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  Straits Times Forum 7 Nov 06
Do more to harness solar and wind energy

Letter from Khoo Swee Chiow

Straits Times Forum Online 30 Oct 06
Solar power can meet 30% of electricity needs
Letter from Christophe Inglin
Chairman, Renewable Energy Committee Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore

Straits Times Online 25 Oct 06
Forget solar cells, focus on solar-thermal systems
Letter from Lee Seck Kay

Straits Times Online 23 Oct 06
Most alternative energy still not cost-effective

Letter from Choo Wai Chan
Director, Corporate Communications Energy Market Authority

Straits Times Online 7 Oct 06
Seek new energy sources before crunch comes

Letter from Adam Leo Isidore Tan Kay Yang

I REFER to the articles, 'China's race to address soaring energy needs' and 'World oil reserves: Are we at the tipping point?' (ST, Oct 2).

The first article illustrates how China is tackling its rising energy requirements by tapping alternative energy sources, such as solar power. The latter tries to reassure readers that the oil supply will not run out in the near future, stating that Aramco CEO Abdallah Jum'ah says the world has enough crude to last a century at current production rates and that ExxonMobil and BP both publicly dismiss the imminent peaking of world oil production.

However, other signs show that an exhausted supply is an eventuality that might come earlier than expected: Kuwait's Burgan field has collapsed and Mexico's Cantarell (the world's second-largest field) has gone into decline, as have the North Sea and Russian fields.

Both these articles hold great significance for Singapore.

With an increasingly affluent society dependent on technology and cars, an energy and fuel shortage can only come sooner rather than later.

Factor in the accelerated modernisation of India and China, the world's two most populous countries, and the need for alternative energy sources becomes even more urgent.

I reiterate the need for us to explore and harness alternative sustainable energy sources, such as solar, wind and hydroelectric, although I don't know how viable the last two would be in Singapore.

Singapore is a sunny island (up to 268 days of sun a year) and there are many rooftops where solar panels can be installed.

While the authorities may not see the installation and maintenance of solar panels as an immediately necessary or cost-efficient measure, it would definitely help in reducing our reliance on conventional energy sources.

Must we wait until the energy shortage hits us before we decide to look to other sources for our needs? That would be like wasting paper until the forests have almost all been decimated before deciding to begin recycling.

An ounce of prevention is better than an ounce of cure, and if we can reduce our conventional energy consumption that would prepare us for the future shortage when it comes, whether in 10 years, 10 decades or more.

The Straits Times 2 Oct 06
China's race to address soaring energy needs

by Goh Sui Noi

TEACHER Ren Yushi, 32, is one of 35 million people in China who have installed solar water heaters in their homes. He bought the heater for his top-floor flat in Beijing to save on electricity bills, and also because it was environment-friendly.

Not everyone who buys a solar heater cares about pollution or depletion of Earth's natural resources, but China has more users of these appliances than the rest of the world combined.

Solar energy is among several renewable energy sources the Chinese government is developing to address the energy needs and pollution problems of Asia's economic powerhouse. It is also working on or considering harnessing wind, biomass, geothermal, tidal and wave power.

Earlier this year, Beijing implemented a new Renewable Energy Law. New regulations are being drawn up in tandem with it to encourage the development and use of renewable sources of energy.

It has been more than a decade since China began looking seriously at developing renewable energies.

Hydroelectricity was already in use when it became a net importer of oil in 1993.

Three years later (1996), the Cabinet-level National Research and Development Commission launched a clean energy project to help develop a sustainable energy system that would include maximising energy efficiency and using renewable energy sources.

A new impetus came in recent years as surging economic growth drove up energy demands, with acute shortages and blackouts in major cities and industrial zones.

Energy demand will soar even more as growing affluence and the government's push to raise living standards among the less well-off lead to higher demand for energy-guzzling cars, air-conditioners, refrigerators and television sets.

'To realise improvement to their daily lives requires a lot of energy resources,' said Mr Shen Yiyang, programme manager for energy and environment of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in China. 'If current forms of energy are used, it will be impossible to satisfy demand. It will also put a lot of pressure on the world oil market.'

Instability in the oil-producing Middle East where much of China's oil imports come from have led to worries about energy security and the need for self-sufficiency in energy.

Renewable energy sources are the way to go, given that China's oil, natural gas and coal resources are being depleted rapidly and will last only 15, 30 and 80 years respectively at current rates of extraction.

With oil prices soaring, the high cost of renewable energies is beginning to look less daunting.

But energy concerns are not the only reasons for the push to develop renewables.

Environmental factors have become important as the economic, health and social costs of pollution from burning fossil fuels are becoming apparent. Among them: lower crop yields, higher occurrences of respiratory diseases and acid rain which falls on one-third of the country.

