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IPW: expert report commissioned by Singaporean government outlines pathway to net zero energy by 2050

29 March 2022

In this week’s Infrastructure Policy Watch, significant guidance developed for Singaporean policymakers on how to achieve the ambition of the Glasgow Climate Pact.

IPW: expert report commissioned by Singaporean government outlines pathway to net zero energy by 2050
The report predicts solar and battery storage will become cheaper due to ongoing development and innovation. Image credit: CK Foto/Shutterstock

Singapore's Energy 2050 Committee recently published its final report outlining several scenarios for a net zero energy transition for Singapore by 2050.

Commissioned by the Energy Market Authority, the report outlines 'key considerations, decision points and strategic choices for Singapore's energy sector.'

The report notes that it will be challenging to develop a single long-term strategy given the complicated nature of energy decarbonisation.

Instead, the committee took a scenario-based approach with recommendations on the steps policymakers can take now to 'position for this long-term transition'.

A bold approach to technology and global shifts

The committee noted that the pace of change will be unlike anything seen in the last 200 years, describing dynamics in the emerging global energy sector as 'fast and turbulent'.

The report finds that Singapore can transition while maintaining energy security and affordability, but it will have to be bold on technology change and responding to global shifts.

The report also outlines the additional benefits Singapore can unlock, including 'capturing economic growth opportunities in the region' from the transition by ensuring Singapore acts as a technology frontrunner.

The report assumed several underlying/predetermined trends:

  • Electricity demand would increase due to economic growth, digitalisation and electrification of transport.
  • Solar and battery storage would become cheaper due to ongoing development, innovation and scale of deployment.
  • Small scale, distributed supply and storage, such as solar, battery storage and electric vehicles, will become significant enough to affect how the national grid is managed.

It also highlighted several uncertainties that have a critical effect, including patterns for new technology development, the price and trade of carbon, and actions by larger energy-market countries.

What are the possible scenarios?

Based on the aforementioned trends, the Energy 2050 Committee developed three scenarios:

  1. Clean Energy Renaissance: where decisive and collective global action, plus rapid digital and energy technology development sees 'smooth' decarbonisation and a diverse energy supply mix.
  2. Climate Action Bloc: where some countries club together for climate action and collaborate to develop global solutions, but technology development is slow. As a result, in 2050, Singapore will rely heavily on electricity imports.
  3. Emergent Technology Trailblazer: where fragmented geopolitics is rife, but the pace of technology development advances as we approach 2050. Under this scenario, Singapore proactively invests in new technologies and bets big on hydrogen as a primary source of supply.

The committee set out nine strategic recommendations and two 'planning paradigms' for policymakers to develop now to achieve any of the three scenarios. These are:

  • Strategy 1: Pursue the adoption of electricity imports to access cleaner and cost-effective energy sources beyond Singapore’s borders.
  • Strategy 2: Develop the use of low-carbon hydrogen for power generation to decarbonise the power sector.
  • Strategy 3: Maximise solar deployment and use energy storage systems to manage solar intermittency.
  • Strategy 4: Actively monitor and pre-position Singapore for new low-carbon supply alternatives so that Singapore can act when these become viable.
  • Strategy 5: Support the development of international carbon markets to address residual and hard-to-abate carbon.
  • Strategy 6: Create a multi-layered grid to manage the growth of distributed energy resources (such as electric vehicles) and improve grid reliability.
  • Strategy 7: Leverage digital technologies to enhance grid planning and operations.
  • Strategy 8: Actively manage the growth of demand to better manage the rollout of low carbon options and keep energy costs affordable.
  • Strategy 9: Shape end user consumption to optimise the power system, such as the use of smart energy management systems.
  • Planning Paradigm 1: Build flexibility into the power system to enable Singapore to pivot across different pathways.
  • Planning Paradigm 2: Capitalise on opportunities to position Singapore as a technology frontrunner and living lab for sustainable energy solutions.

ICE's view:

The scenario-based approach to the report is a good model given the uncertainty inherent in achieving a decarbonised energy system in 28 years.

This is something organisations like the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission have been using to navigate uncertainty around transport use post-Covid-19.

The report from the Energy 2050 Committee uses these scenarios and still makes some choices on what can be done now. This is a lesson others can learn about identifying low regret measures that can start to inform policy.

The report also focuses on the energy trilemma, which ensured affordability gets a look in. This was a key topic in our Presidential Roundtable on financing a fair net zero transition.

In case you missed it…

Check back in a fortnight for the next edition of the ICE's Infrastructure Policy Watch. You can also sign up to ICE Informs to get a monthly digest of the latest policy activities from ICE, including calls for evidence to support our ongoing advice to policymakers.

  • Chris Richards, director of policy at Institution of Civil Engineers