Apple could catalyse solar energy take-up in Singapore


November 23, 2015

APPLE'S move to power all its operations in Singapore with solar energy – in the process becoming the first company here to be powered by renewable energy – could accelerate the take-up of solar power by companies here.

Through a deal with local solar energy developer Sunseap, the tech giant said on Sunday that it will receive power generated by solar energy systems on the rooftops of more than 800 buildings in Singapore; this arrangement, which gets around the problem of space constraints, is said to be the first of its kind in South-east Asia.

Sunseap chief executive Frank Phuan said he expects a ripple effect on other companies in Singapore, given that the government is pushing for more green buildings and that listed companies have to comply with mandatory sustainability reporting requirements by the Singapore Exchange. Goh Chee Kiong, executive director of clean energy at Economic Development Board (EDB) also expects the adoption of solar power to go up: "We are confident this pioneering business model of off-site power-purchase agreements will help Singapore address its space scarcity challenge and spur even more companies to scale up their renewable-energy usage."

Sunseap has already noted a pick-up in interest in solar power in recent months, in line with an increased focus on reducing carbon emissions in the run-up to the United Nation climate change talks in Paris next month, said Mr Phuan.

"All around the world, (governments) are going to give their commitment to reduce their carbon footprint. Is there an effective way of doing so? How do you reduce this?" He added that using energy more efficiently would help, but it had limitations.

The solar-energy firm is in talks with government agencies and a few US multinational firms on new solar energy product offerings, he disclosed.

"We believe there will be increased demand for clean energy in Singapore….If the uptake is huge, we have to look at innovative solutions such as (installing solar panels) on water bodies," he said. A floating photovoltaic pilot project at Tengeh Reservoir is ongoing, Mr Phuan noted, and added that such trials could dramatically expedited if demand for solar energy is strong.

Singapore's land limitation compelled Sunseap to offer the arrangement now adopted by Apple, as the tech giant's power requirements were more than what a solar energy system installed on its own building in Yio Chu Kang could provide, he said.

Join UsThe agreement between Apple and Sunseap includes a leasing arrangement for the solar panels on Apple's own facilities, which generate 1.1 megawatt of electricity at peak capacity (MWp), and up to 40 gigawatt hour (GWh) of clean energy delivered from other buildings through a power purchase agreement (PPA).

When these come on stream in January next year, all of Apple's electricity needs in Singapore will be covered, including that of its 2,500-person corporate campus and new retail store, said Apple's vice-president of environment, policy and social initiatives Lisa Jackson.

The arrangement enables Apple to pay only for the power it consumes, rather than to fork out hefty upfront costs to install a solar energy system.

Apple intends to power its facilities around the world with only renewable energy; last month, it announced plans to build 200 megawatts (MW) of solar energy projects in China and work with suppliers there to source for more renewable energy.

EDB's Mr Goh described the partnership between Apple and Sunseap as "a new frontier" in Singapore's drive to use more cost-competitive renewable energy, and at the same time, achieve environmental sustainability and energy security.

Singapore has set a goal of producing 350 megawatts at optimum conditions, or 350 MWp by 2020; this will meet 5 per cent of the projected peak electricity demand then; the Republic is counting on solar power as the only technically feasible renewable energy source for domestic consumption.

At the same time, the government has identified clean technology (cleantech) as a sector with great potential because of the demand for it in the region, not only in terms of technology but also in financing models and business structures that the country can develop.

New cleantech investments in solar, fuel cells, smart grids and testing services secured this year by the EDB will, over the next five years, create more than 100 professional jobs and S$150 million in cumulative business spending, Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S Iswaran said late last month.