Also known as The Lion City, The Garden City and the Little Red Dot, Singapore is famous for its significant achievements in innovation, favorable tax system, recognized universities and great life quality. However, Singapore also ranks at the very top of the world’s most densely populated independent territories right after Macau and Monaco. And with insignificant amount of natural resources of its own, the country needs a strong, forward-thinking take on energy and innovation in order to power its fast-growing community.
A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to visit Singapore and have a chat with Nilesh Y. Jadhav, the Senior Scientist and Program Director at the Energy Research Institute at NTU Singapore. We discussed Singapore’s energy situation and how his work at NTU involves running EcoCampus, the soon-to-be world’s greenest campus where they develop and test green technologies of the future.
First off, on February 20th the The Government of Singapore introduced carbon tax on large direct emitters that received approval from stakeholders and observers. Many believe that the tax was well-timed and could boost Singapore’s economy.
#1–What do you think of the new tax and how would you describe rest of the country’s energy policy?
The new tax was a great move to level the playing field for renewables. However, looking at the wider picture, I would say that Singapore has been quite prudent in its take on energy.
Unlike many other countries including the U.S., Singapore doesn’t believe in subsidising energy. Regardless of scarcity of land and dense population, the country aims to be energy resilient and sustainable.
During the past two decades, Singapore moved from oil fired to gas fired electricity generation which drastically improved the country’s carbon footprint. 95% of Singapore’s electricity today comes from natural gas. Now, for the resilience of gas infrastructure and to build solid electricity security, the country is implementing LNG storage capabilities.
#2 — What about renewable energy?
In Singapore, we have quite limited renewable energy options. Our wind speed and tidal currents aren’t sufficient. And geothermal energy is not viable as well. Hence, so far the only option for renewable energy has been solar. Thanks to our location close to equator, we get quite good solar irradiation in Singapore (an average of 1,580 kWh/m2/year) which is about 30% more than Germany. However, the tropical climate does make our weather a bit unpredictable with clouds and the rain. This leads to variability in solar generation.
I have read that you are testing a large floating solar farm in a water reservoir? Has it been successful?
It was indeed successfully installed in one of the reservoirs and they are collecting project data to see if this approach is economically and technologically feasible. We did an analysis on the solar potential and discovered that even if we were to cover all the rooftops and water reservoirs in Singapore with solar panels, we would only meet 10% of all the country’s energy needs with solar.
Another way that the country is supporting renewable energy is through financing models and economic development by anchoring the clean energy ecosystem in Singapore.
Notably, a major solar module manufacturer viz. Renewable Energy Corporation (REC) chose Singapore to setup it’s largest fully-integrated solar module manufacturing facility that is expected to produce 190,000 solar modules per month. Singapore Government has committed to over 350MW of solar installations by 2020.
#3 — As an avid solar energy enthusiast, do you think that in the future solar energy could be the world’s leading source of renewable energy?
I do believe that. Many things are happening in the right direction — each year, the price has been falling rapidly (in year 2016 only, solar PV module prices have slashed by more than 20%). Yet again, it’s linked to geographic and climatic conditions, for example in Denmark solar will probably be second or third best because there’s remarkably more wind. For countries such as China and India I think solar is the most efficient option. However, at the current price of solar and energy storage it won’t be able to supply the base load, but the second tier.
#4 — When did you join NTU and what initiated the birth of EcoCampus?
Fun fact is that I used to work for Shell — some people call it the “dark side” of energy. Then, about five years ago I decided to shift my career to clean energy and sustainability and that led me to a position at NTU in the Energy Research Institute (ERI@N).
I started off with assisting in developing technology roadmaps for The the Singapore Government for solar, smart grid and energy efficient buildings. Two years later we started the EcoCampus initiative, a living laboratory for innovative clean technology solutions.
The most important characteristic of the EcoCampus initiative is that each technology needs to be demonstrated on the campus apart from the R&D work. This really adds the biggest value to the company as often times, it’s difficult to find the first adopter of cutting edge technologies. As a small country we are resource scarce, but being open to collaborations and to the market, we can give the companies access to high-quality research, testing and access to the Asian market.
Among many others, Siemens needed a place to testbed their technology that they wanted to bring from the US to Singapore. So they landed at
#5 — Tell us a little bit more about the projects that have been built in EcoCampus?
Today, six of the projects are successfully completed. One of them, developed together with Engie, is an app for energy conservation through user behaviour. We tested it with the students and the whole campus staff. They interacted with the facility managers in order to save energy via the app. We involved professors from the Sociology and Economics Departments in order to add some great gamification elements and make people want to use it.
Thanks to this solution, we would be able to save about 5% of energy on the campus through behaviour change. Right now, we are working on the second version called PowerZee, which will be used in other universities all over Singapore and the world. Find out more at “App Allows Students To Reduce Uni’s Power Bills”.
#6— Could you share some numbers on how much money the green approach will help you save money at NTU?
Our goal is to reduce 35% in energy, water and waste intensity by 2020. This should leave us with around 5–10 million Singapore dollars of savings per year.
This goal is also in line with Singapore’s commitment in the Paris Agreement which states 36% reduction in carbon intensity. Due to our unordinary mix of energy, the saving in energy are directly linked to carbon savings.
#7 — One of your key research fields is Energy Information and Analytics. Could you talk about some of these projects?
Most certainly. With more than 200 buildings on the campus we are able to collect a lot of data. We are using smart meters and BMS (building management system) for collecting all the data. We are tracking everything from energy efficiency to consumption patterns. For example, during the holidays the energy consumption in the campus decreases significantly. Thanks to the data we can negotiate our energy bill. Along with analytics we also do data simulation and modelling on energy use of different buildings.
#8 — What kind of data do you use for the weather predictions?
In fact, we can’t really rely on external data, so we are using the two weather stations that we have on the campus and another one in another campus nearby with great solar surveillance cameras.
#9—And what about the data visualisations side. Do you do it in-house?
As researchers we are fans of using open source software, so we do most of the data modelling and visualisations ourselves, but we also work with companies such as IES to develop the virtual campus data platform with advanced simulation capabilities. For example, there is an on-going project for making our professors accountable for the energy consumption of their departments. The idea is that the professors have a fixed energy budget and if they manage to save energy they can keep the rest of the budget for research and if they overspend, they need to explain their actions.
#10 —That is an interesting approach. What other developments are taking place in Singapore?
I would say that the most exciting developments are happening in energy efficiency and smart buildings. One of the sustainability goals for Singapore is that by 2020, 80% of the Singapore’s buildings need to be green certified. At the moment it’s little bit over 20%. Interestingly, it’s not only buildings or campuses, but entire city districts that are becoming green. There are research and policy efforts in Singapore to push further towards zero energy and even positive energy buildings.
There is one great research project that we call a Smart Multi Energy System (SMES). It combines thermal, electrical and gas energy sources and they are being optimised based on the availability of each energy source at any point of time. It enables you to play with the grid in real time offering enhanced demand response opportunities.
Once this project finishes it can be deployed at any industrial site that has different energy sources and it will help to save up to 20% of all costs.
What was supposed to be a 20 minute interview, lasted over an hour.
Thank you, Nilesh, and thank you all for reading. We also discussed autonomous vehicles, wireless charging and food waste so I certainly encourage you to ask additional questions should you have any. Just write me at email@example.com or add them to the comments.
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