According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), climate change is defined as a long-term change in the average weather patterns that describe local, regional, and global climates on earth. While natural processes can contribute to the phenomenon, human activities, especially fossil fuel burning, have been the predominant drivers responsible for the changes observes in the Earth’s climate since the early 20th century (Shaftel, 2021). Processes such as burning of fossil fuels significantly increase greenhouse gas (GHG), like carbon dioxide, levels in the atmosphere which trap heat and eventually result in raising the average temperature of the Earth. Around the globe, the disastrous effects of this warming can be felt through extreme weather such as hurricanes, wildfires, droughts, floods, etc.
Singapore is not excluded from this global phenomenon and will certainly see the impact of it in the form of increasing temperatures, increasing sea level in the Straits of Singapore, more intense rainfall, just to name a few. As stated by the National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS), the rising sea level poses the most severe threat for low-lying islands like Singapore along with other concerns regarding food security as well as the increased occurrences of vector-borne diseases (NCCS, 2021).
Given the dire consequences of climate change that threaten Singapore’s stability, the government has made their stance on this matter very clear. They see this as a serious issue for the country which they will work towards mitigating. This stance was reinforced by Singapore further building on its earlier commitment in the 2015 Paris Agreement to pledge a reduction of GHG emissions by 36% from 2005 levels by 2030. Additionally, the ‘Climate Action Plan: Take Action Today’ was established to outline strategies that would be carried out to achieve the 2030 pledge.
While it is encouraging to see the country map out such ambitious plans, the actions taken since the Paris Agreement paint quite a contrary picture with respect to energy sustainability.
Singapore’s Current Energy Mix
As a small, resource-constrained country, Singapore imports almost all its energy needs. A bulk of Singapore’s energy demand is fulfilled by burning fossil fuels, which encompass coal, petroleum and natural gas. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), since 2010, Singapore’s fossil fuel consumption has increased by around 20% (Fig.1). Additionally, the International Energy Agency (IEA) ranked Singapore 27th out of 142 countries in terms of emissions per capita based (IEA, 2018).
In 2019, natural gas accounted for 95.6% of Singapore’s fuel mix with other energy products (e.g., Municipal Waste, Biomass and Solar) amounting only to 2.8%. The rest were contributed by Coal (1.2%) and Petroleum Products, mainly in the form of Diesel and Fuel Oil (0.4%) (Energy Market Authority, 2019) (Fig.2).
While it may be argued that natural gas produces less pollution and GHG than its counterparts (ENBRIDGE, 2021), it is nowhere as clean as sources of energy like renewables and nuclear energy. Natural gas has been termed the transition or bridging source of energy between highly unsustainable ones used in the past and clean energy sources.
With renewables now becoming significantly cheaper and accessible and nuclear energy becoming technologically advanced and safer, it may be time to cross this bridge and take greater strides towards a more sustainable energy source.
Solar Energy in Singapore
Singapore’s current focus with regards to adopting more clean energy has revolved mainly around solar energy. Currently, with 4067 installations of solar panels around Singapore, it is only enough to meet 2.3% Singapore’s electricity demand (Energy Market Authority, 2020) (Fig.3).
There is much misconception and fear surrounding nuclear energy, arguably more since the Fukushima Daiichi accident which happened in March 2011. This source of energy has progressed leaps and bounds over the last few years to earn its spot as one of the top contenders in alleviating climate change woes.
“Nuclear energy, in terms of an overall safety record, is better than other energy.” Bill Gates in an interview with CNBC
With that belief, his company TerraPower seeks to demonstrate the viability of nuclear power through outstanding nuclear reactor innovation and design. It is not difficult to understand why he might be so passionate about nuclear energy when its potential benefits are considered.
Nuclear energy has a multitude of benefits which include first, its ability to generate baseload electricity with no output of carbon. Second, nuclear power plants operate at a significantly higher capacity factor than renewable sources of energy or fossil fuels. This means that it produces the most energy when compared against the other sources for a single unit of time (Rhodes, 2018).
China, The United States of America (USA), India and Finland have established successful nuclear power programs while many emerging economies like Turkey, The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bangladesh have started to embark on their own nuclear power journey.
Given the wider adoption of nuclear power globally, is it time now for Singapore to harness this technology too?
Nuclear Energy in Singapore?
In 2010, a pre-feasibility study was carried out to determine if nuclear energy would be a feasible power source for Singapore. After which in 2012, Mr. S Iswaran, then Second Minister for Trade and Industry, announced that nuclear power would not be considered due to Singapore’s optimism about waiting for advancing nuclear technologies that might be safer as well as the country’s lack of expertise in the field of nuclear science.
Singapore might have been on point with its prediction about the innovation of safer, smaller, and cheaper nuclear technologies. New developments in this field have changed the entire nuclear landscape. The table below provides a summary of some new technologies, methods and developments that can ease some of the concerns raised with regards to nuclear energy in the 2010 pre-feasibility study.
With the advancements in nuclear technologies, it may be time for Singapore to reconsider its stance on nuclear energy or at least carry out another pre-feasibility study to better gauge the situation. With Singapore currently importing almost all its energy needs, the adoption of nuclear energy is a fantastic way for it to attain energy security.
It is heartening to learn that Singapore is taking climate change seriously with the establishment of organizations like The National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS). NCSS was established on 1 July 2010 under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to develop and implement Singapore’s domestic and international policies and strategies to tackle climate change. It is part of the Strategy Group which supports the Prime Minister and his Cabinet to establish priorities and strengthen strategic alignment across Government. However, having evaluated the activities and focus of NCSS, it is quite disappointing to learn that there is no mention of nuclear energy at all. In our humble opinion, the fight against climate change cannot not be complete if nuclear energy is not part of the equation.
Singapore might be taking steps in the right direction by coming up with sustainability plans that include solar energy options. However, these steps may not be too small to successfully summit the mountain of climate change. Maybe it is time for Singapore to reconsider its energy mix before it falls below regional nations in terms of environmental sustainability.
This article was written by Komal Prashar, Energy Researcher, Nuclear Business Platform.