The new law aims for renewable energy sources to make up 15 per cent of China's energy capacity by 2020, up from about 7 per cent now. It also commits US$180 billion (S$286 billion) to developing such energy sources from now until that year. Tax breaks, low-cost loans and other financial incentives are also being considered.

The introduction of renewable energies such as solar and biomass power has been especially important in remote and rural parts of China where it can be costly and difficult to get connected to the power grid.

Access to electricity through renewables not only turns villagers away from burning coal, firewood or oil but can also improve their standards of living as well, said Mr Shen of the UNDP.

'Without electricity, villagers could do little when it got dark, but now they have access to TV and computers and so understand the outside world,' he said. Information from the outside helps villagers to tailor their products to demand and therefore earn more, he added.

China's commitment to renewables, and to more efficient production and use of energy, has been praised by World Bank chief scientist Robert Watson. 'It has some very good plans of how to produce energy in the most sustainable way. We have to strongly support their direction towards renewable energy, more efficient use of energy, more efficient production of energy,' he told The Straits Times during the recent International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings held in Singapore.

China's energy strategy includes increasing efficient usage through encouraging energy-saving buildings - 95 per cent of the country's buildings are highly energy-consuming. It also includes more efficient transportation and the development of more energy-efficient products such as light-bulbs and refrigerators.

Still, the country's sheer size, with 1.3 billion people, makes its energy demand and the environmental consequences daunting for itself and the world.

Dr Watson pointed to how China added an average of one gigawatt of new electricity power per week from coal last year - and that is the amount of power the whole of Africa is expected to add per year for the next 20 years.

China is the biggest emitter of sulphur dioxide from coal. In 2010, coal will still make up about two thirds of its primary energy consumption. It is also the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases from fossil fuels, after the United States.

An Indian think-tank has called China's target of cutting sulphur dioxide emissions by 10 per cent in 2010 'pitiful'. It said the expected increase in coal production would cancel out the effort to reduce emissions from existing plants.

But, as Mr Shen of the UNDP pointed out, if China fails to turn to renewable sources of energy, its soaring demand for oil would push prices up further.

Conversely, the sheer economies of scale to come from its efforts to develop renewables will push down prices of these alternative power sources.

And that can only be good for the rest of the world.

Straits Times Online 23 Oct 06
Most alternative energy still not cost-effective

Letter from Choo Wai Chan
Director, Corporate Communications Energy Market Authority

I REFER to the letter, 'Seek new energy sources before crunch comes' by Mr Adam Leo Isidore Tan Kay Yang (ST, Oct 7).

We agree with Mr Tan on the need to reduce our dependence on conventional energy sources, of which one way is to develop alternative energy sources.

However, most forms of alternative energy are still not cost-competitive at current technology levels.

For instance, solar energy costs much more than current electricity tariffs even with today's high oil prices. Moreover, even if most of the available rooftop space in Singapore were covered with solar panels, only about 3 to 4 per cent of Singapore's current annual electricity consumption could be met.

Other forms of renewables such as geothermal and hydro sources are not feasible due to our geography. Our wind speed and tidal differences are also not high enough for significant electricity generation.

Our electricity system can accept electricity from renewable sources. However, electricity from renewables is currently more expensive than conventional sources.

Unless consumers are prepared to pay higher prices for electricity, investments in renewable energy are not viable until they are cost-competitive.

We would like to assure Mr Tan and other readers that the Government is keeping a close watch on the development of new energy sources in meeting Singapore's energy needs.

Concurrently, the Energy Market Authority will ensure our electricity market stays open to new technologies as they arise and become viable.

Besides developing new energy sources, it is important that good energy- conservation practices are adopted to reduce our consumption of conventional energy.

The National Environment Agency has launched an Energy Efficiency Improvement Assistance Scheme, which companies can tap to engage expert consultants to audit their energy consumption and recommend measures to save energy.

Household consumers can also turn to devices such as efficient electrical appliances to use energy efficiently.

Straits Times Online 25 Oct 06
Forget solar cells, focus on solar-thermal systems
Letter from Lee Seck Kay

I WOULD like to comment on the reply by the Energy Market Authority (EMA), 'Most alternative energy still not cost-effective' (ST, Oct 23), to Mr Adam Leo Isidore Tan Kay Yang's letter, 'Seek new energy sources before crunch comes' (ST, Oct 7).

While it is generally true that conventional carbon-based energy sources are still cheaper than alternative ones such as solar, nuclear, biofuels and renewables, the gap is fast narrowing with increasing R&D spending, especially in the West.

According to a special report in the September issue of Scientific American, 'Energy's future: Beyond carbon', clean energy sources are poised to become large contributors to global energy, especially if a levy continues to be placed on carbon to reward these clean energy sources over those that harm the environment.

