My parliament speeches and questions on renewable energy

(1) 14 Feb 2012 – Question Time: Test-Bedding of Solar Photovoltaic Installations (Results and lessons learned)

Mr Yee Jenn Jong asked the Minister for Trade and Industry (a) what are the results and lessons learned from the test-bedding of solar photovoltaic (PV) installations in HDB housing estates and in public institutions such as Ngee Ann Polytechnic; (b) whether the Government will scale up the experimental test-bedding to have PV installations beyond the targeted 3% of HDB blocks; (c) whether the Government will consider deploying PV installations on all government buildings and public schools; and (d) and whether doing so would set an example to the private sector for the viability and cost-effectiveness of PV installations.

Mr S Iswaran (for the Minister for Trade and Industry): Over the years, we have supported various research, pilot and test-bedding programmes to strengthen our capabilities in solar PV. For example, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) is leading the $31 million Solar Capability Building Scheme, a nationwide solar pilot programme on public housing blocks. Since 2008, HDB has been progressively installing solar PV in both new and existing HDB precincts. To date, about 100 blocks have been installed with solar PV systems. From HDB’s pilot programme, we seek learning points on the feasibility and performance of various solar PV technologies in Singapore’s densely built tropical environment, as well as best practices for implementation and systems integration of solar PV.

Another initiative is the Economic Development Board’s (EDB’s) Clean Energy and Research and Test-bedding (CERT) Programme, which offers opportunities for companies to test-bed clean energy technologies using locations provided by government agencies, including government buildings and public schools. The CERT programme also aims to encourage R&D and build research capabilities in solar PV in our local research institutes. Projects supported under the CERT programme include National Parks Board’s (NParks’) Gardens by the Bay, PUB’s Marina Barrage, the Building and Construction Authority’s (BCA’s) Zero-Energy Building, and installations in Singapore Polytechnic and Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

Our HDB solar PV systems generate an average of 3,200 to 4,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month per housing block. This largely goes towards powering each block’s common services such as elevators, water pumps and corridor lights, thus reducing common areas’ energy consumption from the grid.

Going forward, we will continue to support such test-bedding efforts. To meet the energy demands of government-owned buildings, we remain open to all energy technologies and options. These could include buying electricity from the grid, installing solar PV to augment electricity supply, or installing energy-efficient technologies to reduce energy consumption. The Government could take the lead in installing solar PV where it makes economic sense to do so.

The private sector would similarly need to weigh the costs and benefits in deciding whether to deploy solar PV installations. The Government will continue to facilitate this by supporting technical infrastructure for better integration of distributed energy sources, and reviewing our market regulatory rules and policies.


(2) 15 Feb 2012 – Question Time: Solar Powered Lightings at HDB Blocks

Mr Yee Jenn Jong asked the Minister for National Development (a) in which HDB housing estates have test-bedded solar photovoltaic (PV) panels been installed and how many blocks of flats does this comprise; (b) on average, how much savings have the Town Councils for these estates gained in their electricity bill ; (c) taking into account the subsidies given by the Government for the PV installations, how long will it take for the PV installations to break even on the savings achieved; and (d) whether the savings have benefited the residents directly or through rebates in the Service and Conservancy Charges.

The Senior Minister of State for National Development (Mr Lee Yi Shyan) (for the Minister for National Development): Sir, under HDB’s Solar Capability Building Programme, about 100 HDB blocks have been installed with solar PV systems. These blocks are scattered in different geographical areas in about 15 locations to enable HDB to study the impact of the microclimate on the performance of the solar panels. The solar power generated is used to power the lighting at the common areas, water pumps and lift operations.

Initially, the implementation of the solar PV systems was fully funded by the Government. Later on, in order to stretch the budget to benefit more estates, HDB adopted a solar leasing model to tap on private enterprises to carry out the design, financing, installation and maintenance of solar panels in HDB buildings. HDB funds a small percentage of the initial start-up costs, and the remainder is funded by the contractor. The contractor recoups its investment from selling the generated solar electricity to the Town Councils (TCs). Under this model, the Town Councils will enjoy monthly savings of up to 5% off the prevailing electricity tariff rate.

To-date, HDB has installed solar PV systems at 40 blocks in Punggol through this solar leasing model. The payback period for the latest phase of the solar leasing model is 19 years.

The savings derived from the installation of solar PV systems will help TCs to mitigate rising operating and estates management costs. Residents will in turn benefit, as this helps to keep the cost of maintaining the common areas low.

Mr Yee Jenn Jong: Sir, I thank the Senior Minister of State for the answer. Just a quick question, whether this programme has resulted in savings in the S&CC for the residents. If not, whether it is because we are still in the pilot phase and if we have to scale this project up to a much larger scale across Singapore to get the economies of scale that will result in direct savings to residents in the fees that they have to pay?

