Speech by Andrew Tan, National Environment Agency CEO, at The Solar Pioneer Awards Ceremony 2011 [Speeches]
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am happy to be here with you this morning at the Solar Pioneer Awards Ceremony 2011, jointly organized by the Economic Development Board (EDB), National Environment Agency (NEA) and Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore (SEAS). This ceremony coincides with the inaugural PV Asia Pacific Expo and the Singapore International Energy Week (SIEW). For those of you joining us from abroad, I extend a warm welcome to Singapore.
The Road Ahead – Rapid Urbanisation, Economic Growth and Energy Diversification
Just two days ago, the world population reached 7 billion people. Half that number lives in cities, with another half waiting to enter. If you were to view the world from space, you will see a globe that is dotted with thousands of lights, some brighter, others dimmer. Each of those dots represents a city, town or a village. And you ask yourself – where will we find all this power to light up our homes and industry? As cities grow, the demand for energy increases, so does the price, and all indications point to the end of an era of cheap energy.
Yet cities must grow in order to feed their hungry populations, people must travel in order to do their business, and factory workshops have to produce to meet the needs of a growing economy. While the current economic uncertainty has put the brakes on the growth of the world economy, it does not derail the overall narrative where the world will increasingly be “hot, flat and crowded” as Thomas Friedman calls it. It also does not underscore the importance of energy diversification, a major theme of this and all previous energy conferences. Growth will return, this time driven by growing cities and rapid urbanisation.
In fact, the current economic uncertainty has exerted a moderating influence on the so-called green economy that many touted would lift the global economy out of the financial crisis of 2008. Where it applies to solar energy, we are seeing slower growth in demand in countries where generous feed-in tariffs have been scaled back and markets are oversupplied. While it can be debated whether the initial support from governments for the solar industry was essential to its development, the world is now much closer than it was 10 years ago to grid parity, with some local experts even forecasting parity in Singapore by 2016.
Also on the upside, the drive towards greater energy security, concerns over climate change and greenhouse gases, are also driving more nations towards cleaner forms of energy, including renewable energy, into their energy mix. After Fukushima, the appetite for nuclear energy particularly in the developed countries has also been reduced. For developed nations, we can expect further pursuit of alternative sources of energy.
For emerging economies, we too are seeing growing interest in alternative sources of energy, including solar. Under its National Solar Mission, India has set a target of 20 GW of solar energy by 2022. China hopes to have 10 GW of installed photovoltaic power capacity by 2015 and 50 GW by 2020, a doubling of targets originally set. China, of course, has also been promoting its solar industry aggressively. I understand that Latin America too is attracting growing interest. So we can expect attention on solar energy to shift from the developed to emerging economies where domestic growth is still very much a key driver of economic development.
Indeed, in a recent report, Lux Research forecasts that worldwide demand will more than double between 2010 and 2016, reaching 37.5 GW by the end of that period. According to another report released recently by Pike Research, some of the key differentiators that will determine make or break for solar suppliers will include cost per watt, module efficiency, presence in key growth markets, supply chain integration, and availability of financing.
Asian Sunbelt – The Next Growth Frontier & Singapore’s Role
In Singapore, we too face a similar challenge of finding affordable, reliable, and accessible sources of energy. Because of our strategic circumstances – constraints of land, space and limited access to natural resources and hinterlands that other leading cities may have – we have to use our resources in a smarter, more effective and efficient way. Indeed, on Monday, Minister S Iswaran, our Second Minister for Trade & Industry, shared that Singapore’s strategies to meet the energy challenge are to manage energy demand, encourage innovative energy solutions, and diversify energy sources.
In this regard, solar energy has the potential to help Singapore to diversify our energy sources and reduce our carbon footprint. The International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts that almost 80% of global electricity demand growth in the next 20 years will come from the Sunbelt region, lying between latitudes of 35 degrees north and 35 degrees south. It is ironic that this Sunbelt region, particularly in Asia, while blessed with the best solar energy resources in the world, is lagging behind in harvesting the vast potential of solar energy production. But this situation is changing very quickly as I have outlined.
