Vert l´Horizon – NEWSLETTER 2 – Living the vibrant Singapore

To see our photos from Singapore, click here.

1. Introduction

When our ferry reaches the Batam Island, a great part of our journey, from Jakarta is now completed. Just before accosting, we see bunch of skyscrapers on the horizon, hidden in a foggy atmosphere. That city, which we can barely distinguish from here, is Singapore. Its official name is the Republic of Singapore, it is an island country, a “city country”! We imagine Singapore as a Western-like pearl, concealed in the South-East Asia continent. We think that Singapore shall offer us everything which we expect from a rich and modern city: drinking water straight from the tap, well organized traffic, big shopping malls with a great choice of imported food, financial centre, etc! We also know that Singapore is a very unique and cosmopolitan city, whose population is highly diverse (75 % Chinese, with Malays, Indians minorities!). After a last Nasi Goreng in Indonesia (we really savour each mouthful), we embark the Batam fast boat which will carry us to Singapore. The trip takes only 45 minutes. The Batam fast boat is flying above the surface and dancing between the waves, at more than 50 km/h ! While we cross the Singapore Strait, we can notice a lot (really a lot!) of ships around us. No surprise Singapore’s harbour is one of the busiest in the world! The luminous skyline is now closer. All the beautiful glass towers are shining with thousands lights. Once we reached Singapore, we yet have to go through the customs. As French citizens, we don’t need a visa and so it doesn’t take long.

2. A vibrant city

We have 5km to cycle to join our couchsurfer’s house in Singapore. These kilometres are simply unbelievable. The city of Singapore is so tidy, so calm, so refreshing and relaxing compared to Indonesia. There are nearly no cars on the road. And the air seems really clean. It’s so nice to cycle in these conditions!!! Akira will be our host in Singapore. In fact, we didn’t find him hanks to Couchsurfing, but thanks to Warmshower. This website is similar to Couchsurfing, but specially designed for cyclotourists. Akira is fond of mountain bike, and he wants to cycle around the world when he’ll have time. He is Japanese, but currently working in Singapore. He lives in a magnificent duplex flat, situated in a small tower of Alexandra Road. Tonight, we have a room with its fully equipped bathroom for both of us! we are far from the expected condition of only a couch for sleeping. On the floor above us, there is a swimming pool, a steam room and Jacuzzis, which we can’t wait to try!

That’s it for our first sight of the city. The following morning, we leave the house around 10 for a much desired breakfast. We chose to go around the city by bike. Because we left our panniers at Akira’s house, the bikes feel really light and we feel like we are going to take off! We eventually stop at Chinatown, the Chinese part of the city.

In the afternoon, we visited the Marina Barrage with Sock Ngee (a friend of Mickael’s classmate) who works for the PUB. Refer to the following chapter for details about that visit. In the evening, we want to check Little India. This part of Singapore is fully illuminated with decoration for the upcoming Diwali festival, on the 2nd of November. In this neighbourhood, we find a crazy place, the Mustafar mall. There, one can buy everything: clothes, food, electronics, jewels, postal service, and agencies for exchanging currencies! It is very crowded, messy, and not as cheap as we were expecting.

The following day, we are out to visit the Museum of Asian Civilizations. Since we will spend 4 months in Asia, it can be useful to learn a little about South East Asia, China, India. The museum is interesting, and for sure we would have needed more than the 3 hours we stayed inside.

We realise that we are seeing an idyllic side of Singapore, but the city is starting to really seduce us. We spend our last night with Akira, who invites us to a Japanese restaurant. There, we try quite a lot of delicious dish.

Thank you Akira, we were really overwhelmed by our situation these days in Singapore.

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3. Energy / Environment

3.1 The Marina barrage

The United Nations places Singapore among the states suffering of water scarcity. The problem in Singapore is not the lack of rain (in fact it does rain, like 2m per year, much more than in Europe) but the rainwater is not collected by the land, and so is lost to the sea. This problem is becoming even more acute with the population of Singapore growing. So the government of Singapore has taken measures on the two sides. On the one hand, a special care is taken to reduce the water consumption: the domestic water consumption per capita has been brought down from 165 L per day in 2003 down to 152 L per day today. The goal is to reduce it to 147L per day in 2020 and 140L per day in 2030. On the other hand, 4 answers have been found to provide water to the city, and they are usually called the four taps of Singapore:

  • Reservoirs: There were 4 reservoirs in the 70s, there are 17 now, among them the Marina Bay reservoir (the biggest of all), behind the barrage.
  • Buying water to Malaysia: the current agreement runs until 2061, but Singapore government already prepares the situation for when they won’t have this agreement anymore.
  • NEWater: plant to recycle water. It’s the leading plant in the world for this field, combining physical filters, inverse osmosis and UV treatment.
  • Desalination of sea water: It is very expensive in energy, 3,5 kWh are needed for 1 m3 of drinking water, compared to the 0,5 kWh needed for the NEWater

The share of the water is: 60 % for reservoirs + imported water (more or less 30% for each, but it varies every year), 30% for NEWater and 10% for the desalinated water.

The construction of the Marina barrage started in 2005 and was finished in 2008. Once the barrage was finished, it took two years to remove the salt from inside the reservoir (since before, the sea was entering), using the natural rainwater. As the reservoir water level is very similar to the sea level outside, the barrage consists of a bridge, 350m long. There are 9 gates that can be open independently to evacuate the reservoir water, and so avoid flooding the city in case of strong rains. In case of high tide, when these gates cannot be open (since the sea water would enter the reservoir and introduce salt in the fresh water), 7 pumps are functioning to evacuate the water. These pumps are among the biggest in the world, with an output of 40m3/s. Each pump can empty an Olympic swimming pool in 1 minute!

Now, this dam has three main functions: it ensures water supply to Singapore (collecting the water of 100 km2, and supplying around 10% of the total needed water!), it controls the water level of the Singapore river and it avoids floods. Last but not least, it is also a leisure place in the city. The building itself has been designed so that people enjoy coming here to rest, stroll, or play with kites. In addition, it is surrounded by the “Gardens by the bay”, a futuristic and relaxing park.

At the end of the visit, we are lucky to see one gate of the barrage opening in prevision of strong rains. It’s an interesting spectacle, which many Singaporeans come to see. As expected during this afternoon, the rain is coming this evening. Because we have to wait, we enjoy taking a dinner in the restaurant for the visitors of the barrage.

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3.2 NEWater

This morning, we are meeting with one employee from PUB (Public Utility Board). PUB is the government agency which deals with the water in Singapore. We are meeting in one of the NEWater plant and are accompanied by professionals from Japan and Indonesia during that technical visit.

In Singapore, part of the waste water (grey + yellow + brown) is recycled into NEWater. Currently, half of Singapore waste water goes to NEWater, through the Deep Tunnel Sewerage System. In the years to come, the whole city will be connected. Every drop of water shall be used more than once. The NEWater technology was developed to overcome lack of natural water. The idea of reclaimed water started in the early 1970s, but it was only in 2000 that technology became stable and economically viable. When NEWater was first introduced in Singapore, reusing reclaimed water was a new concept.

They define NEWater as high-grade reclaimed water produced from treated used water. It is purified with advanced membrane technologies, making it ultra-clean and safe to drink. The technology has been developed by PUB after three decades and has passed more than 65 000 scientific tests. The NEWater does not contain any minerals.

The NEWater is used in two ways. The first one is the direct non-potable use, for around 95% of NEWater production. It is supplied to wafer fabrication, electronics and power generation industries for process use. It is also piped to commercial and institutional buildings for air conditioning cooling purposes. One could wonder why the industry gets such an important part of this ultra-clean water: This is because, in many processes, water without minerals is needed. Previously, these industries had to treat the tap water prior to using it. Now, there operations are simplified since they can use the NEWater directly. NEWater’s second usage is the direct potable use. Less than 5% of the water produced is blended with raw water in the reservoir, so that it is re-mineralized. The raw water then goes through treatment at the waterworks before it is supplied to consumers as tap water.

Since its launch, demand for NEWater has grown 15-fold from 4 mgd (million gallons per day) in 2003 to some 60 mgd in 2012. Currently, NEWater meets 30% of Singapore’s water needs. By 2060, NEWater’s capacity will be tripled so that the NEWater can meet half of the demand.

