Singapore is a good example of a country in the process of crafting its own unique path to a low-carbon future, including greener power. The island-nation is one of the world’s eight economies without energy resources that relies on liquefied natural gas for 95 per cent of its power generation, a reality that is here to stay. The country imports natural gas from Malaysia and Indonesia through piped networks, and also in a liquefied state from around the world via the Singapore liquified natural gas (LNG) terminal—launched in 2013. Currently, while the country aims to diversify this gas supply, it also has a vision for an alternative energy supply.

Solar photovoltaic (PV) is the only cost-effective and reliable renewable energy (RE) source with the potential to make an impact on Singapore’s energy grid. The country’s government has committed to raising the installed capacity of grid-connected solar energy from 71 MW in the first part of 2016 to 350 MW by 2020. Singapore targets adding 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 announced several successful tenders already, plans to install solar PV on 50 per cent of HDB rooftops over the coming years. The nation is currently on track to reach a target of 350 MW deployed by 2020 as it is also considering setting up zero energy buildings.

The country’s government has committed to raising the installed capacity of grid-connected solar energy from 71 MW in the first part of 2016 to 350 MW by 2020.

To achieve the above-stated goals, Singapore is focusing on 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 RE sources to its energy portfolio. In addition, Singapore’s difference between peak and trough 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. In view of this, Singapore is planning to add 200 MW of energy storage capacity beyond 2025. In parallel, the country also envisages exploration of a regional power grid, emulating parts of Europe, where it could sell excess power to neighbouring countries.

Apart from this, Singapore’s government is placing a significant bet on electric vehicles, virtual power plants, along with several research and development 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 where all consumers in Singapore are able to choose who they wish to buy electricity from. Their options are to buy electricity from an electricity retailer at a price plan that best meets their needs; or the wholesale electricity market at half-hourly wholesale electricity prices through SP Group; or from SP Group at the regulated tariff.

This phased liberalisation of the electricity market in Singapore, which reached the retail segment over the past year, has engendered 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 seeing 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, Singapore has several power generation companies competing to generate and sell electricity in the wholesale electricity market. They have to bid to sell electricity in the wholesale electricity market every half-hour. Depending on electricity demand and supply, the price of electricity in the wholesale market changes every half-hour. The wholesale market is operated and administered by Energy Market Company (EMC).

Electricity generated is delivered to consumers through the national power grid, operated by 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 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).

Figure 1: Singapore’s electricity industry structure
Source: Open Electricity Market, Singapore; Global Transmission Research

Recent developments

Energy storage

The Singapore government has set aside SGD49 million for research and development (R&D) in the low-carbon energy sector. A major initiative recently taken is to pilot 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.

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 SGD10 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 per day.

In October 2020, EMA installed its first utility-scale energy storage system at a substation in Woodlands. The system was jointly funded by EMA and the country’s electric utility SP Group, and implemented by a consortium comprising local solar energy firm Sunseap Energy Ventures, local Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the Finland-based energy solutions provider Wartsila. The energy storage system aims to mitigate the intermittency challenges faced by the solar power system 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 to analyse the contribution of energy storage infrastructure in supporting Singapore’s target of at least 2 GW-peak of solar deployment by 2030.

Electric mobility

Singapore is hoping to witness the phasing-out of internal combustion engine vehicles by 2040. This goal will accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) and the rollout of more EV charging points. With the Singapore government’s target 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.

With this background, SP Group recently announced a strategic 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 boost 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 (VPP)

Singapore has an opportunity to take the lead in this new regulatory frontier with forward-looking energy policies and a multi-stakeholder approach. It has already set the course for encouraging partnerships among the people, 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), EMA and NTU to develop Singapore’s first VPP is the right step in this direction. Using real-time information from a variety of Distributed Energy Resources (DERs), 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, SP Group announced that it will be investing SGD30 million on research and education initiatives with NTU Singapore to enhance the resilience of Singapore’s electricity network, improve the reliability and efficiency of supply to consumers, and nurture experts for the energy sector. The collaboration will 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 will house 60 researchers, 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 SGD20 million to fund, new research topics will be identified, which will support SP’s vision to develop solutions for the energy grid of the future. In addition, SP is contributing SGD10 million to NTU to set up two endowment funds at the university to support and groom next-generation experts in Singapore’s energy sector.

The way forward

Singapore’s 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 across the entire island 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 will require collaboration between the public and private sectors as well as breakthroughs in solar module efficiencies and vertical solar installations, given that Singapore lacks available land and 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 the move towards integrated green energy solutions, especially in the urban landscape, policymakers need to look into convergence across sectors to minimise the likelihood of conflicting or contradictory strategies.

The article has been sourced from Global Transmission Report