

  Upper Seletar Reservoir

  324

  Lower Seletar Reservoir

  360

  Kranji Reservoir

  450

 

 

  Total Surface Area

  1,842

 

Assuming the same FPV capacity of 2.5 MWp/ha, this equates to 4.605 GWp of additional solar PV capacity available locally generating about 5.900 TWh of electricity annually. That can provide almost 12% of the nation’s total consumption in 2018. Adding to that floating PV systems have been shown to have increased generating efficiencies due to the cooling effect of water evaporation, thus pushing this number higher up.

Renewable energy imports

While Singapore is lacking in natural resources, it is surrounded by countries with an abundance of resources that could be procured. In addition to large reserves of fossil fuel, the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) also has massive renewable energy potential. Despite the abundance of renewables, 74% of the primary energy demand is supplied from fossil fuels in 2015 (Ahmed et al., 2017).

A study revealed that this high fossil fuel dependency is due to the uneven distribution of renewables throughout its geographical region, high capital cost involvement of renewables generation, and the lack of transmission expansion planning by ASEAN countries for remotely located renewable generators (Ahmed et al., 2017). Demand for renewable energy from Singapore along with significant investments could spark the growth of a heavily underutilised industry in South East Asian nations.

Table 2: Energy resources in ASEAN countries (Ahmed et al., 2017)

 

 

 

Contingent on the successful construction of a regional ASEAN power grid, about 1.48 TW of renewable energy potential could be harnessed and transmitted across the region. The biggest sources are onshore wind and hydropower with 947 GW and 353 GW of potential respectively.

Meanwhile, Australia is proving to be a potential supplier with a string of recent announcements of renewable energy project developments that intends to export clean energy to the Asian markets. One recent project announced is the Sun Cable project which claims to be the world’s largest solar farm. By the end of 2027, the 10 GW solar array will dispatch 3 GW of electricity over 3711 km of high voltage direct current submarine cable to Singapore, supplying 20 percent of its electricity needs. It should be noted that this project is still in its consulting stage though.

Investing in the Hydrogen Economy

Hydrogen is gaining traction as a way to decarbonise industries, with big oil companies and governments investing in green hydrogen projects – hydrogen that is produced with renewable energy through electrolysis instead of traditional fossil fuel sources. It currently has applications in power generation, heating, and transport fuel to varying levels of success. In the context of Singapore, green hydrogen would most likely see immediate use in petrochemical refining and electricity generation.

In refineries, crude oil is processed by various methods into oil products such as naphtha, petrol and diesel fuels, heating oil and aviation fuels. Hydrogen is required in some intermediate processes such as desulphurisation with hydrotreating and hydrocracking.

As for power generation, green hydrogen can be mixed with natural gas as feedstock for electricity generation in gas turbines. Currently, around 20% volume of hydrogen is feasible, as limited by the durability of materials in existing natural-gas pipelines system (Ruth et al., 2019). On an encouraging note, gas turbine manufacturers such as Siemens, GE Power, Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems (MPHS) and Ansaldo Energia are making strides to transition their turbines to burn 100% hydrogen fuel in the next decade or two (Patel, 2020).

A currently proposed project – the Asian Renewable Energy Hub is said to be a 15+ GW wind and solar farm in the East Pilbara region of Western Australia. Over 12 GW of electricity generation would be dedicated to green hydrogen production and exported to the Asian markets like Japan and Korea. Over 50 TWh of total annual generation is estimated, with a design life of over 50 years that commences in 2027/8. BP and its solar joint venture Lightsource BP are also exploring a potential green hydrogen plant in Australia powered by 1.5 GW of wind and solar. But this comes with doubts about the feasibility of super-scaling green hydrogen in the next decade due to high cost and size of electrolysis equipment. They have conservatively estimated green hydrogen production to be dependable only in 2040.

Electrifying the transport sector

A sector that is rapidly evolving and will play a major role in creating a more sustainable society is electrification of vehicles – assuming that the electricity to charge those vehicles comes from renewable electricity. Singapore's government has committed to a 100 per cent cleaner energy public bus fleet of electric or hybrid vehicles by 2040 (Zhang and Toh, 2019). The current bus fleet in Singapore is around 5,800 vehicles.

Changing this fleet to an all EV fleet will cause an increase in the electrical consumption in the country and in order to assess that some assumptions need to be made. Using the highly popular Volvo 7900 as an example that has a maximum range of 200km and a battery of 76 KWh and disregarding regenerative braking we can presume that for every 100km covered the whole Singaporean fleet will be needing 220 MWh of excess electricity which can very easily be covered with a small fraction of the electricity coming for the floating PV systems.

Car ownership in Singapore is limited compared to other countries with a total of around 600,000 private vehicles on the road. Using the above logic and with the Tesla 3 which is the world’s most popular EV as an example, Singapore’s vehicles will be needing an excess of 11TWh per 100 km travelled. Again this added burden to the electrical grid can easily be covered but as ranges get larger so will that value. One thing to note would be that the main concern would be the timing of the charging those vehicles, and not the total energy itself; as excess demand can cause problems with overloading the network.

Infrastructure to support a national EV charging network is being constructed, with the installation of 2,000 charging points under the electric car-sharing programme BlueSG, a fifth of which will be for public use (Zhang and Toh, 2019).

Conclusion

Singapore offers a unique perspective in the challenge for a more sustainable future. It’s a densely populated country with high energy consumption per capita and with limited amount of free space. This article purposefully avoids using the limited land of the country and instead focuses on solutions that minimise land use. Given the country’s significant economic and technological power and participation in the ASEAN union perhaps another viable way would be for the country to import electricity from neighbouring countries where more solar and wind power can be harnessed. Similar schemes already exist in the UK with interconnections with France, Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands. That exchange could even be in the form of land rental where the Singaporean government sets up the infrastructure and uses the energy harnessed in a different country – in a project not very different to the Sun Cable but with neighbouring countries as well.

Biographies

Emily Koh: Emily Koh is an MSc student in Environmental Management at Glasgow Caledonian University. She graduated from the University of Glasgow with a Bachelor’s degree in Statistics and Finance in 2019. Her interest is in mitigating climate change through implementing renewable energy solutions and hopes to put her knowledge to use in future employment. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Dr George Loumakis: George is a Lecturer and Researcher in the School of Computing, Engineering and Built Environment at Glasgow Caledonian University. His teaching and research interests include Renewable Energy, Conventional Energy Sources, Energy in Buildings, Energy Sustainability, Life Cycle Analysis, Energy Systems and the Environment, Quantitative Research Methods. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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