Clean Energy Effort

Singapore focuses on energy storage and electric mobility

Singapore is a good example of a country in the process of charting its own path to a low-carbon future. The island nation is one of the world’s eight economies without energy resources. Thus, it heavily relies on liquefied natural gas (LNG) for 95 per cent of its power needs. It imports natural gas from Malaysia and Indonesia through piped networks, and also in a liquefied state from around the world via the Singapore LNG terminal, which was launched in 2013. While the country aims to diversify its gas supply, it also plans to expand its energy basket.

Singapore committed to increase its installed capacity of grid-connected solar energy from 71 MW in the first part of 2016 to 350 MW by 2020. It is targeting to add 2 GW of solar capacity by 2030, which will be the equivalent of 10 per cent of Singapore’s current peak daily electricity demand. The government is determined to support solar PV through the SolarNova programme and rooftop solar deployment. Meanwhile, the Housing and Development Board (HDB), which has already announced several successful tenders, plans to install solar PV on 50 per cent of HDB rooftops over the coming years. The country is currently on track to achieve its 2020 target of deploying 350 MW and is also considering setting up zero-energy buildings.

To achieve these goals, Singapore is exploring energy storage solutions as geographic and climatic conditions as well as a dense urban landscape limit its capacity to extensively add solar or other renewable energy sources to its energy portfolio. In addition, the difference between peak and trough demand within the daily cycle can be as much as 30 per cent, requiring extra infrastructure capacity to meet peak demand. The use of energy storage to balance peak and trough demand could save substantial infrastructure costs. To this end, Singapore is planning to add 200 MW of energy storage capacity by 2025. The country is also envisaging exploration of a regional power grid where it could sell excess power to neighbouring countries. Apart from this, the government is betting big on electric vehicles (EVs), virtual power plants as well as several research and development (R&D) initiatives. The efforts are aimed at achieving a successful transition to a low-carbon and low-emissions economy to fight climate change.

Singapore’s electricity market

Since 2001, the Energy Market Authority (EMA), the government agency that oversees Singapore’s electricity and gas sectors, has progressively opened up the retail electricity market to competition. The Open Electricity Market marks the final phase of market liberalisation efforts, whereby all consumers in Singapore are able to choose who they wish to buy electricity from: an electricity retailer at a price plan that best meets their needs, the wholesale electricity market at half-hourly wholesale electricity prices through the SP Group, or at the regulated tariff.

This phased liberalisation of the electricity market which reached the retail segment over the past year, has created  new market structures and business models. Players from other business sectors, such as telecommunications, have entered the power retail business. This is likely to continue given the emergence of a new breed of digitally driven companies that cut across the traditional boundaries between various utility services and the domains of different government agencies.

At present, several power generation companies compete to generate and sell electricity in the wholesale electricity market. They have to bid to sell electricity in the market every half an hour. Depending on electricity demand and supply, the price of electricity in the market changes every half an hour. The wholesale market is operated and administered by the Energy Market Company (EMC).

The electricity generated is delivered to consumers through the national power grid, operated by the SP Group via its member SP PowerGrid. SP PowerGrid is the agent appointed by transmission licensee SP PowerAssets to build and maintain the power grid. Electricity retailers and the SP Group, via its member SP Services, buy electricity in bulk from the wholesale electricity market to supply to consumers. SP Services is the market support services licensee (MSSL).

Recent developments

Energy storage

Singapore has set aside SGD 49 million for R&D in the low-carbon energy sector. A major initiative was recently taken up in the form of a lithium-ion battery energy storage project on a “floating” lab, utilising seawater to cool the battery cells. This energy storage system is driven by Singapore’s efforts to transform the energy landscape and deploy 200 MW of storage systems beyond 2025.

The EMA has awarded a research grant to test a floating energy storage system to a consortium led by Envision Digital International as part of a SGD 10 million partnership with Keppel Offshore and Marine Limited (Keppel O&M) to develop energy solutions in the marine sector. The test will entail the deployment of a 7.5 MW lithium-ion battery ESS on Keppel O&M’s floating living lab, which is believed to have the capacity to power more than 600 households a day.