The Asian Sunbelt region is now viewed as the next exciting growth frontier for solar markets. Europe, North America and Japan had traditionally led the world in terms of photovoltaics (PV) adoption. Hence, PV systems and best practices have been designed with the temperate region in mind. Given the increased attention on the Asian Sunbelt with its own characteristics, it is therefore important that we develop new innovations and solutions to meet the needs of the tropical environment which is hotter, more humid and often urbanised. For instance, as higher temperatures reduce PV performance, there is much room to leverage R&D to optimise the solar modules for the tropics.
Singapore can carve an important niche for itself in the solar field. Singapore has been investing in clean energy research and innovation, with an emphasis on solar energy. Through our research community, which includes the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore or SERIS, we aim to promote thought leadership and new capabilities in PV technologies for the urbanised tropics. At the same time, Singapore has positioned itself as a “living laboratory” where companies can use our real-life environment to develop, test and commercialise innovative urban sustainable solutions.
Accelerating Growth in the Local Solar Landscape in Singapore
Singapore has also been accelerating our knowledge and usage of solar systems in the last few years. Many recent solar installation projects are larger in size than previous projects and the level of system integration expertise has improved. Notably, for Singapore, where energy prices are not subsidised, the price gap between solar power and grid electricity can be expected to close further as the price of solar systems fall and our knowledge and capabilities improve.
At this juncture, I would like to congratulate the winners of this year’s Solar Pioneer Awards, namely Keppel DHCS, Hyflux, GSK Biologicals, UOL Group and OUB Centre Limited. These awards recognise pioneering solar systems in Singapore that are innovative in terms of system design, size and installation techniques, and help to build solar system integration capabilities. These award winners operate in the industrial and commercial sectors, and have integrated solar systems into their overall plans to achieve environmental sustainability in their new buildings in Singapore. Notably, Keppel DHCS’s solar installation at its new Changi Business Park Plant will be the largest system on a building in Singapore with a total system size of about 550 kilowatt peak.
Government Taking the Lead
Besides the private sector, the Government is also playing a key role in demonstrating the potential for solar PV. NEA’s Upper Air Observatory at Kim Chuan, which will be commissioned next year, will feature a 25 kW peak photovoltaic system on its rooftop. Another good example is our national housing agency, the Housing & Development Board (HDB). Through the Solar Capability Building Programme, HDB is installing solar systems on the rooftops in 30 HDB precincts across Singapore. HDB also started Singapore’s first solar leasing model in our Punggol Eco-town. This new financing model is expected to spur the take-up of systems in Singapore as it can overcome the challenge of hefty upfront investments by solar adopters.
I am also pleased to announce today that Singapore is embarking on a pilot floating photovoltaics (PV) project, the first of its kind in the region. Led by the EDB and PUB, Singapore’s national water agency, the S$11 million 2 MW peak project seeks to overcome our land constraints by studying the prospects of using reservoir water surfaces for floating PV systems. Tengeh Reservoir on the western side of Singapore has been earmarked for the installation which will have an approximate power capacity of two megawatts. The project will help establish the technical challenges of erecting and operating floating PV installations as well as its cost-effectiveness for increased adoption in Singapore. The test-bed will also be useful to evaluate the impact, if any, on the environment and to look into the aesthetic considerations of such projects. One potential advantage of floating PV systems on water is the cooling effect which enhances solar system performance. PUB will also study the potential of such installations to provide secondary benefits, such as reduced water evaporation and algae growth in our reservoirs.
In concluding, I am optimistic that local solar adoption will continue to proliferate, driven by factors such as increased local capabilities and innovation, government support and the approaching grid parity. As more cities seek to diversify their energy sources, reduce their carbon footprint and indentify new sources of growth, I hope that the companies in the solar ecosystem here will continue to share best practices with each other and forge ahead in realising the potential for solar energy.
I wish you all a fruitful and enjoyable time at this year’s awards ceremony and the PV Asia Pacific Expo event.
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