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Solar Singapore is a go!

As Singapore transforms its energy supply landscape, the use of solar power as a source of electricity is poised for a dramatic increase.

A roadmap on solar energy launched in July forecasts that the use of solar power could jump by almost 200 per cent by 2050 if certain conditions are met. However, experts and stakeholders Channel NewsAsia spoke with said several issues need to be addressed before this transformation can take place.

At the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (SERIS) researchers measure the amount of sunlight that they see on the ground to make weather forecasts and record cloud formations and movement. And as solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, which produce electricity directly from sunlight, become more commonly used, a more accurate forecasting system is needed. Currently, the forecasting software has an error margin of about 30 per cent when forecasting weather up to 15 minutes in advance.

“Today, solar contributes only a small amount of electricity for the country, so the weather does not play a role as of now,” said Andre Nobre, Research Associate, Solar Energy Systems Cluster, SERIS. “In the future, when you have hundreds of megawatts of PV systems deployed, the weather will start to play a role, meaning if it’s a sunny day, you would need fewer amounts of conventional power sources. On the other hand, if it’s a rainy day, you would have to ramp up these conventional resources.”

The power grid of the future would also need to perform several functions. “When you’re not at home and your solar panel is producing electricity, it either gets stored and controlled in a smart manner or it is pumped back into the grid and that amount pumped is recorded by a smart meter,” said Professor Low Teck Seng, CEO of the National Research Foundation. “And in the evening, when their solar cells are not contributing to supplying power, they can actually drop out from the grid. So the simple meter being able to measure two-way flow of power is already a level of smartness”

At the moment, only 0.1 per cent of energy is supplied by solar power. Operators of some energy-intensive industrial facilities have said they are keen to explore installing solar panels on a larger scale.
But they cited two issues. The first is when solar panels do not produce enough energy, and companies have to look to the power grid to ramp up supply. But if this means going beyond a specified amount, companies would then have to pay a hefty sum.

Second, energy demands fluctuate for some companies, and solar panels are costly to set up. It takes years before companies can reap the benefits of their investments. Selling excess energy back to the power grid would allow them to recover some of their financial investments, but they face challenges in doing so.

“Removing some of these disincentives would be more attractive for companies to put more power generating facilities because energy cost is a huge cost to companies,” said George Lam, Director, Operations Excellence & Sustainability, GlaxoSmithKline. “So anything that would generate electricity without being too cumbersome will be a competitive advantage to companies.”

In response, the Energy Market Authority said it is working with Singapore Power to “further simplify” processes. The Authority added it is further simplifying licensing requirements and the registration process that consumers have to comply with.

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