In October 2020, the EMA installed its first utility-scale energy storage system at a substation in Woodlands. The system was jointly funded by the EMA and the country’s electric utility the SP Group. It was implemented by a consortium comprising local solar energy firm Sunseap Energy Ventures, local Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Finland-based energy solutions provider Wärtsilä. The energy storage system aims to mitigate the intermittency challenges faced by solar power systems, by storing the solar power available in the area. It has been designed for local conditions, to enable the incorporation of a greater amount of renewable and other sustainable energy solutions into the electricity grid. This initiative is considered critical for analysing the contribution of energy storage infrastructure in supporting Singapore’s target of at least 2 GWp of solar deployment by 2030.

Electric mobility

Singapore is hoping to phase out internal combustion engine vehicles by 2040. This goal will accelerate the adoption of EVs and the roll-out of more EV charging points. With the government targeting to increase solar penetration to 2 GW by 2030, integrating vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology into the national grid can be the key to managing the intermittency of renewables while maintaining grid stability and reliability.

Against this background, the SP Group recently announced a major investment in the US-based technology company The Mobility House AG (TMH) to explore smart charging (V1G) and V2G feasibility in Singapore. SP will leverage TMH’s expertise and technology in Europe and the US to improve Singapore’s electric mobility capabilities, enabling its energy system to integrate more renewable energy and ultimately mitigate climate change. TMH will provide a non-proprietary software for integrating vehicle batteries into power grids using intelligent charging and storage solutions.

Virtual power plant

Singapore has already set the course for encouraging partnerships among people as well as private and public sectors or the so-called 3Ps of collaboration for climate action. For instance, the recent partnership between Sembcorp (Singapore’s largest home-grown international renewable energy player), the EMA and NTU to develop Singapore’s first virtual power plant (VPP) is the right step in this direction. Using real-time information from a variety of distributed energy resources, the VPP will optimise the power output of these resources located across the island. Energy fluctuations due to solar intermittency at different locations could be balanced automatically via the VPP. The VPP is also equipped with demand forecasting and optimisation algorithms that take into account Singapore’s power grid and market conditions.

The project is in line with the country’s objective of enabling more clean and distributed energy resources to be integrated into Singapore’s energy mix while keeping its power system stable. The project aims to deepen Singapore’s supply mix and develop new customer-centric business models underpinned by digital platforms.

Research and development

In August 2020, the SP Group announced that it will be investing SGD 30 million on research and education initiatives with NTU Singapore to enhance the resilience of Singapore’s electricity network, improve reliability and efficiency of power supply, and facilitate skill development in  the energy sector. The collaboration would see the establishment of the SP Group-NTU Joint Laboratory to explore energy-related projects in the areas of asset management and network operations. Located on the NTU Smart Campus, the new joint lab would house 60 researchers and 85 undergraduate and postgraduate students, and serve as a training platform for SP’s engineers.

Through the joint lab, for which SP is setting aside SGD 20 million in funding, new research topics would be identified to help develop solutions for the future energy grid. In addition, SP is contributing SGD 10 million to NTU to set up two endowment funds at the university to support and groom next-generation experts in the country’s energy sector.

The way forward

The recent initiatives in the energy storage space look promising and are in line with the country’s objective of establishing a network of energy storage solutions to manage the stability and resilience of the grid, as well as offer peak shaving services. However, the installation of 2 GW of solar PV projects by 2030 would require collaboration between the public and private sectors as well as breakthroughs in solar module efficiencies and vertical solar installations, given the fact that Singapore relies heavily on rooftop-based solar deployment.

In addition, the complexity and velocity of energy transitions in countries such as Singapore demand a constant review of energy policies. Frameworks governing the power sector must be nimble and open to recalibration or harmonisation. In order to integrate green energy solutions, especially in the urban landscape, policymakers need to look at convergence across sectors to minimise the likelihood of contradictory strategies.

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