Professor Ang Beng Wah discusses the role of energy efficiency and low carbon technologies in shaping a more reliable and sustainable energy future.
What is the role of energy efficiency in moving towards a low carbon energy future, and can you share more about its potential in Asia?
Energy efficiency is an important element in energy and climate policies. It is the least controversial approach to addressing the energy trilemma. Nowadays, it is inconceivable for national energy policies and strategies to be designed without including energy efficiency.
There is a huge potential for growth in energy demand in Asia, especially in emerging regions such as Southeast Asia. Business-as-usual projections of their energy demand by international organisations and energy industry players generally show continued growth in the next one to two decades. Population growth, urbanisation, economic growth, rising living standards and increased mobility are some of the key drivers.
Energy efficiency measures help to reduce these projected demands, lessen the strain on the energy system, and provide more resources and opportunities for investments in cleaner forms of energy. While the use of coal is expected to rise in parts of Asia, reducing energy demand through energy efficiency improvements can in turn reduce the demand for fossil fuels and the related CO2 emissions.
Emerging regions in Asia, with relatively higher economic growth, will have more opportunities to improve energy efficiency. Areas such as power generation, cooling, and building and equipment efficiency have great potential for improvement. New infrastructure development and systems replacement, coupled with digitalisation, also offer unique opportunities for technological leapfrogging.
To realise the full potential of energy efficiency, there is still a need for consumer behaviour to move in the right direction. Otherwise we risk the rebound effect, where some of the energy savings are cancelled out by changes in behaviour, especially in the building and transport sectors.
What are the prospects for renewable energy sources, such as solar, playing a larger role in building a resilient power grid in land-scarce Singapore?
Renewables help to enhance energy source diversity while reducing the carbon intensity of the power grid. There are opportunities both domestically and regionally to boost the role of renewables in Singapore’s electricity generation mix.
Solar energy is the most promising domestic renewable resource. All efforts are being made to harness this resource. To overcome land scarcity, we have gone beyond rooftop solar and are actively exploring other alternatives, such as floating solar farms. Singapore began work on several floating solar farms since 2019. A pilot peer-to-peer solar energy trading platform was also launched this year to allow solar energy to reach more consumers. However, there are limits to how much domestic solar power can be made available.
Beyond domestic sources, Singapore is also looking towards regional power grids for electricity imports as part of its “4 Switches” strategy in Singapore’s Energy Story. These sources offer greater flexibility and diversity to the grid. Renewable energy sources in the region, such as hydropower from Southeast Asia and solar energy from Australia’s Northern Territory, are possible import sources.
Some of these options were not envisaged when the “Energy for Growth” National Energy Policy Report was released in 2007. This shows how rapid the pace of change has been and can be. However, there are also energy security implications for some of these options.
Singapore is one of the world’s leading refining and petrochemicals hubs. How do you see the refining and downstream sectors evolving to address new sustainability demands and the move towards decarbonisation?
Some energy end-use sectors, such as transportation and industry, are likely to continue to be reliant on fossil-based fuels and face difficulties transitioning to renewable electricity. Global demand for petrochemicals has been surging and shows no signs of abating. Oil and gas will continue to provide a significant share of the world’s energy needs, at least in the next two decades. With these demand projections for petroleum products, the refining and petrochemical industries will remain an important part of the energy value chain.
Improvements to processes to reduce energy consumption and fugitive emissions are some near-term measures that can help the industries move towards a cleaner future. In the medium term, re-designing of industrial processes, electrification, and the use of cleaner sources of energy for some processes are some possible solutions. It can be expected that companies in these sectors will need to build capabilities for best-in-class performance in energy efficiency, if this has not already been achieved.
In the longer term, carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) technologies, the use of blue hydrogen and greener feedstocks are emerging areas that can be explored to provide new business and innovation opportunities. The sectors also need to adapt quickly to changing international policies on emission reductions, and the use of alternative fuels in international aviation and shipping to remain relevant.
ESI hosted a thinktank roundtable at SIEW 2020 on Regional Carbon Storage Options: Current Developments and Future Prospects. Could you tell us more about what was discussed at this roundtable session?
ESI recognises the important role of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) in addressing climate change in the long term. We have also seen the growing interest in this emission mitigation strategy in Singapore with a number of completed and on-going studies in the area.
The roundtable was organised in partnership with the Singapore Energy Centre (SgEC). Panellists from ExxonMobil and the Global CCS Institute, as well as experts from Indonesia and Malaysia provided their valuable insights on the current developments and future prospects of CCS.
At the roundtable, we discussed how the ASEAN member states can work together to create a low carbon energy future together via decarbonisation and CCS technologies, as well as pertinent policy, legal and regulatory issues related to CCS in the ASEAN regional setting. The session explored the possibility of regional cooperation in enabling and enhancing regional CO2 storage capacity to achieve the region’s collective interest in decarbonisation.
This roundtable at SIEW 2020 followed from ESI’s on-going work on regional CO2 sequestration options.
This year’s SIEW theme is “Creating Our Low Carbon Energy Future Together”. What were your key takeaways from SIEW 2020?
ESI has been a strong supporter of SIEW since it was first held in 2008. Every year, we actively participate in the events, and look forward to the robust discussions and dialogues between the experts from the industry and policy-making community.
SIEW 2020 was unique compared to previous years. We witnessed how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the global economy, general human welfare, and the way we work and live. The short to medium-term global economic outlook will be very challenging for many sectors. There have also been noticeable changes in how we use energy. Some of these changes are short-term while others may be lasting, if not permanent. All these will have direct and indirect implications on the energy sector and our efforts in addressing climate change.
The COVID-19 crisis presents the world with unprecedented uncertainty in projecting economic outcomes and understanding its related consequences. In the face of these uncertainties, there are deep and new implications on how policymakers, energy companies and researchers can work together towards shaping a reliable and sustainable energy future. SIEW 2020 was an excellent platform for engagement in robust discussions on the most critical issues, as well as on how we can emerge for the better in the long-term outlook.
I look forward to such discussions and dialogues at the next SIEW. They will help to shape questions that we will be researching at ESI.
ANG Beng Wah is Executive Director of the Energy Studies Institute, National University of Singapore (NUS). He is also Professor of Industrial Systems Engineering and Management at NUS. He joined NUS in 1984, and was Head of its Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering from 2001 to 2007.
His primary research focus is energy systems modelling and analysis. He has been very active in energy demand analysis, and has made important contributions to the development of the technique of Index Decomposition Analysis. The logarithmic mean Divisia index (LMDI) decomposition approach that he proposed has been widely used by researchers, and national and international organisations to study factors affecting national energy consumption and carbon emissions, as well as to monitor sectoral and economy-wide energy efficiency trends.
Professor Ang is a Co-Editor of Energy Economics, and a member of the editorial boards of several other international academic journals including Energy Policy and Energy. He has been named a Highly Cited Researcher for 2018 and 2019 by Clarivate Analytics. He received his BSc from the then Nanyang University and PhD from the University of Cambridge, respectively in 1977 and 1981. From 1981 to 1983, he was a post-doctoral researcher in the Energy Research Group at the Cavendish Laboratory of the University of Cambridge.