How Singapore and Asia can power ahead in the energy transition
Sep 20, 2018
Goh Swee Chen, Chairman, Shell Companies in Singapore, speaks at Energy Innovation 2018 by the Energy Market Authority.
Dr Tan Wu Meng, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Trade and Industry.
Distinguished guests. Ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you for inviting me today to speak at your event.
Most of us here today are in the energy business. Energy is the hidden ingredient, fueling global development and growth.
I think you will agree with me that the energy sector is an exciting one to be in, and we are kept on our toes constantly.
It is also crucial work, because how the world produces, chooses and uses energy has an impact on climate change. And, therefore, on people’s health and welfare.
Traditional fossil fuels emit greenhouse gases – we all know that. Every year brings fresh reports of unusual weather. This summer, Japan and South Korea, as well as parts of Europe, experienced unseasonably hot temperatures.
At the same time, according to the International Energy Agency, global energy demand is likely to double from 2015 to 2070.
Every one of us – industries, governments, communities, need to take actions to mitigate carbon emissions.
Since 2016, 197 countries, including Singapore, have signed the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep the rise in global average temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
How each country works towards that goal depends on its capacity, capability and political will. But they need to work fast.
In fact, the world needs to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2070 if it is to meet the Paris goal, says Shell’s latest scenario, Sky.
That means there is less than a lifetime to reduce the amount of carbon the world emits.
The world will also need to find ways to offset existing emissions with systems like carbon capture and storage or Nature Based Solutions.
CCS can capture CO2 from power plants and industrial sites and store it safely under the ground.
Forests are effective, natural carbon sinks. Nature based solutions such as reforestation can be deployed to mitigate carbon emissions.
There is much to do in a very short time. But much can be done with innovation and collaboration. By working together that change can happen quickly. While this might seem an obvious thing to say, it actually isn’t.
As globalisation loses its appeal in some parts of the world, the reminder to welcome differences, stay open to ideas and work with others becomes especially important.
Singapore as a testbed for innovative ideas
Singapore, thankfully, needs little reminding.
As a fledgling nation in the 1960s, our newly-independent country put aside nationalist sentiments to welcome foreign direct investment. This was a huge contributing factor to its economic success.
Shell was one of the earliest investors. We are the proud recipient of Pioneer Certificate No. 1 – awarded to Singapore’s first oil refinery in Pulau Bukom, in 1961.
Today, Bukom is the largest wholly-owned Shell refinery in the world, with 90% of its products exported mainly to Asia. The petrochemical industry remains an important driver of Singapore's modernisation and economic growth.
Moving forward, Singapore has pledged to reduce its total carbon emissions intensity by 36 per cent by the year 2030. It is an ambition that Shell supports. It is also an ambitious goal for a small country with limited alternative energy options.
Singapore does not have geothermal energy sources, or fast-flowing rivers and strong winds. Nor does it have enough available land for the large-scale use of solar panels.
What it does have, however, is a climate of openness to ideas and innovation. The good work of the Energy Market Authority (EMA) is testament to that.
In 2016, the EMA launched the world’s largest floating photovoltaic (PV) test bed at Tengah Reservoir, to test the feasibility of installing solar panels on water - instead of land.
And Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University is pioneering South-East Asia’s first industrial micro-grid test system, which will integrate solar, wind, tidal and power-to-gas technologies. Located offshore at the Semakau landfill, its research could eventually help the 1.2 billion people globally who do not have access to electricity.
The world is taking notice. This year, Singapore was named the fifth most innovative country by the Global Innovation Index. The Index, an annual ranking by INSEAD and the World Intellectual Property Organization, especially noted the country as “a living lab for renewable energy’’.
Innovations in the power sector can speed up the energy transition
Singapore has invested a lot of money into this living lab. Since 2006, the country has invested US$1.5 billion into R&D in clean technology, including the power sector.
While heavier industries like aviation and shipping will rely on fossil fuels for many years to come, the power sector can switch at a faster pace from fossil fuels to renewables to generate electricity.
As electricity is a fast-growing part of the energy system, finding innovative ways to decarbonise it can speed up the transition to a cleaner energy future.
By 2022, the International Energy Agency (IEA) expects global renewables electricity generation to grow by more than one-third -- to more than 8,000TWh. That is equal to the total power consumption of China, India and Germany combined.
Because of this, the share of renewables in power generation worldwide will reach 30% in 2022, up from 24% in 2016.
The stakes are particularly high in Asia. So are the opportunities for innovation and collaboration. This is because half of the1 billion people in the world with no access to energy are in this part of the world. Many of the world’s developing economies are also here. Both groups will need more and cleaner energy over time.
They could, therefore, incorporate renewables early in their plans. And think of innovative ways to make them successful.
Innovating for the future
Now, you may find it curious that Shell, an oil and gas company, is so interested in renewables. We are investing between $1billion and $2billion a year in our New Energies business – mostly power and new fuels - from now until 2020.
Over the past decade, Solar has increasingly becoming the cheapest source of new electricity generation.
But who knows what the next disruptor in the energy industry could be? Or when it could arrive? It is difficult to predict. This is why companies like Shell needs to keep innovating and supporting new ideas, even if they don’t come from our own staff.
A pivot for the future
I believe we need more innovations from those who are full of enthusiasm and bright ideas. There are many of you in this room.
Earlier in the year, Shell Singapore launched IdeaRefinery, a 20-week programme which supports and develops energy start-ups. The programme attracted 19 applicants, one of whom was Prasoon Kumar. Let me tell you about him.
Prasoon is an urban planner and architect from India. Prasoon has a purpose – to help the homeless and the poor who have no access to energy.
His company, billionBricks, invented a system called PowerHyde. PowerHyde is an affordable home with solar panels on the roof. These panels produce up to four times the amount of energy consumed by the house. Each household can sell the surplus energy to finance the house -- and pay up their mortgage within 11 years. With PowerHyde, therefore, Prasoon aims to solve three of the world’s biggest problems: homelessness, unemployment and access to clean energy.
In the last few years, he has worked with organisations like DBS Foundation, Lenovo and Habitat for Humanity to take PowerHyde to communities in different countries.
And now, Shell is funding the deployment of PowerHyde in Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines, home of our North Mindanao Import Facility.
Once completed, the shelter will be used as a Cooperative Hub and Livelihood Learning Center for women in the community to learn new skills and make them more employable.
PowerHyde can be a money-making idea, and importantly, it is one that makes society a better place.
His work reminds me of a wonderful quote by the late American statesman Robert Kennedy, who spoke of the importance of making a positive difference in life:
“Our Gross National Product … counts air pollution and cigarette advertising and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage … It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl … Yet the Gross National Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or … the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials … It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”
Companies like Shell can do more to discover and support more bright energy ideas, like Prasoon’s, and make a positive difference in people’s lives.
So, we are expanding IdeaRefinery.
It now has a second component called Pivot, which encourages established entrepreneurs who are not in the energy sector to adapt their technology accordingly.
In short, we are casting our net wider.
We are encouraging everyone who has ever had a great idea to think about energy.
After all, when it comes to addressing climate change, we must always be kept on our toes.
There can be no monopoly on solutions. And no keeping still.