Mr Lee Yi Shyan: Sir, right now, the blocks that have the PV solar systems installed will enjoy about $500 to $800 savings per month per block. So compared to the entire block consumption, it is not a huge sum of money. That is why it is still a pilot phase. The benefit is directly accrued to the TCs. The TCs can mitigate part of the operating costs and perhaps the rising costs, so the TCs can delay adjusting the tariffs to the residents to a further date. The economics of PV solar system is such that even with some form of Government subsidy today, it would still take another 19 or 20 years. Over time, we hope that the prices of PV cells would come down. Indeed it has come down. From last year to this year, it has come down almost by half. If the cost of production of PV cells continues to go down, we hope one day the economics would be favourable to us implementing PV system on a wider scale. Having said that, we have to keep it in perspective because worldwide in most countries, if PV applications can reach 1% of the country’s overall power generation, it is considered to be very good. If it is 2% nationwide, it would be a very successful implementation.


(3) 15 Feb 2012 – Question Time: Solar Powered Lighting for Households and Commercial Premises

Mr Yee Jenn Jong asked the Minister for Trade and Industry (a) how many grid-connected commercial and household solar photovoltaic (PV) installations are there in Singapore; (b) what is the total capacity of these installations; (c) what percentage of Singapore’s total electricity generating capacity does this represent; (d) how much subsidies, grants, or funding-in-kind have been given for these installations, if any; (e) what schemes are available to encourage grid-connected PV installations by the private sector and households; and (f) whether the Ministry is studying the viability of Feed-In Tariffs, Rooftop Leasing, and Solar Leasing to encourage private grid-connected PV installations.

The Second Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr S Iswaran) (for the Minister for Trade and Industry): Mr Speaker, Sir, as at 1 January 2012, there were 157 grid-connected solar PV installations in Singapore with a total installed capacity of 5,546 kilowatts peak (KWp). This is almost three times the capacity compared to end of 2009, and it represents 0.05% of Singapore’s total generation capacity.

Our principle is to price energy correctly. The right price signals will help to ensure greater energy efficiency and conservation. Hence, we do not subsidise energy through, for example, feed-in tariffs as this would lead to the inefficient use of a scarce resource.

Also, there are challenges with the use of solar energy. It is an intermittent source, and we have limited land for large-scale deployment of solar panels. Nonetheless, we are investing in research, development and demonstration (RD&D) to build capabilities that can support greater adoption of solar energy. The Economic Development Board’s (EDB) Clean Energy Research and Test-bedding (CERT) programme has set aside $16.6 million for Government agencies to work with private companies to develop and test-bed clean energy solutions, including solar, for Government buildings and facilities in Singapore. Another $20 million has been set aside for the private sector through the Solar Capability Scheme (SCS), to offset part of the capital costs to install solar technologies in energy-efficient commercial and industrial buildings. This seeks to build capabilities and encourage innovative integration of solar panels into such buildings.

Last year, the Housing Development Board (HDB) announced a pilot solar leasing scheme for 40 HDB blocks in Punggol – Senior Minister of State Lee Yi Shyan elaborated on some of the projects earlier. And under this test-bedding arrangement, HDB supported part of the start-up costs, while the commercial partner designed, financed, installed, and is now operating and maintaining the solar PV installations, offering the Town Council electricity at a rate not higher than the retail electricity tariff.

All these efforts will allow us to harness solar energy to its full potential when it becomes a cost-competitive option for Singapore.

Mr Speaker: Mr Yee Jenn Jong, keep it short.

Mr Yee Jenn Jong (Non-Constituency Member): I thank the Minister for the answer. The reason I have been asking questions about the solar situation in Singapore is because I feel that this represents an opportunity for Singapore to be able to develop our own capability to export overseas even though we have limited capability –

Mr Speaker: Mr Yee, we are going to run out of time.

Mr Yee Jenn Jong: Yes. I just want to know what sort of blueprint we have to develop our local abilities to be able to export our expertise in solar energy installation.

Mr S Iswaran: Mr Speaker, Sir, I am not sure whether the Member meant exporting energy or exporting the expertise.

Mr Yee Jenn Jong: Expertise.

Mr S Iswaran: Thank you, I understand. I just want to elaborate to make it very clear. First, solar as an option for us, we continue to look at it as we do all other energy options because we cannot rule anything out in the context of energy security for Singapore.

Secondly, solar energy in the context of meeting Singapore’s basic energy needs has limited potential for the reasons I have elaborated – its intermittency and the large land take that is required to meet our energy needs through solar puts some natural limits on it. Our investment in R&D is precisely in order to develop capabilities in this space. We are working with the private sector through our research institutes. And I think in the long term there will be potential therefore to collaborate with the private sector and to potentially export that expertise.

Mr Speaker: Order. End of Question Time.


(4) 9 Apr 2012 – Energy Conservation Bill  (extracts of relevant portion of Yee JJ’s speech)

… (earlier part of Yee JJ’s speech) …

Third, I would like to cover an area I believe will be increasingly important for both Singapore and for the world, which is renewable energy. I think a gap in this Bill is that it does not seek to promote renewable energy explicitly. A comprehensive energy conservation effort must include renewable energy as a component. South Korea is aiming for 11% share of renewables in total energy consumption by 2030. Another heavy energy consumer country, Belgium, is aiming for 12% share of renewables for electricity suppliers in 2012. Japan, the energy intensity of which is comparable to the EU, is aiming for 10% by 2020. Denmark, already a leading energy efficient country in the world, is aiming for 13% by 2020.

