S'pore to import 30% of electricity from 'low-carbon' sources by 2035: Gan Kim Yong

Besides electricity imports and solar deployment, Singapore is also looking at tapping on low-carbon hydrogen.

Fiona Tan | October 26, 2021, 12:44 PM

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Singapore is set to import 30 per cent of its electricity from "low-carbon" energy source in the region by 2035.

Tapping on offshore low-carbon energy as part of energy transition

Speaking at the opening of Singapore International Energy week, a five-day-long hybrid conference, the Minister for Trade and Industry, Gan Kim Yong said the move to import low-carbon energy will be a "key needle mover" in Singapore’s energy transition in the near to medium term.

Singapore has been exploring ways to maximise the use of solar energy, so much so that we are now one of the most solar dense cities in the world.

However, that will not be enough to reduce carbon emissions significantly.

"Meaningful abatement can only come through tapping low-carbon energy beyond our shores, and by developing the use of low-carbon alternatives such as hydrogen in the long term," Gan said.

Image from Singapore International Energy Week/Facebook.

Import 30 percent of electricity by 2035

The region has "abundant renewable energy resources" and the Energy Market Authority (EMA) has been studying the option of electricity imports for "several years".

Gan assured that the technology behind the import of electricity over long distances and across seas is mature and well-established. Subsea electricity transmission is not new and has been widely adopted in Europe, the United Kingdom and other Nordic countries for decades.

Gan announced that Singapore is set to import up to 4 gigawatts (GW) of electricity by 2035, that's about 30 per cent of Singapore's electricity supply.

This will begin with trials to import 100 megawatts (MW) of electricity from Malaysia, and 100MW of solar-generated electricity from Pulau Bulan, Indonesia.

These trials aim to resolve the technical and regulatory issues associated with cross border power trading and improve the system and processes before Singapore increases its imports subsequently.

Beyond Southeast Asia, Singapore will also import "different types of low-carbon energy" from different parts of the world to diversify our sources and enhance energy security, said Gan.

Gan said that there will be sufficient backups to help Singapore cope with any disruption to the electricity imports from the region. For short-term disruptions, we have energy storage systems and to deal with any longer-term disruptions, we will the deploy retired combined-cycle gas turbines.

EMA will be conducting Requests for Proposal (RFP) for these electricity imports.

Not necessary cheaper

However, Gan cautioned that this does not necessarily mean "cheaper electricity".

It may be cheaper to generate electricity from low-carbon energy sources but the cost of transmission,  backup, and the necessary grid enhancements will add to overall costs.

Gan said, "This is an inevitable but necessary trade-off in the energy transition."

An Asean power grid

While the import trials are currently bilateral arrangements with Malaysia and Indonesia, Gan also mentioned that an "ASEAN Power grid" is in the pipeline and "we are making steady progress in this regard".

Energy ministers from Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore remain committed to commencing the Lao PDR-Thailand-Malaysia-Singapore Power Integration Project (LTMS-PIP) in 2022.

Last month, the state utility company of Lao PDR, Electricite du Laos (EDL), and Keppel Electric have announced a partnership to import up to 100MW of hydropower into Singapore.

A regional power grid has three advantages.

This includes opening new markets where resource rich countries can trade with resource scarce countries on low-carbon energy. The project also drives investments in low-carbon projects and accelerate the development of renewable energy in Southeast Asia.

Countries involved in this power grid will also benefit from enhanced electricity security and resilience through shared "energy reserves".

Low-carbon hydrogen energy solution

Besides electricity imports, Singapore is also looking at new energy solutions as part of our efforts to decarbonise our electricity.

Low-carbon hydrogen appears to be a promising option, and could be a "game-changer" for Singapore's energy transition.

Currently, turbine manufacturers are developing gas turbines that can burn pure hydrogen to generate electricity without emitting greenhouse gases. The use of gas turbines in our energy mix can potentially lead to a significant reduction in carbon emissions, Gan elaborated.

However, there are three major challenges that Singapore has to overcome in order to tap on low-carbon hydrogen for more uses:

  1. Global supply chains have to be established
  2. Infrastructure for hydrogen import, storage, distribution, and end-use has to be set up
  3. Costs of hydrogen transport, storage and use will need to be competitive, for widespread adoption.

Singapore is investing resources to overcome these challenges. This includes a S$55 million research fund to look into improving the technical and economic feasibility of low-carbon technologies, particularly on hydrogen and carbon capture, utilisation and storage, to enable local deployment in future.

Gan added that EMA is also working with the industry to trial the use of Hydrogen Enriched Natural Gas (HENG) as a fuel at existing power plants, as well as trialling the import of low-carbon hydrogen.

"Energy transition is a collective regional and global effort"

In his speech, Gan highlighted that this global energy transition can be a "complicated" process and "unanticipated security and reliability risks may arise".

However, this transition "is an important part of our global climate change efforts" which we cannot slow down or abandon. "The fate of our planet does not permit that," Gan added.

Countries may have different decarbonisation pathways based on their domestic circumstances and that makes forming partnerships to share expertise, exchange ideas and explore solutions even more important.

At the end of his speech, Gan called for a collective regional and global effort in this energy transition.

"It is only when the international community comes together to ensure access to renewable energy resources, financing and decarbonisation technologies, will we be able to reduce the power sector’s emissions and slow down the effects of climate change."

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Top image from Singapore International Energy Week website