EDB predicts hot interest in solar power


June 19, 2015

SINGAPORE: The first solar leasing tender under the SolarNova programme was called earlier this month, to drive the use of solar energy in Singapore.

The programme is the largest in terms of capacity in Singapore so far and consolidates demand across three government agencies – the Ministry of Home Affairs, PUB and the Housing and Development Board (HDB).

Said Mr Goh Chee Kiong, executive director of Cleantech at the Economic and Development Board (EDB): "We envisage that solar systems will be installed at many places, such as HDB housing blocks, military camps, water treatment facilities, schools and the Ministry of Home Affairs' facilities, such as police facilities.

"Also, we are very keen to build capabilities in the solar industry. Extending from the solar industry, there should also be innovation opportunities around smart grids and energy management."

EDB said more than 10 agencies have expressed interest in tapping solar power and it is currently working with them to determine their needs.

The adoption cost of solar power has been coming down, but so have electricity charges. To begin with, Singapore's electricity prices are relatively low, but tariffs have fallen in the past six months, due to lower global oil prices.

At least one solar company here said it are not likely to bid for the latest HDB tender, as they may not be able to offer lower rates compared to conventional power. Still, EDB said it believes solar power will be cost-competitive in Singapore.

"We are gratified in a way that solar power prices continue to go down in a trajectory that is fairly promising – in part because of global trends, as well as the economies of scale in Singapore," said Mr Goh. "Solar power prices have become more competitive compared to years before, so even with the slide in conventional power prices, we believe that over time, solar power will continue to keep pace and be cost competitive in Singapore."

Singapore-based solar developer Sunseap Leasing, which plans to bid for the latest Government tender, says a leasing model could keep costs low for building owners. It cuts down the upfront costs – such as installation fees – and allows companies to pay on a per use basis. The service provider will also operate and maintain the systems.

"There are certain asset maintenance and monitoring costs that we are able to do better and more economically compared to say a typical building owner," said Sunseap Leasing's director Lawrence Wu. "It makes sense for us to be managing off a thousand or two thousand rooftops of solar power, as opposed to having a landlord own it, and manage its own solar power, which is only one rooftop."

"To put things in context, for example, we can have two engineers tracking about 1,000 systems, but for a building owner with only one system, he may still require one engineer to track," Mr Wu added.

The company has also won several Government tenders on solar power.

One expert said that as the solar energy industry in Singapore develops further, the corresponding labour expertise needs to be in place too.

Said Dr Thomas Reindl, deputy CEO at Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore: "We need to train more manpower, not just in the engineering side, but also the solar side, because these solar (systems), they don't fly up on the rooftop, so you need qualified professional installers."

The research institute said it is working with the Singapore Workforce Development Agency and the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore to come up with internationally-accredited training on courses for installers and system designers.