There are three steps in the purification process for the production of NEWater: 1) microfiltration / ultrafiltration 2) reverse osmosis 3) ultraviolet disinfection. Microfiltration/ultrafiltration is done with a microfilter which pores measure 0,04 µm, thus blocking many particles, bacterias and even most of the viruses. On the second step, the water goes through a membrane which pores measure 0,0004 µm, as part of the reverse osmosis process. This reverse osmosis is the main technological advance of the NEWater plant. There, oestrogen endocrine disrupters, and viruses and bacteria that may have passed, are separated from the water. The negative aspect is that the membrane also retains minerals. Only water molecules can go through. At the end of this step, 75% of the water has been treated, and the 25% remaining is re-injected inside the waste water to be retreated. Nothing is lost. Finally, the water goes through a last stage of ultraviolet disinfection. This step is not really needed since the water is already ultra-clean after step two, and has been certified drinkable by the World Health Organization (WHO), but it is intended to break psychological barrier and as a double safety. The water spends less than 1s around the UV lamp. This lamp is heated at 800ºC but placed in vacuum so that it does not heat the water to more than 60ºC, and its UV emission is 100 times what we receive from the Sun. At the end of the process, the water may be stored. In contact with the air, the water can become a bit acidic, by dissolving carbon dioxide, which produces carbonic acid (H2CO3). This is why, sodium hydroxide is added in order to correct the pH. Therefore, the NEWater produces contains nothing else but 5 mg/L of Sodium.

At the end, we are offered a bottle of NEWater for a small degustation of this water. The water tastes a little like a medicine, or like swimming pool water, maybe due to the sodium.

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3.3 Energy outlook at Singapore

At the end of our stay, we were privileged to meet with Hiang Kwee, a researcher, to talk about the energy in Singapore. He gave us a comprehensive presentation about the energy situation at Singapore.

Ho Hiang Kwee is Adjunct Principal Fellow Researcher. He works for both the government of Singapore and for the Energy Studies Institute. He is also one of the authors of the last IRENA report on the global status of renewable energy in 2013 (http://www.ren21.net/gsr).

So, here is our summary of that meeting:

The electricity production represents 45% of Singapore energy use. Singapore has an installed capacity of 11 000MW, much more than the 6 500MW needed by Singapore during peak consumption. Singapore grid is almost isolated. There is only one connection with Malaysia, supporting about 100 MW, which is used only in case of emergency. Inside ASEAN, Singapore is pushing for more integration in the energy, creating the Asian power grid. Singapore’s energy mix is strongly based on fossil fuel, and this shall not change in the near future. Currently, the country is very dependent on the importation of natural gas. 80% of the energy produced in Singapore comes from power plants running on gas. This fossil fuel is the most expensive one: Singapore pays a premium on it, but it is also the cleanest one and was therefore chosen. Relying on gas allows Singapore to have a relatively clean air in the city. Until 6 months ago, the country was totally dependent on its neighbours for gas supply. Three pipes feed the island: one is from Malaysia and two are from Indonesia. Very recently, a LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) terminal was built in order to import gas from further away (Bahrain, Africa, maybe USA) and to diversify suppliers. Because gas is very expensive, all the plants running on gas include a combined cycle in the design, which improve the plant’s total efficiency. The rest of the energy is mostly produced from oil. 1-2% comes from waste incineration. Singapore possesses a power plant running on coal but, since it is also burning biomass, its GHG emissions are comparable to the plants running on oil.

Singapore is investigating on its potential for renewable energy through its universities. Four kinds of renewables could be used in a greater quantity: solar photovoltaic (PV), solar thermal, tidal energy and biomass. The levelized cost of Solar photovoltaic electricity is now really to the retail cost of electricity in Singapore. The levelized cost is the net cost of the PV system divided by the energy produced over the entire life time of the system. A study has showed that photovoltaic has a significant potential. Up to 10% of the electricity production could be covered by PV If all roofs and part of some reservoirs were covered. This also implies that the instantaneous power from PV could be as high as 50% in the grid. This is a very high percentage covered by a variable source of energy although a production mix based on gas could allow that. Tidal energy may have a potential between the islands in the South of the country. Nevertheless, that would be quantified as a few MW! Singapore is also considering biomass, in the form of biofuel, as input to its energy mix. There is a significant potential in the region although the question about its sustainable use remains open. Nuclear energy was imagined in a pre-feasibility study although it was not kept because it was thought to be still not entirely safe, and expensive. It also easy to imagine that, the smallest nuclear accident would erase the country from the map! Singapore is investigating other ways to reduce its GHG emissions. One of the options is carbon capture and storage (CCS) or carbon utilization. In this last option, the CO2 is reduced into carbonates compounds that are then used as construction material. This solution is pertinentsince the production of carbonates requires little energy.

