Commentary: Is Singapore banking too much on emerging tech in reaching net zero by 2050?


SINGAPORE: Singapore’s net-zero transition will rely on emerging applied sciences, which received’t come with out unknowns.

This week, the Energy Market Authority (EMA) launched the Energy 2050 Committee Report, setting out methods to assist the facility era sector get to net zero by or round 2050. The headline message was that it’s “technically viable for the Singapore power sector to achieve net-zero emissions while maintaining energy security and affordability”.

Although not an official coverage doc, it’s affordable to imagine that the report provides a strong indication of the priorities and pathways which Singapore will pursue.

Technology performs a central function, as there’s appreciable dedication to a mixture of emerging applied sciences, which we will loosely classify as being a mixture of “hard” and “soft” options.

Hard applied sciences embody hydrogen, geothermal power, carbon seize and nuclear energy, whereas tender applied sciences embody wider use of digital applied sciences like synthetic intelligence, machine studying and superior modelling. 

The vital roles of regional and worldwide energy and carbon buying and selling are additionally highlighted. Such market buildings have an effect on how clear power options can develop.

The report outlines three transition eventualities for Singapore: The “clean energy renaissance”, the “climate action bloc” and the “emergent technology trailblazer”. Each initiatives a various power combine by 2050, relying on geopolitical and technological developments.

Central to every state of affairs is the fostering and deploying of recent applied sciences and rising the range of power provide to assist improve Singapore’s power safety. Each state of affairs makes room for elevated electrical energy imports and progress of the hydrogen financial system, whereas two embody a dedication to nuclear power.

There is a prolonged dialogue across the adoption of sensible energy grids, which might assist optimise infrastructure design and power use.

Overall, the report presents a really completely different power panorama than what we’ve got at this time, the place 95 per cent of Singapore’s power comes from pure fuel, a fossil gas. The query naturally arises as as to if the transition methods mentioned in the report are banking too closely on emerging know-how, to get to net zero by or round 2050.


The Energy 2050 Report has been developed with warning in thoughts. It classifies three important uncertainties that might make the transition exhausting, even inconceivable, to realize by 2050.

These assist us perceive why Singapore’s timeline for attaining net-zero emissions has progressed from “as soon as viable in the second half of the century” to “by or around mid-century”, reflecting a transparent want to focus on 2050 whereas nonetheless offering some flexibility.

The first important uncertainty considerations the exhausting applied sciences – referred to in the report as low-carbon power applied sciences. Across the eventualities, hydrogen – an power supply created by splitting water with {an electrical} present – contributes anyplace from 10 per cent to 60 per cent of the facility provide.

While there’s appreciable promise in hydrogen for energy era, as of at this time, world provide chains for it are unclear and costs haven’t stabilised. Hydrogen remains to be a nascent know-how, and the prices of manufacturing are at present too excessive to be commercially enticing.

But there’s sturdy momentum in hydrogen manufacturing applied sciences, making now a ripe time to commit. According to the International Energy Agency, the price of producing hydrogen from renewable electrical energy might fall by 30 per cent by 2030, as renewables develop into cheaper and hydrogen manufacturing scales up.

The report notes that “it is not certain when and where low-carbon hydrogen will be produced at scale efficiently and how it can be transported to Singapore in a secure and cost-effective manner”. It even recognises that in the early levels, it might be vital for hydrogen to be produced from fossil fuels to make sure affordability.

This might at first appear undesirable, for the reason that cleanest model of hydrogen would use renewable power in the manufacturing course of relatively than fossil fuels. The compromise would nonetheless permit for early funding into vital hydrogen-related infrastructure.

Other low-carbon power sources are mentioned too, additionally having unclear timing for market readiness. Geothermal power – power generated from naturally occurring warmth trapped in the bottom – is one such various supply.

Precisely what the potential inside Singapore is, is unclear. Singapore has a really modest landmass to attract upon. The EMA has initiated an exploratory research into the geothermal potential for Singapore, and outcomes are anticipated to emerge by the top of 2022.

Geothermal power, just like photo voltaic power, might have an vital function, however won’t ship the dimensions of power to fulfill nationwide wants. Nuclear energy is the opposite main low-carbon various introduced as a attainable possibility inside among the eventualities.

In addition to uncertainties round emerging nuclear applied sciences, there are doubtlessly complicated regulatory and regional integration points which will want navigating.


The second important uncertainty considerations the readiness of digital applied sciences. Large portions of information should be captured, monitored, and punctiliously analysed for the distribution of power assets and efficient makes use of of sensible power grids.

Data centres are enabling infrastructure the place vital knowledge is saved and analysed. But the business has been topic to a moratorium in current years as a consequence of its excessive power necessities, with the Government signalling will probably be selective about constructing new knowledge centres in the long run.

The third important uncertainty surrounds regional and worldwide coordination for energy and carbon markets. For a few years, there have been discussions of an ASEAN energy grid.

Such a grid might permit for extra choices for low-carbon energy era: Our neighbours with extra potential for renewable power might produce inexperienced electrical energy to export to Singapore. 

But this isn’t occurring at a big scale but, since nations inside the area nonetheless have to decarbonise their energy methods, creating plenty of strain to maintain domestically produced clear electrical energy in the nation the place it’s generated.

Sun Cable’s Australia-Asia PowerLink, an undersea cable that may transport photo voltaic power from Darwin to Singapore through Indonesia, is an instance the place wider worldwide grid connectivity may very well be possible. The challenge might provide as much as 15 per cent of Singapore’s electrical energy wants.

What can also be unclear is how worldwide carbon markets might function. Currently, there aren’t any common guidelines that outline what’s tradeable, the place and the way. There are efforts to develop agreed world rules, however they may take time to develop.

Developments in world carbon market designs will affect the design and effectiveness of native carbon pricing mechanisms.


Net zero in the facility sector won’t be achieved with no complete method. While there are facets of the transition that may be solved by funding, some obstacles can’t be overcome with cash alone.

Efforts have been underway inside Singapore and elsewhere to advertise behavioural change and scale back demand for the power we use. There have been some successes and a few failures.

Singapore nonetheless closely depends on pure fuel for energy era, providing each alternatives and challenges. The alternative lies in upgrading infrastructure that may work with new fuels corresponding to hydrogen.

The problem is that this infrastructure improvement will take time. We have roughly 30 years, and that ought to be greater than sufficient. Carbon seize, geothermal and nuclear are comparatively mature, whereas hydrogen is quick turning into commercially viable.

The subsequent few years are a helpful window of time to develop the required infrastructure, which is able to then be prepared to be used when prices develop into much extra enticing.

There are uncertainties with the emerging applied sciences Singapore is banking on to decarbonise its power sector, however these are overtly recognised. This doesn’t imply we can alleviate them, however at the least we face them with eyes broad open.

At the identical time, reaching net zero with the restricted time we’ve got necessitates daring modifications in know-how, modes of enterprise and life. Ambition in the presence of uncertainty is a prerequisite to being on the suitable pathway.

David C Broadstock is a Senior Research Fellow and the Head of the Energy Economics Division on the Energy Studies Institute.

Commentary: Is Singapore banking too much on emerging tech in reaching net zero by 2050?

David Broadstock

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