Green energy is now mainstream

The Business Times by NEIL MCGREGOR

INCREASING support for the sustainable development of our planet and environmentally-conscious living are reshaping government policies, disrupting industry and commerce, and even determining the choices we make as individuals.

The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently cited the need for deep emission cuts before 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5 deg C above pre-industrial levels. Even with emissions in line with current pledges under the Paris Agreement, global warming is expected to surpass this figure.

In order to limit warming to 1.5 deg C, net global CO2 emissions need to fall by about 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero by around 2050. The consequences of not doing so are serious and more than ever, governments, companies and societies must focus on what needs to be done to secure our collective future. It is apt then that this year's Singapore International Energy Week (SIEW) will address the theme "Transforming Energy: Invest, Innovate, Integrate".


Singapore is ramping up its fight against climate change, with the rapid uptake of solar energy set against the wider backdrop of the industry's progress towards the Open Electricity Market. Here, as in overseas, we are seeing greater demand from businesses for solutions that reduce environmental impact. In time, we may also see growth in meter solutions, including both on-site solar systems and energy storage.

Market forces and technology are also disrupting the energy industry. Liberalisation is bringing about greater competition. Policy frameworks are moving to discourage older and less environmentally-friendly energy generation. The new imperative for power companies is to lower the carbon-emission intensity of generation, even as they look to meet the world's demand for power and remain cost-competitive.

In line with this and the falling cost of renewable technologies, the International Energy Agency (IEA) expects the share of renewable power generation to jump by more than a third by 2022, and account for 30 per cent of world power generation.

As an integrated energy player, Sembcorp has pledged to reduce its carbon emission intensity from 0.55 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per megawatt hour in 2017, by close to 25 per cent by 2022, and by more than 27 per cent by 2030.

To meet this target, Sembcorp is investing in technologies to improve energy efficiency and aims to increase its generation capacity for renewables to around 4,000 megawatts (MW) by 2022.

Currently, it has over 2,500 MW of wind and solar power projects in Singapore, China and India. At home in Singapore, it has become one of the largest solar power players, in addition to being an established electricity generator and retailer in the market.

Demand for renewable power is burgeoning, driving down prices of wind turbines and solar modules. As early as next year, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) expects the best onshore wind and solar projects to be delivering electricity for three US cents per kilowatt hour - below the current cost of power from fossil fuels.

The Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) expects wind power capacity to nearly treble to over 1,454 gigawatts by 2030, from 2017 levels. This will be driven by improvements in wind power generation technology.

Over the years, the rated output, rotor diameter and average height of wind turbines have steadily increased. This is expected to continue as larger and more efficient machines are built to extract the most energy from wind.

Sembcorp, which recently became the first company to deliver installed capacity awarded under India's nation-wide wind-power tenders, is keenly focused on strategies to optimise its wind-power generation. Sites are chosen based on extensive wind resource assessment. Finally, constant performance optimisation of the power plant, with the help of light detection and ranging equipment, helps improve the asset's margins.

With in-house engineering, procurement and construction as well as operations and maintenance of power plants, Sembcorp has further strengthened its capabilities and competitiveness.

It was the largest cumulative winner in the first three wind power auctions conducted by the Solar Energy Corporation of India over 2017 and 2018, following which it will set up 800 MW of total wind power capacity in the country.

As part of the growing initiative to go green, many companies have committed to fully powering their operations through renewable energy. Last month, Sembcorp signed a 20-year deal to be Facebook's first renewable-energy partner in Asia. It will serve Facebook's renewable-energy needs in Singapore through offsite solar panels installed on nearly 900 rooftops between now and 2020.


Rooftop panels are an obvious option for Singapore, where there is sunshine aplenty, but land is scarce. However, Sembcorp is exploring other solutions suitable for the city-state, including floating solar platforms and mobile solar farms to expand the available surface area for solar panel deployment.

As renewable energy accounts for a rising proportion of global power generation, there is a need to solve the intermittency issue, as the energy generated by wind and solar fluctuates according to changes in the weather.

In May, Sembcorp acquired UK Power Reserve, the UK's largest flexible distributed energy generator and one of Europe's largest developers of battery storage. It has gas-fired power stations and battery storage with a total capacity of over 1 gigawatt, which can be quickly brought online to provide energy when there is no sun or wind to power renewable assets. It sees solutions to the intermittency of renewables as an essential part of its portfolio as an integrated player.

Embracing digitalisation and new technologies is critical in order to stay ahead of the game. Sembcorp is committed to spending at least 80 per cent of its research and development budget to focus on green business lines and introducing new business models, products and services.

Its current initiatives include using data science to maximise energy capture from wind turbines through more accurate weather forecasting, and exploring ways to maximise the productivity of energy, water, land and waste resources.

Sembcorp intends to not just adapt to the energy transformation underway, but also envision the future and play a part in shaping it.

  • The writer is group president and chief executive of Sembcorp Industries