Flick the switch to solar power

California has wind farms in the Mojave Desert. Scotland harnesses fierce waves that pound its coastline. The power option in China flows through its mighty Yangtze River while in Indonesia it lies in the heat deep beneath the earth’s surface.

The common theme that runs through these forces of nature — wind, waves, rivers and deep-earth — is how they can be tapped for clean, renewable energy. Tag on nuclear power too, which vast locales across the United States rely on.

Then, there’s tiny Singapore. Here, weak winds, tame tides and sluggish rivers render wind and wave energy, and hydroelectricity out of the question. Next, our urban landscape means we are too densely packed for conventional nuclear power. And the closest we have to geothermal energy is the Sembawang Hot Spring, a leisure spot for now. (Psst! Exploratory studies on harnessing its geothermal potential are underway.)

In short, our nation is an alternative energy-disadvantaged country. But when adversity comes a-calling, we knock on possibility’s door. While we cannot plug into land and sea-based clean energy options, we can draw from the sun.

Solar focus

For sure, our tropical island gets plenty of it. And our high-rise buildings are the logical spot from which to harness solar energy.

The scale-up possibilities are significant: under the Singapore Green Plan 2030, our island-home aims to generate five times as much solar energy by 2030 — enough to power around 350,000 households a year.

Solar energy generated by the solar panels on HDB rooftops are used to light up common corridors, and power lifts and water pumps. This means that the common areas of HDB estates are maintained using clean, green energy. Excess power is sent to the nation’s power grid.

Yet, HDB rooftops are not the only places where solar panels can extract the sun’s force: reservoirs are a key option too.

Enter Tengeh Reservoir — home to one of the largest inland floating solar farms in the world. How big, exactly? About the size of 45 football fields, it houses 122,000 solar panels across 10 solar panel islands.

Tengeh Reservoir’s solar farm generates enough energy to power our five local water treatment plants, making Singapore one of the few countries in the world to have a 100 per cent green waterworks system.

Also, more green energy from the solar farm means less harmful greenhouse gases released in the atmosphere — the reduction in carbon emissions is equivalent to taking 7,000 cars off the roads.

Solar power in your HDB block

“Of the 10,000 or so HDB residential blocks in Singapore, 2,700 have solar panels installed on their rooftops. The solar energy captured powers common services including the lifts, lights and water pumps of the blocks. So, residents can be proud to know that on average, their blocks are achieving net-zero energy consumption in these areas.

For estate maintenance, Town Councils (TCs) are now sold the solar energy free of charge, thanks to the competitiveness of recent SolarNova tenders. So, the TCs save on their monthly energy bills — important in the face of rising costs of estate maintenance.

There is more solar-panel expansion ahead. About 3,100 more blocks will be installed with solar panels over the next three years. And the board will award a tender for another 1,200 blocks as well.” — Source: HDB

Other clean-energy switches

While solar power is our home’s most viable indigenous source of renewable energy for now, there are limitations. For one thing, cloudy skies and rainy weather can affect the amount of electricity that can be tapped from solar panels.

And there’s only so much solar energy that Singapore can harness given our limited land area. Even as we work towards achieving our 2030 solar target, this clean energy will make up only around 3% of the nation’s total electricity demand in 2030.

So, rather than banking on one source, Singapore is looking to other clean energy switches such as regional power grids and low-carbon technology too.

Singapore will import around 30 per cent of our energy supply from low-carbon sources by 2035. Electricity imports allow Singapore to access low-carbon energy sources that are abundant in the region, for example, solar, wind and hydropower. Currently, Singapore’s power sector accounts for 40 per cent of the nation’s total carbon emissions.

In terms of low-carbon technology, we can turn foe to friend: scientists at A*STAR are researching a process to convert carbon dioxide — a key greenhouse gas — into everyday items and usable fuel. It’s a complex road to be sure, but a worthy one if successful.

Until then, our solar-smart rooftops, reservoirs (including Bedok and Lower Seletar) and other real estate — schools, car parks and government buildings — will continue harnessing the sun’s force.

And as solar technology improves, Singapore shall tap more solar energy from building facades. Even explore untapped spaces, including canals and roads. Indeed, possibilities start where imagination begins.

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Singapore Green Plan

Singapore Green Plan

Read our stories here on the official Medium for the Singapore Green Plan 2030. Find out more: greenplan.gov.sg