In the field of transportation, Singapore has been very active. As part of its search for energy conservation and efficiency, Singapore has invested a lot of money for public transportation. The MRT (a fast metro) network is very efficient. Within 10-20 years, its network will cover the whole country, with everyone having a station no further than 1km from his home. In addition, there is an efficient network of buses. The goal of the government is that in 10 years, 70% of the people take public transports during the peak hours (nowadays, it’s 60%). In parallel with the strong investments in public transports, the government of Singapore makes car transportation very expensive by using two levers: ownership and usage. Owning a car in Singapore is extremely expensive. First of all, someone willing to buy a car has to get a certificate of entitlement which can only been bought in an auction system. The price of the certificate is as high as 80 000 SG$ (i.e. 50 000 €)! Only 1000 of these certificates are issued every two weeks. The cars are also heavily taxed so that a car sold 15 000 € in Europe will cost about 60 000 € in Singapore. The tax system is dependent upon the energy efficiency of the car, through a bonus-malus system which can make the prices vary between +/- 20 000 SG$. Nevertheless, buying e.g. a hybrid car is still be very expensive. Furthermore, driving a car is also quite expensive: the price of oil is quite high; it is also forbidden to go to Malaysia to refuel. Some parts of the city include a toll (The ERP, Electronic Route Pricing). Singapore does not have many bicycle path although its traffic is light enough to make bike-commuting agreeable. The hot and humid climate may be break for people to choose bike. Going to work wearing a suit and arriving all sweaty is not comfortable of course. Things may change with the more comfortable and more trendy electric bike. It is believed that it will have a role to play in the future transportation system of Singapore.

In the housing domain, Singapore is also active. Regarding the electrical appliances, the government proceeded in two steps. Firstly all the models were labelled according to their energy consumption, as part of the Mandatory Energy Labelling Scheme (MERS). After a few years, the government decided to forbid the appliance that were not efficient enough, through the Mandatory Energy Performance Scheme (MEPS). In order to encourage each citizen to reduce his energy consumption, the energy bills that they receive includes a comparison between the citizen’s consumption with the average Singapore consumption per capita. Also, a lot of retrofitting is done on air conditioning units since it is a main source of consumption in houses. Singapore has a very aggressive program (the Green Building Program) which has the goal of having 80% of the total building in the city be certified as Green Buildings by 2030. There will be several levels within this certificate. The Green Building certificate will be a good progress although, it will not concern positive energy buildings (producing more energy than they consume) nor passive ones (consumption = production). It is very challenging to make a sky-scrapper a passive -or positive- energy building. High towers consume more energy than the ones of a reasonable height, per inhabitants. There is only one energy positive building in Singapore, and it is 4 storeys high.

Singapore is very energy intensive per capita. This is mostly due to its extensive industry, which comprises a lot of refineries, electronics and offshore industries. The industries provide 22% of the GDP. 60% of Singapore’s Green House Gases (GHG) emissions are coming from its refineries. Therefore, a benchmarking is being done in order to determine whether refineries perform well in comparison with their GHG emissions. If they do, other ways for reducing GHG should be looked at. The nexus between water and energy is also delicate. Water and energy production are strongly linked although, Singapore really lacks water. Singapore does not have an aggressive politics, such as land grabbing, in order to secure resources. In order to improve its energetic situation, Singapore is looking forward to improve its geopolitical situation and developing synergies with Johor, the Malaysian border region.

Singapore is currently not having a sustainable energy production mix, nor will it have one in the near future. Nevertheless, Singapore has a lot of sovereign funds. As already showed with the NEWater, R&D and good will can lead to useful innovation and solutions to local problems.

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4 Help us to offset our greenhouse gases emissions with the Solar Muscle!

Nowadays, it is fashion to talk about sustainability. Many of us talk about sustainability but have a very bad carbon footprint. Many companies love to “green wash” their product! Because our journey wears the theme of energy and environment and because we want to apply what we believe related to sustainable development and the crucial importance of fighting climate change, we want to offset, or compensate for the greenhouse gas emissions generated during the different flights we take.

For that reason we would be very grateful if you help us compensating these emissions. For more explanations, please refer to http://vertlhorizon.com/carbon-offsetting/.

Thank you for reading, take care!!!

Mickaël & Julien