The use of relatively expensive solar (photovoltaic) cells, as EMA rightly pointed out, may not be a viable option for Singapore. However, the solar-thermal systems that produce power from solar heat rather than light (thus avoiding the need for expensive photovoltaics) may be worth considering.

The city of Seville in Spain which, like Singapore, bathes in sunshine much of the year, has already invested in such a system to meet its increasing energy needs. The trend, it seems, is well on its way.

What is important is that we must not wait until the cost-effectiveness calculations are clearly in favour of clean fuel technology before acting.

Anyway, it is hard to see how the damage to human health and the environment could be accurately quantified in dollars and cents for such calculations.

Good energy-conservation practices can only go so far to reduce our consumption of conventional energy in the long term.

The good news is that these practices may not even be necessary when the promise of unlimited, cheap, good, clean energy for the world becomes a reality.

Indeed, it is a question of when, not if, and Singapore should be quick to jump on the bandwagon of the energy solutions for a sustainable world - 'before the crunch comes'.

Straits Times Forum Online 30 Oct 06
Solar power can meet 30% of electricity needs
Letter from Christophe Inglin
Chairman, Renewable Energy Committee Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore

I REFER to the letter, 'Most alternative energy still not cost-effective' by Mrs Choo Wai Chan of the Energy Market Authority (ST, Oct 23).

I welcome the EMA's open-minded approach to renewable energy, but would like to correct the misleading statement that covering all of Singapore's rooftops with solar panels would meet only 3 to 4 per cent of Singapore's current electricity consumption.

The true figure is closer to 10 times higher. Singapore's total roof space is about 70 to 120 sq km and growing. (No official statistic exists for roof space, but we can compare against 82 sq km of road area.)

Even allowing for sub-optimal conditions on many rooftops, covering them all with solar panels would generate 25 to 50 per cent of today's electricity demand.

This is too significant to dismiss just because it is not yet commercially viable. Solar technology is already cost-effective in remote off-grid applications like telecom repeater stations.

While it is not yet cost-effective to feed solar power into the national grid without financial support, we can expect commercial viability within 10 years. Germany, Japan and the United States lead the way with incentives to make grid-connected solar power commercially viable in their home markets. Spain, Italy, China, Taiwan, South Korea and Thailand are following fast.

These incentives have made the world market grow at 40 per cent per year since 1999, leading to manufacturing economies of scale that drive down the cost of solar technology.

The incentives are an investment rather than a simple subsidy. The solar industry has created more than 20,000 jobs in the US and over 30,000 in Germany. It generates billions of dollars of taxable revenue annually and produces billions of kilowatts of clean electricity each year, so reducing greenhouse gas production.

Singapore can wait for others to bring costs down far enough before it installs solar technology here. But that risks missing a chance to lead the region with an export-oriented industry of the future.

Singapore can develop valuable expertise not just in solar panels but also in related fields like storage technology and systems integration know-how. To do this successfully requires a local market to interact with R&D and manufacturing here.

In the long term, we do not have much choice. Conventional and nuclear fuels are limited, and climate change concerns may force us to seek alternatives well before conventional fuels run out.

When that happens, solar energy will be one of Singapore's best bets.

Straits Times Forum 7 Nov 06
Do more to harness solar and wind energy

Letter from Khoo Swee Chiow

I REFER to the letters by Mr Christophe Ingin (ST, Oct 30) and Mrs Choo Wai Chan of the Energy Market Authority (ST, Oct 23).

Mrs Choo said covering all of Singapore's rooftops with solar panels would meet only 3 to 4 per cent of Singapore's current electricity consumption whereas Mr Ingin quoted 30 per cent.

There is a huge difference and major implications in these two figures. Which is more accurate?

I have asked my town council if my HDB block or my flat could be used for solar energy experiments. The reply was that various experiments have been tried and found to be not cost-effective.

Short-term cost-effectiveness can no longer be the only justification. There has to be a change of mindset and paradigm shift. This is a long-term investment to save the Earth and by doing so, our own future generations.

Singapore is blessed with two monsoons a year. There is plenty of wind energy. Why not harness it with wind generators that require only one-time installation on rooftops? Every bit of solar and wind energy not harnessed means that much is wasted.

Looking at the world news these days, one cannot help but be alarmed by the potential devastation and the urgency of global warming.

One does not have to be a scientist to grasp what is happening to Mother Earth or rather, what we humans are doing to her. Hence, the urgency for clean and sustainable energy.

The big picture can be grim. Basically, we humans have messed up the Earth by our want, greed, power and ignorance.

Some effects of human activities are irreversible, for example, extinction of species. Hollywood is not far off in using its vivid imagination to predict the future of the Earth.

I hope we can do more to harness solar and wind energy. As one TV campaign says: 'There is only one Earth. There is nowhere else to go.'

Related articles on Singapore: green energy
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