The invasion of Ukraine prompted countries around the world to end their dependence on Russian gas supplies. And while for some like the United States, this means at least temporarily increasing national oil and gas production, world leaders must not forget their climate commitments in order to stop global warming. For many, achieving carbon neutrality means diversifying their energy sources and more significantly, boosting renewables. Yet not all nations have enough land space or suitable climates to develop solar and wind energy. This is the case in Singaporeor nuclear power seems to be the best solution to achieve net zero emissions.
Singapore recently raised its climate ambitions, announcing plans to achieve net zero emissions by or around the middle of the century and to raise carbon tax gradually from 2024 to facilitate the transition to a low-carbon economy. Yet experts still believe Singapore’s efforts need a boost if the country is to meet its climate targets on time.
In an effort to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate climate change, countries around the world are turning to renewable energy to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. Singapore is one of the few exceptions. While the island state is a model state and a pioneer of sustainable urban development, it still needs to find a solution to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, which is currently higher than any other country. In effect, about 95% of the electricity generated in Singapore comes from natural gas.
A report commissioned by the country’s Energy Market Authority (EMA) to chart a path towards decarbonisation pointed out that while scaling up renewables could be difficult given geographic and geological restrictions, the nuclear energy could represent Singapore’s Net Zero Game Changer. The report predicts that the inclusion of this energy source in the energy mix could allow the country to cover nearly 10% of its electricity needs by 2050. Indeed, once considered unsuitable in Singapore, nuclear technologies have seen incredible progress in recent years, making it a viable solution. option (and which cannot be ignored) to drive the country’s decarbonization objective.
Besides nuclear, other emerging low-carbon alternatives are being explored. One of them is hydrogen, which is expected to be the main source of energy supply, accounting for more than 50% of Singapore’s energy portfolio by 2050, despite its relatively high transport and storage costs. The Southeast Asian island is also planning to import nearly 30% of its electricity supply from low-carbon sources by 2035.
Figure 1: Potential Singapore Energy Sharing Scenario by 2050
Why is renewable energy not an option for Singapore?
In order to understand why Singapore is turning to nuclear power, it is worth considering why renewable energy – usually the preferred energy source for countries seeking to achieve carbon neutrality – is not a feasible option for a country like Singapore. in the first place.
According to Ministry of Sustainable Development and Environment, a combination of geographical and geological constraints such as insufficient land space, unfavorable local weather conditions and relatively flat terrain make it difficult for Singapore to scale up renewable energy. Due to these unsuitable conditions, the country received the Disadvantaged alternative energy status by the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – a designation given to parties having “serious difficulties in switching to alternatives”.
For example, the island’s flat, low landscape (Singapore is less than 15 meters above sea level) makes hydroelectric power, which harnesses energy from running water, nearly impossible to generate. . Geothermal energy is also not an option given the lack of conventional geothermal resources and the small size of the island. Low average wind speeds and heavy ship traffic in Singapore’s waters are major impediments to wind power generation. As for biomass, although the country already converts a large part of its waste into energy, it only covers about 2% of total electricity needs.
There is, however, one type of renewable energy source that Singapore can rely on: solar power. While the report predicts that this energy source could generate almost 10% of the country’s electricity needs by 2050, many factors still affect its viability and limit the chances of increasing generation capacity. Some of its geographical and geological aspects constraints include limited land and rooftop space for development, humidity, and relatively high cloud cover throughout the year. Additionally, the overall efficiency of the technology as well as the ability of the power system and grid infrastructure to cope with fluctuations in energy supply also make it difficult for Singapore to increase its reliance on solar power. However, solar remains by far the best option among renewable energies and the country is now working to maximize its share in the energy mix by strengthening solar importsmainly from Indonesia and Australia.
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Can nuclear power work in Singapore?
Until recently, nuclear power was considered unsuitable in Singapore. But huge advances in nuclear technologies have made it one of the country’s best decarbonization options. Not only nuclear energy world’s second-largest source of low-carbon electricity after hydroelectricity, it is also the cleanest after wind and solar, currently supplying around 10% of the world’s electricity. Each year more than 470 million metric tons carbon dioxide emissions that would otherwise come from fossil fuels are avoided through nuclear power worldwide, equivalent to taking nearly 100 million passenger vehicles off the road.
One of the main problems with the development of nuclear power plants in Singapore is related to its small area and high urban density. However, modern technologies allow us to build what is called small modular reactors (SMR), ideal for small populated towns as well as densely built-up areas. These plants can be designed and built much faster than their conventional counterparts, and they can be assembled at the factory and transported as a unit to an installation location, helping to optimize costs. Finally, despite their small size, SMRs can generate close to 300 megawatts of electricityabout a third of the production capacity of conventional nuclear reactors and enough to power about 50,000 homes a year.
While embracing nuclear power could be a game-changer for Singapore, public opinion is still very divided over the potential safety issues associated with the use of this technology. Know the dangers of nuclear wastemany oppose this type of energy for fear of accidents, despite their low probability. Indeed, in nearly 70 years since the commercialization of nuclear energy, only three accidents have sounded the alarm: the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. Of these, only the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine resulted in direct deaths. Thanks to innovation and development, reactors today are known to be much safer, have much better cooling systems and faster shutdowns and emergency response.
Although the nuclear expansion in Singapore remains more of a hypothetical scenario for the future, the subject is not new. In 2014, the island state launched a research and development program in nuclear sciences, ranging from security issues to engineering. In recent years, Singapore Nuclear Research & Safety Initiative has also awarded scholarships for studies related to nuclear energy. As a regional innovation hub, Singapore is able to attract more talent and investment to the sector.
EO Position: The advantages and disadvantages of nuclear energy are manifold and the debate on whether to keep this technology or find other alternatives is bound to continue in the years to come. Nuclear energy can be a highly destructive weapon, but the risks of a nuclear disaster are extremely low. While Earth.Org supports a full transition to renewable energy, in the case of Singapore, where these sources are very limited, nuclear remains a valid alternative to fossil fuels like coal and oil, which still pose a far greater threat. great for the planet.