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Securing a Robust Energy Future

During the annual Singapore International Energy Week (SIEW) 2019, it was announced that Singapore has a new target for solar energy.

By 2030, the country wants to ramp up its solar capacity by more than seven times from current levels to meet the annual needs of about 350,000 households[1]. The goal highlights Singapore’s race to diversify its energy sources in the name of greater security and efficiency.

While commendable, this approach subscribes to the frequently cited definition of energy as a diversification of energy resources and supply sources.

But the discipline of economics defines energy security differently – as an adequate and reliable supply of energy resources at a reasonable price. This suggests that energy security has many connected dimensions. Therefore, failing in any one criterion could put our energy security in jeopardy.

So, what are the necessary actions needed to enhance our energy security for the future?

1. Provide energy at stable and affordable prices

Singapore cannot be considered truly energy secure until we can provide households and businesses with electricity at stable and affordable prices.

Households and businesses can look forward to lower electricity tariffs from October to December in 2019, which fell by an average of 3.3% compared to the previous quarter. But we must not forget that this dip comes off the back of high electricity tariffs for July and September – the highest in nearly five years[2].

Singapore Power largely attributes these fluctuations to the rise and fall of prices for natural gas. If the fuel to power our economy gets more expensive, it may dampen economic growth, increase our cost of living and thus compromise our energy security.

There is no doubt that having sufficient wealth to import energy resources like natural gas, petroleum, crude oil and coal for a resource-scarce country like Singapore is a critical prerequisite. But recent fluctuations in electricity tariffs suggest that our energy market is more vulnerable than we think.

2. Ensure the effective delivery of energy

Even if we have the reserves of energy resources on Singapore soil, we must also have proven technologies to harness and deliver energy to the end-user.

For example, the discovery of large reserves of shale rock formations in the U.S. ten years ago gave the country the foundation of achieving the goal of energy self-sufficiency. However, it was not until the wider adoption of fracking that deeply buried shale reserves could be extracted and used, and make that self-sufficiency a reality. By contrast, China is still struggling to exploit its shale reserves as it cannot afford expensive fracking technology.

It may also be argued that not all countries are fully applying the latest advancements in the field of energy. Solar energy is Singapore’s most viable renewable energy option, and we are now well on the way to meet our previous solar target of 350 Megawatt-Peak (MWP) by 2020.

But it was only when Singapore moved to proliferate solar photovoltaic cells and testbeds that we truly made significant steps to leveraging solar energy and ensuring our energy security. Perhaps funding for key research, development and deployment initiatives in energy under the Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 plan will provide a much-needed boost.

3. Manage the politicisation of energy issues

Finally, we may have taken for granted the public trust and acceptance in the way our energy needs are being met. In other countries, energy security conversations can be highly politically charged.

In Japan for example, many citizens have not forgotten the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and continue to harbour suspicion towards nuclear power, despite its potential to help the country meet its Paris Agreement obligations.

In some larger Southeast Asia countries like Myanmar and Laos, the need to build energy infrastructure has led to governments taking back large tracts of land. These exercises have encountered resistance from affected residents in the area.

As a small, dense country with an increasingly educated and environmentally conscious public, it is not hard to imagine issues related to clean energy and land use will likely garner more intense scrutiny in Singapore. As such, urgent action will be needed to create robust and reasoned dialogues, which will further energy security for everyone’s benefit.

A strong foundation for a secure energy future

Despite being a small island-nation with limited resources, Singapore has turned its limitations into advantages and become a hub for energy innovation in the region.

However, we need a better and more comprehensive set of measures if we are to more credibly stabilise and grow Singapore’s energy security.

Even as we strive to increase national access to energy resources, we should continue working on developing applicable energy technologies that can deliver cost- and carbon-efficient electricity to those that depend on it.

This article has been adapted from an earlier commentary, "Energy Security Also Requires Electricity to be Affordable", by Associate Professor Chang Young Ho, Head of the Business and Management Minor, School of Business, Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS).


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