Sharon Tan helps Singapore develop smart energy policies.
As a deputy director in the island-state's Energy Market Authority, she has piloted several projects that address Singapore's core energy concerns. The intelligent energy system - smart grid - pilot provides consumers with incentives to save electricity and sell it back to the grid. The electric vehicle (EV) test-bed assesses the impact of adopting EVs, ensuring that Singapore is prepared when the vehicles eventually hit the market.
Sharon Tan - deputy director at the Energy Market Authority of Singapore
Tan is also helping to organize the fourth Singapore International Energy Week (SIEW), which will be held from October 31 to November 4. SIEW is one of the Asia energy industry's largest and longest-running forums.
She recently spoke with China Daily about securing Asia's energy needs and this year's SIEW.
CD: What are the main objectives of this year's SIEW and which big names are expected to attend?
ST: We are providing a platform for key policymakers and industry leaders to discuss energy issues, strategies and solutions. Some luminaries expected to attend include energy ministers from the United Arab Emirates and Brunei, and executives like Shell CEO Peter Voser.
Each year, we focus on the most pressing issues affecting the industry. This year, the theme is "Securing our Energy Future." We need to reshape our policies to ensure a stable supply of energy for the future against the backdrop of rising global demand and energy prices, and concerns over climate change and sustainable development.
CD: After the recent tragedy at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, do you see nuclear energy being phased out in Asian countries over the next decade?
ST: No, at least not in the near to medium term. The incident at Fukushima was extremely unfortunate, and has prompted much debate on the future of the nuclear option. But nuclear energy is clean - it does not give off carbon emissions – and it is already an important part of the energy mix for many Asian countries, including China, Japan, the Republic of Korea and India. Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia all have to plans to deploy nuclear power in the future.
CD: Given Asia's geography, what are the best renewable energy solutions for the continent?
ST: Across the board, there are four main renewable energy sources utilized in Asia: geothermal, hydropower, wind and solar. Geothermal generates power from the Earth's heat. Japan can harness geothermal energy from its hot springs, the Philippines and Indonesia from their volcanoes. Hydropower is viable since many Asian countries have large water systems, like the Mekong River in Laos and Vietnam. Across the continent, there are generally sufficient wind speeds for wind power. China has many areas with offshore wind farms. Solar works because Asia is in a tropical sun belt.
CD: What are the biggest challenges Asian countries face in terms of implementing these solutions?
ST: Green power lacks the scale in Asia to replace more than a small proportion of fossil fuel use. In the case of solar and wind, you need a huge amount of available land to install solar panels and wind turbines. These are necessary to capture the sun's and wind's energy. It is not viable in many Asian cities where space is scarce.
In Singapore, we conducted a study to determine how much of the country's energy needs could be met by installing a solar panel on every rooftop. We found that solar power would satisfy just 10 percent of our energy requirements.
CD: If green power is still at a nascent stage in Asia, what fossil fuels should it rely on for now?
Coal is cheap, readily available and has the scale to be widely exploited. But it is highly polluting.
Natural gas pollutes less, although it still emits carbon dioxide. It also typically needs to be imported, and may entail higher infrastructure costs than coal as a network of pipelines is needed for distribution.
Singapore is more than 80 percent powered by natural gas imported from its neighbors. The Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) terminal that will be up by 2013 will further integrate Singapore into the global market, with sources coming from as far as Trinidad and Tobago, and Australia.
CD: China is one of Asia's major players in the field of renewable energy. How will it contribute to SIEW?
ST: China is a leading country in clean energy R&D spending and deployment. It has expertise with smart grids, electric vehicles, wind and solar. The Chinese solar energy companies Yingli and Trina are market leaders. We look forward to the Chinese sharing their clean energy vision with us at SIEW.
CD: How can SIEW help China with its own energy challenges?
ST: There will be experts at SIEW from the West and Japan who will be sharing the latest technologies for clean coal, and carbon capture and storage. These are important for China, where coal is still the top source of energy. There are new ways of removing impurities from coal before combustion, and capturing carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants and sequestering it underground. Such new technologies can help to reduce the environmental impact of burning coal.
CD: China and Singapore are already collaborating on the Tianjin Eco-city. What is the aim of this project and how is Singapore contributing?
ST: The Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city intends to serve as a model energy efficient township in China. It will preserve existing wetlands and biodiversity. By 2020, 90 percent of city trips will be conducted in a more environmentally friendly way, be it cycling, walking or using public transport.
Singapore excels as a systems integrator. In the case of the Eco-city, Singapore is integrating existing technology into the city's design to make it greener. For example, in the long term, at least 20 percent of the energy powering the Eco-city will come from clean sources like solar and geothermal. Singapore is also using its expertise in green building technologies to ensure that all structures in the Eco-city are energy efficient.
CD: Does Singapore have any plans to forge new energy solutions?
ST: Singapore will work to shape a new energy future. We have four principal strategies. First, we promote competitive markets. We price energy properly and we avoid subsidies so as to subject households and businesses to the correct incentives. Second, we are diversifying our energy supplies. In the future, we can utilize coal, electricity and even nuclear if it is feasible. Our third strategy is to build robust infrastructure for the future. Our fourth strategy is to invest in energy R&D. We have attracted major industry players like the Renewable Energy Corporation (REC), which built one of the world's largest solar manufacturing complexes in Singapore. Vestas, the world leader in wind energy, has established a global R&D center in Singapore. We encourage more companies to set up operations in Singapore to develop energy solutions for the world.
Sharon Tan serves as the Deputy Director of the External Relations Department in the Energy Planning and Development Division of the Energy Market Authority of Singapore (EMA).