SG Open Electricity Market: What does it mean for Sustainability?

Most Singaporeans will relate the open electricity market to increased consumer options, but few will know that it is also an opportunity to affect the growth of renewables in Singapore.

Under the new liberalisation initiative, SP Group will continue to operate the national power grid and provide meter readings but consumers can choose to purchase from a number of retailers, with reported savings of 20%. By being responsive to market conditions such as the supply and demand of electricity in the wholesale energy market, retailers can translate price savings to consumers.  

On the sustainability front, retailers offer green options as a way to differentiate themselves. Energy retailers can drive sustainability in three ways: they can directly build solar energy, direct funds towards renewable energy options, or increase the efficiency of the energy grid.

Some examples include ‘carbon neutral’ electricity by ES Power, and an option by Sunseap which guarantees 100% solar energy.

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In Singapore, most consumers stay in public housing apartments (HDB flats), which prevents them from directly building solar panels on their rooftops. Hence, the off-site generation options is more viable, where solar panels are built elsewhere and each watt generated is traceable and verified by an independent party like TIGRs. This verification process allows retailers to offer Renewable Energy Certificates (REC) to consumers, which provides a third-party assurance that the renewable energy has indeed been generated.

While there are multiple electricity generating companies, Singapore has only one grid. Hence, the actual electricity usage by a consumer who purchases 100% solar energy is a mixture of renewable and non-renewables (since it is all ‘mixed’ in the grid). However, the consumer has helped to make the national grid ‘greener’, by increasing the solar power generated for the national grid.

In addition to directly building solar, companies like ES power, iSwitch and Ohm also offer a “carbon neutral” option. This is achieved through purchasing the corresponding carbon offset credits for carbon emissions related to a household’s consumption. These funds are directed towards projects which reduce carbon emission, but may not be renewable energy projects. Nevertheless, they offer a sustainable alternative to conventional electricity purchases.

Perhaps the lingering question is this: “does my purchase make a difference, even if I purchase only 1% solar energy?” This concern is certainly understandable, given that industry electricity consumption dwarfs domestic use.

Individual purchases do make a difference, though to a limited extent. Renewable energy currently makes up less than 1% of Singapore total electricity generation. Given where the renewable energy sector in Singapore is at, there is a limit to the maximum amount of solar energy that can be generated and used in the Singapore grid. Experts put this at 10%, but expect this to increase as renewable energy costs are driven down, and investments in battery technology become more promising. Hence, individual consumption can help drive us from 1% towards 10%, but it will be a long time yet before renewable energy makes up a large part of our energy grid.

Glossary:

Generation - Generation is electricity production by large-scale (>1MW) energy producers. Historically hydrocarbon or nuclear, recently solar and wind.

Transmission - Transmission is the business of moving electricity over long distances, usually from generators (power plants) to distributors (consumer networks).

Distribution - Distribution is the movement of electricity from the transmission (high voltage) network to the consumer. Distributors operate lower-voltage electrical lines that connect to individual consumer households or businesses.

Retail - Retail is the sale of electricity to consumers. Retailers are responsible for administering and billing consumers. In Singapore, Singapore Power is the sole entity in charge of all transmission and distribution services. It is also a retailer. At the time of writing, the Open Electricity Market is being rolled out. This will allow consumers to buy electricity from other retailers than Singapore Power, which means they can choose plans with different mixes of power from the generators.

This article is based on a panel discussion organized by Climate Conversations on 24th January 2019, titled: Open Electricity Market: Your Green Options

Green Drinks: Bea Johnson and the Zero Waste Movement

Bea Johnson with a year’s worth of waste for her family of 4

Bea Johnson with a year’s worth of waste for her family of 4

   

On 19th Dec, Green Drinks hosted Bea Johnson, deemed the mother of the zero waste movement. She doesn’t claim to be the most sustainable person on the planet, and yes, she still uses (recycled) toilet paper, but her entire family’s waste in a YEAR fits into a SINGLE glass jar. She shares about how each of us can take a step towards a zero waste life.

What about waste?

We live in a world where marketers have been innovative in creating categories, which means we are buying more products, many of which we don’t need. Not only is this cluttering up our lives, many of these products end up as waste. Many of the plastics we use, for example, when not disposed or handled properly, can leach toxic chemicals. Each time we choose to use a packaged product, we are “voting” - “voting” for more unnecessary packaging.

Why should I care?

Because leading a zero waste life is not only good for the environment, it's also good for our health and wallet! You avoid the toxins from packaging that could leach into our products, you save money because you’re buying in bulk and finding non-disposables solutions. Each time you throw away something you buy, you’re literally throwing away money. Furthermore, packaging typically comprises 15% of a product’s total cost - what a waste!

What can I do?

Bea has an interesting 5 “R”s pyramid that she follows, in the order below:

  1. Refuse: Just say no to stuff you don’t need

  2. Reduce: Declutter, and figure out what you really need!

  3. Reuse: Repair and repurpose

  4. Recycle: Separate and recycle

  5. Rot: Start your own compost bin, or contribute to a community one

There are tons of tips on the zero waste forum on how to get started. Singapore has its very own online community. You might think you won’t impact anything by just being one person, but this is a global movement that’s quickly growing.

