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Perspectives Global 04-02-2021

7 min read

Shaping a Smarter Singapore

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong highlights that Singapore is an outstanding country for people to live, work and play in, where human spirit flourishes*. This focus and spirit is in evidence across the board as Singapore pushes the envelope of technology deployment to improve quality of life for its residents.

Today, Singapore runs one of the world’s most reliable and robust electricity networks in the world. It addresses the growing energy demands of its residents and industries, while moving towards a low-carbon economy, through integration of renewables, ‘green living’ initiatives and implementation of viable market structures. Singapore’s mobility landscape is also undergoing a transformation with the aim to phase-out fossil fuel-powered vehicles by 2040, improvement of last mile commuting for residents and innovative technologies such as autonomous vehicles and smart charging infrastructure.

We asked Mr. Tan Chee Hau, Director of Planning and Prioritisation at Singapore's Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO) for his insights on Singapore’s strategic priorities in the area.

Mr. Tan Chee Hau, Director of Planning and Prioritisation at Singapore's Smart Nation and Digital Government Office

What does it mean to be a 'Smart Nation'?

Our vision to turn Singapore into a Smart Nation is not just about pushing technology for the sake of digitalization. We need to translate the use of technology into tackling real-world problems and respond to different and changing needs. Our goals and objectives must absolutely be grounded in real-world results. 

Our priority is to harness technology to address national challenges. We want to improve all aspects of people’s lives and therefore we must drive transformation in domains such as health, education, finance, transport and urban solutions.

Therefore, Singapore has laid out mutually reinforcing plans to build a Digital Economy, Digital Government and Digital Society, involving the public, private and people sectors, to propel the nation forward.

How does sustainability tie in with Singapore’s Smart Nation efforts to digitalize the nation?

Singapore’s vision is to be a smart, green and liveable city in which our people and future generations can enjoy a high quality of life. Sustainability has been central to Singapore’s development since our independence, and we have always adopted a long-term view in our planning. Digital innovation by companies, using technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT), will create new ways for our city to “do more with less”. In other words, give our citizens a high-quality living environment despite being in a dense urban landscape, while reducing our carbon footprint and use of resources. 

While we may have many new systems and infrastructures such as more efficient energy grids, solar photovoltaic cells to harness renewable energy and sensors to switch off water and light when not in use, the government is thinking about how to employ machine learning and AI to optimize resource efficiency further. For instance, past data could help a smart grid to “learn” how to better manage energy storage from renewable sources such as solar energy and predict peak demand. This would lead to greater overall energy consumption efficiency. Sensors are important in collecting data needed for analysis and allow for optimization, and this is done through the nation-wide Smart Nation Sensor Platform (SNSP). With SNSP, public agencies can collect, analyze, and share data from sensors deployed island-wide.

How can Smart Nation drive transformation in the area of energy and mobility?

The government is also making major investments to enhance public transport and active mobility infrastructure to ensure that by 2040, nine out of 10 peak period journeys are made in “walk, cycle and ride” transport mode, where “ride” refers to public and shared transport. This includes the expansion of the rail network from 230km today to 360km by the 2030s. With convenient, connected and quicker public transport options, we hope to reduce reliance on private transport. This will reduce carbon emissions and create a healthier environment for Singaporeans to enjoy. To reduce emissions even further, we have also set a target of 100% cleaner energy for public bus and taxi fleets by 2040.

How does Singapore integrate smart and green technologies into its citizens’ lives?

80% of Singapore’s population live in public housing. If we are able to integrate smart and green technologies into our housing estates, we can achieve a nationwide impact. Work is ongoing to embed smart technologies and eco-friendly features into towns and homes.  

The Punggol Digital District will be an inspiring demonstration of what we can be as a Smart Nation and drive the adoption of digital and smart urban solutions throughout Singapore. Existing sustainable initiatives in Punggol such as smart lighting and smart water pumps provide the opportunity to use technology to stretch the boundaries of energy, water, and waste management, which will lead to a better lived experience. Newer homes are fitted with built-in smart sockets and smart distribution boards that enable smart applications for the home, such as better monitoring of household energy consumption. Around the estates, features such as smart lighting are also installed to help save energy. 

Progressively from 2023, Punggol will serve as a living lab to test new concepts and work towards becoming a green and sustainable town that minimizes wastage and maximizes resource efficiency. The Punggol Digital District experience will be helpful for the development of new towns: new solutions that are tested and deployed here can be scaled up for the rest of the country.

Artist’s impression of Punggol Digital District located in the North-East region of Singapore. Photo credit: JTC Corporation

How does a Smart Nation like Singapore address climate change?

Climate change, like digitalization, is a complex, multi-faceted issue. A government-wide approach ensures that our ambitions are set high, our cross-ministry efforts are well-aligned, and our actions are decisive and effective. 

