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  The Straits Times, 2 Feb 05
Sunny S'pore 'ripe for solar power'
by Christopher Tan

ALL it takes is a few solar panels erected on the roof and sides of a Housing Board block to take care of up to 30 per cent of the building's daytime energy needs, according to a university professor.

The puzzling thing is that Singapore, which is more suited to tapping solar power than most countries that already use the technology extensively, is not already doing so, said

Professor Stephen Wittkopf of the National University of Singapore's School of Design and Environment. 'I'm German and I grew up with this type of technology around me. Singapore has 50 per cent more sunshine than Germany, so I don't understand why it's not making use of it here,' he told a solar energy seminar at the Institute of South-east Asian Studiest on Monday.

The conditions here are ideal for power generation using photovoltaic panels, which convert light into electricity, Prof Wittkopf noted. Sunshine is constant and there are many high-rise buildings. As their solid facades face east and west, they are able to capture strong sunlight. Photovoltaic panels can be flexible, lightweight and easy to install, as well as suitable for hot and humid conditions, he added.

Prof Wittkopf also produced several designs showing HDB blocks clad in these panels, with the most efficient model - a slab block with the panels lining a roof erected above the water tanks - catering to 56 per cent of the building's daytime energy needs.

The downside is cost, Prof Wittkopf said. To generate one watt of power, the solar-panel cost is US$8 (S$13), which means that the block would need about $1.43 million worth of panels. And that does not include the cost of mounting them.

But such a project should not be judged on just monetary terms, he argued. The 'environmental benefit is hard to quantify' and with government support, the project would be more viable.

Singapore should not hesitate to try out solar energy as a supplementary power source, Prof Wittkopf said, adding that less than 1 per cent of the country's energy is from renewable sources such as sun, wind and water, compared with 10 per cent in Germany. Noting that half the solar panels here are for 'test-bedding', he said: 'What is there to test-bed? This is already a proven technology.'

Related articles on Global issues: global warming issues, policies

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