In short…

Leading a zero waste life is not just about sustainability, it can also help you declutter, and find out what in your life truly matters. Additionally, the zero waste movement has sprung a community, one that’s beginning to question how we are consuming today.  

Quotable Quotes: 

“People like to put things in garages, things that they like to forget. Things that have a difficulty making decision on.”

“I do not recommend using sausage casing as condoms. They leak.” 

“The point of this lifestyle is to recycle less, by refusing, reducing or reusing instead.”

“Thanks to this lifestyle, we can focus on a life that’s about being, not about having”.


 

   

Green Drinks: Air Pollution in Singapore

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The Green Drinks session on 26th October discussed Air Pollution in Singapore, with sharing from Dr Erik Velasco (Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology), Lynn Tang (Vital Strategies), and Aurélie (People’s Movement to Stop Haze). Beginning with sharing by Erik and Lynn, and concluding with a roundtable, the session gave a well-rounded perspective on air pollution, and what we can do about it.

What about air pollution?

Most of us would know about the haze, especially the infamous 2013 and 2015 episodes, but air pollution goes beyond the episodic haze pollution triggered by wildfires across neighboring islands– it includes pollutants from vehicular traffic, industry, ships and even our activities at home such cooking (indoor air pollution). Most of us are familiar with the famous “PM2.5”, which refers to the particulate size in micrometres, but our lungs and nose can take in tons of pollutants that are smaller than that. Although climate, topography and location might favor conditions to accumulate pollutants in the air, the real causes of air pollution rely on political and economic circumstances – poverty, poor regulations and major agribusinesses drive illegal logging and palm oil monoculture, for example in Southeast Asia. Closer to home, traffic regulations are also one way to affect air pollution.      

Why should I care?  

To start with – 1 in 10 deaths in the world is related to air pollution. And, for small particulates, there is no evidence of a threshold below which no adverse health effects occur. Worst still: we can’t avoid it completely. We can wear masks, avoiding walking close to emission sources, or  turn on the air conditioner, but each time we step onto a bus, car or MRT, we are taking in some atmospheric pollutants.

Oh no… what can I do?

Protecting yourself starts with common sense - for example, avoid running or walking along busy roads with heavy vehicle emissions. But that alone won’t change the air around you. So do what we Singaporeans do best - COMPLAIN! Make your voice on air quality heard - we want cleaner  air! And lastly, be mindful - awareness of how our lifestyle impacts the world around us is often to the first step to a thoughtful solution.   

In short...

The air around us is deeply connected to the lifestyles we live. So rather than blaming it on some other party… start taking action yourself! (See above!)

 

‘Let’s Go to Hack4Climate’: Leveraging Blockchain to Fight Climate Change

22 Sept 2017, Impact Hub Singapore

How can we use blockchain for carbon pricing, energy distribution, and other climate challenges? This question brought twenty-odd individuals together at ‘Let's go to Hack4Climate’, a pre-workshop event organised by Impact Hub Singapore in the run-up to the hackathon in Germany later this year. Pizza, beer, and cutting-edge environmental technology solutions on a Friday evening, what more could one ask for?

' Let’s Go to Hack4Climate’ drew twenty-odd participants with diverse interests and expertise.

'Let’s Go to Hack4Climate’ drew twenty-odd participants with diverse interests and expertise.

Willie and Ying Tong from the SSN team joined in this night of ideation and discussion. As members of the environmental community and sometimes-event organisers, here’s what we took away from the evening:

  1. Environmental efforts must engage the tech community. Over the course of a few hours, we met an AI researcher, an energy plant technician, a patent attorney, a global development strategy consultant… we could go on! While we'll definitely be keeping in touch with our new friends, we unfortunately did not meet any blockchain experts. Perhaps this raises a bigger issue: how can the environmental and technological communities further engage each other? It often seems like one side has all the problems, and the other side the solutions: and events like Hack4Climate are a first step in bringing them together. We hope to see more of such envirotech collaborations in future events.

  2. Good ideas come from balanced discussion formats. We found the format of this event very effective for ideation, in two ways:

    1. Transition from guided to organic discussions. Information sessions and guided frameworks helped to focus the discussion at the start. In the rapid Round One of ideation, we were told to follow the format: “We solve [problem] with [technology] by [outcome].” After the initial ideas took shape, we then transitioned to more organic and longer discussions.

    2. Mix of breakout and whole-group activities. A mix of big-picture whole-group discussions and in-depth breakout group sessions provided both breadth and depth to the ideas generated.

Teams share their solutions on one of five climate issues: emissions tracking; carbon pricing; distributed energy; sustainable land use; or sustainable transport.

Teams share their solutions on one of five climate issues: emissions tracking; carbon pricing; distributed energy; sustainable land use; or sustainable transport.

Some exciting climate solutions that came of the evening were: uploading emissions and tracking data to the blockchain for transparency; smart contracts that penalise energy-inefficient mobility; and using machine learning to identify indicators of carbon-intensive activities. A few teams are seriously considering applying to the Hack4Climate challenge with these ideas. The hackathon will be held in conjunction with COP23 in Bonn this November.

Overall, our greatest takeaway is the need for the environmental community to increase engagement with the tech community. ‘Let’s Go to Hack4Climate’ was an effective example of this initiative.

Some questions to consider:

  • What are some other effective formats to encourage ideation and problem-solving?

  • How else can environmentalists and technologists collaborate in Singapore?