One practical and very visible example of ambition, alignment and action is the SolarNova Programme, which is our largest driver of solar adoption across Singapore. The traditional model of large solar farms is not feasible in land-scarce Singapore. The SolarNova Programme helps to promote and aggregate demand for solar photovoltaic (PV) systems across government agencies to achieve economies of scale, as well as drive the growth of Singapore’s solar industry. This is only possible with a government-wide approach. 

A similar approach is needed to meet the ambitious target of phasing out internal combustion engine vehicles and have all vehicles run on cleaner energy by 2040. The Land Transport Authority is working with various agencies to make sure there are more charging points for electric vehicles. Tax rebates and incentives for early adopters are also being offered to make electric cars more attractive. 

As we strive to meet these ambitious targets in areas such as solar deployment, vehicular electrification and energy efficiency, I am sure that digital technologies will come into play in a bigger way.

What is Singapore’s Grid 2.0 strategy and what is the role of public-private partnerships?

Our initiatives are focused on enabling a smart grid that will be able to adjust and regulate its performance, incorporate varied power infrastructure and enable multiple business models. The new paradigm in grid systems aims to enable decarbonization of electricity supply while maintaining overall system reliability and resilience. The transition from smart grid to Grid 2.0 can be facilitated by the multi-directional flow of data and energy without compromising grid reliability. 

As part of the energy transition, Singapore is focusing on developing an interoperable network, integrating information and communication technologies with power delivery infrastructure, enabling the flow of energy and communications. 

For smart grids to be implemented, Singapore aims to leverage strategic R&D initiatives and pilot projects that bring together academia, end users and technology providers.

Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems on the rooftops of public housing. Photo credit: Housing Development Board (HDB)
Singapore’s Energy Story and the Four Switches

At the Singapore International Energy Week (SIEW) 2020 Singapore reinforced its commitment to decarbonizing the grid with the “Four Switches”. 

Limited by land availability and natural resource constraints such as wind speeds, Singapore needs to find new ways to meet its commitment to address the climate challenge. These are the “Four Switches” envisaged as part of its blueprint. 

1st Switch: Natural Gas: Natural gas will continue to be the dominant fuel for Singapore with around 95% of Singapore's power generated from natural gas today. The government will help generation companies improve the efficiency of their power plants.

2nd Switch: Solar: Singapore is committed to achieving at least 2 gigawatt-peak (GWp) of solar power deployed by 2030 and energy storage deployment of 200 megawatts (MW) beyond 2025.

3rd Switch: Regional Power Grids: Singapore will explore ways to tap regional power grids to access energy that is cost-competitive. This could be realised through bilateral cooperation or regional initiatives.

4th Switch: Low-Carbon Alternatives: Carbon capture, utilization or storage technologies as well as hydrogen have the potential to reduce Singapore’s carbon footprint. 

“It has been said that urban societies, if well planned, well organised and well executed, can be the most energy and resource efficient way to organise human societies. We believe in that. This is why, while Singapore is known as the little red dot, we also aspired to be a “Bright Green Spark” where our energy generation and our energy management system can be an inspiration to urban societies across the world,” said Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Trade and Industry.

  • Hitachi ABB Power Grids CEO Claudio Facchin took part in the 2nd Global Ministerial Conference on System Integration of Renewables (SIR) themed “Investment, Integration and Resilience: A Secure, Clean Energy Future” on 27 October 2020. The Conference was held as part of SIEW 2020 and co-hosted by the Energy Market Authority (EMA) of Singapore and the International Energy Agency (IEA). The conference brought together close to 30 Energy Ministers, global CEOs and thought leaders to discuss emerging issues in the acceleration of renewables integration and power system resilience, with a strong focus on Asia and Southeast Asia. The IEA also launched its new report on electricity security, Power Systems in Transition, at the conference. Dr Tan See Leng, Singapore’s Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Second Minister for Trade & Industry and Manpower and co-Chair of the SIR Ministerial said: “International cooperation and public-private partnerships remain vital as we navigate towards a more sustainable energy future. There is an urgent need to future-proof our systems to create more resilience and flexibility. At the same time, we must also increase the share of, and enhance the integration of, renewable energy in our energy systems. We look forward to working with the IEA to advance global energy transitions.”

  • “Today, we shared important lessons from across Asia and beyond on how best to integrate growing shares of wind and solar into power systems while maintaining security of supply. This will be crucial if renewables are to become the fundamental cornerstone of global clean energy transitions,” said Dr. Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director.

  • Addressing the topic of accelerating the energy transition, Claudio Facchin, CEO Hitachi Power Grids, said: “We need to build capacity, flexibility and resilience to integrate an increasing share of renewable energy. Fast-growing Asia will play a key role in the clean energy transition and can leverage bulk power and distributed solutions by implementing the latest technologies and digital solutions to ensure power security, reliability and efficiency. Collaboration among stakeholders and across geographies will be a key success factor.”