According to statistics from the Singapore’s Energy Market Authority, in 2010, 79% of electricity in Singapore is produced from natural gas; 19% is from petroleum products, ie, fuel oil and diesel, but only under 3% is from renewables. This gap is made more pronounced by the fact that our National Climate Strategy commits Singapore “to do our part in the international effort to address climate change”. We have promised to play our part by “improving the energy efficiency of our major energy sectors, namely, power generation, industries, transport, buildings and households” and “to the global research effort on climate change and energy technologies”, particularly in solar energy and green buildings. The Strategy states, “The objective of our research efforts … is to improve the current state of technology, and to bring down production costs to a level that would make large-scale adoption commercially viable”. The Government is conscious of the need to signal to the international community our national commitment to the international climate change effort. The fact sheet in this Bill concludes, “Establishing energy efficient standards across sectors under an Energy Conservation Act will also send a strong signal to external parties that Singapore is serious in undertaking mitigation actions to meet its international obligations”.

Therefore, I would like to know the progress of our development in using more renewable energy. What are our current plans to significantly increase the use of renewables? I would like the Government to be more proactive to signal to the international community of our commitment to international efforts to address climate change by setting a target of renewables in total energy consumption to be achieved by a specific year. Using the four benchmark countries’ target as reference, how far can we push for a target of, say, 10% of renewables in total energy consumption by 2030?

… (additional part of Yee JJ’s speech) …


(5) 5 March 2013 – Debate on Annual Budget (extracts of relevant portion of speech on Solar Energy)

… (earlier part of Yee JJ’s speech) …

Next, new Industries. I am glad the Government is constantly looking at new industries to develop as the economic landscape is rapidly changing due to globalisation and technological advancement. This is important as Singapore companies continue to seek areas to fill a niche in.

One area, I hope the Government can give more attention to, is in renewable energy. Last Saturday, The Straits Times reported energy scenario projections by Shell. The report projected that total energy demand could double in the next 50 years as the world’s population rises to 9.5 billion. In a high energy demand scenario, Shell predicted a strong push for the development of solar power as an alternative source of energy. By 2070, photovoltaic panels could become the world’s largest primary source of energy.

Singapore is constrained by small land size. We have been told that even if all roof tops and building surfaces are covered with photovoltaic panels, we could only have up to 14% of our energy needs being met.

I think this should not stop us from aggressively promoting and pursuing renewable energy installation expertise and technologies at a faster pace so that our companies can export their renewable energy products and services to fast developing countries in regions hungry for more energy.

Our public projects can be more aggressive in using renewable energy. The Government can actively support local companies to build up their abilities to install such set-ups. Just as we had supported local companies to build up capabilities in water technologies to allow them to become global players in this field, we can do likewise now in renewable energy.

…. (additional part of speech) …


(6) 11 March 2013 Committee of Supply Debate on MTI – (Renewable Energy)

Mr Yee Jenn Jong (Non-Constituency Member): Madam, it has been some years since the Government identified clean energy as a key economic growth area. Since 2007, the Government has invested $350 million to fund the development testing and export of clean energy solutions. By 2015, the Government expects clean energy to contribute $1.7 billion to Singapore’s GDP, and employ around 7,000 people. It is now 2013, how far are we from this target? We have a dozen tidal wind and solar energy that MNCs largely R&D facilities here but how many sizeable Singapore enterprises have sprung up to export clean energy solutions?

Solar power currently represents just 0.1% of energy generating capacity in Singapore. This is very low, and could be the reason why local enterprises have not taken off. We are too focused on development and testing. Germany is the global leader in solar energy production. The German solar energy industry was enabled not just by R&D but also lessons learnt in system adoption and use, because of the aggressive promotion of the alternative energy market.

Solar energy capabilities are not just about producing and exporting panels. Clean energy solutions require hardware and software integration, with customisation and after sales services. Without a sizeable local deployment, it will be very difficult for Singapore to export our clean energy solutions expertise. Currently, we only have two small scale schemes for private companies. One to encourage test bedding in Government’s facilities, and the other is to offset the capital cost for installation. We need to scale up system adoption and use in it the private sector to develop the industry and make the market.

I propose the Government look into three areas. One, fit-in-tariffs for solar energy producers, selling the electricity back to the grid on long-term guaranteed contract at slightly marked up prices. Two, rooftop leasing to encourage building owners to lease out their rooftops to solar energy companies to produce electricity. Three, solar leasing to encourage building owners to rent panels from solar energy companies.

The Government has said that it is not fair to subsidise electricity generation producers. However, the Government provides funding and subsidies in many creative forms to develop promising industries. MTI should study the viability of these schemes and experiment with solar leasing, roof top leasing and FITs.



One comment on “My parliament speeches and questions on renewable energy

  1. You have a special interest in PV systems. It is still very expensive to adopt in our garden city and would probably take ten years to recover investment cost. PV design & installation courses supported by WDA produced many graduates but they lack opportunity to develop home grown entrepreneurs.

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