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Sustainable Development of Liveable Cities

The International Energy Agency targets to have half of the world’s increasing demand for energy met by renewable sources in year 2050; the UK aims to reduce carbon emissions by 80% in the same year; Joachim Luther[1], a nuclear scientist turned renewable energy researcher, communicates the same urgency and commented that sustained policy activity, coherence and a suitable global energy financing scheme are all imperative to the transformation of the global energy landscape. In a wider perspective, expertise ranging from engineering, innovation and design to finance are all necessary for this transformation to take place. This paper intends to report on Singapore’s contribution to the development of sustainable cities.


It is easy to assume that a country identified under articles 4.8 and 4.10[2] of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC)[3], does not have anything to contribute. Every government in the know is racing to find solutions that can integrate secure renewable energy systems into their cities as seamlessly as possible. The hovering atmosphere of uncertainty paired with urgency does not encourage research and innovation. Singapore, as a secure and stable country, provides the world with a safe haven for activities pertaining to the development of sustainable technologies.

Singapore is a home to migrants from China, India and the Middle East. She found her niche as a test-bed for renewable technologies.  Her politically neutral nature allows for the authoritative exchange of ideas, information and thought, or in other words, the media. As a clean energy information centre, she can be a facilitator of communications and a meeting point of people moving towards zero carbon emissions. In the light of being one of a handful of global cities located in the tropical region, she has the responsibility to motivate investment that will push quicker progress in the capitalisation of solar thermal and light energy. As the world’s third largest oil refinery, the city state’s ready-built facilities provides easy market access to biomass refineries. The impressionable young of the country is also a resource for the development of sustainability. They are keen for knowledge in emerging fields and are quick in learning information that is required for the administration of many sustainability linked activities. Each of these contributions will be elaborated on in the rest of the paper.

A Micro-Grid Infrastructure for test-bedding

Singapore’s multi-cultural society is familiar with the concept of diversity. Also being an economy that has been deeply dependent on foreign trade, she has established working relationships with multi-national companies around the globe. She has planned an intelligent micro-grid infrastructure[4] where foreign companies[5] can test-bed their close-to-market solutions and exit with functional products. It does this by helping them to find their place within the complex energy system. A brief plan of the design shows simulated buildings for living and working as well as power generators. Though a transport circuit which includes light vehicles such as electric buggies and scooters was not spotted in the plan, it must be reminded that it is only a preliminary brief.  Supporting technologies such as IT, metering, distribution, security, storage as well as load management are also expected to emerge usable in real communities.

Pioneering engineers of this alternative energy micro-grid will later be faced with the task of achieving revolutionary breakthroughs in determining the pivotal mix of in and out of grid technologies, the suitable mix of electricity generated by the different sources (primarily fossil fuels, biomass and solar energy) as well as the optimal local versus imported stored energy mix. They will also have the opportunity to continue working relationships with engineers of the communities in which the resulting products are being implemented, to customise them in accordance to their climate type and unique needs.

Singapore, already known for quality engineering through Singapore Technologies[6], Sembcorp[7] and Keppel’s[8] portfolios, has recently further promoted design in technology through the establishment of a relatively new institution called the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD)[9] amonst other institutions.[10] It shows the government’s acknowledgement of a need for creative problem solving to develop a sustainable global city distinguished by an aesthetic quality.

The Solar Energy Research Institute

One of the two most promising renewable energy resources unique to the tropical climate[11] region is the relatively stable emission of heat and light from the sun. According to a report by the International Science Panel on Renewable Energies[12], research papers sent in by countries in the tropical climate zone are almost non-existent. This may imply the lack of research done locally in the tropical climate regions. Further development in solar energy requires the adaptation of existing technologies used in Germany and California, and the building of capacity through fostering of skills and local enterprises.[13]

The Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (SERIS)[14] was established in 2008 to leverage on the relatively stable emission of heat and light from the sun throughout the year, and it conducts investigation in solar energy system parts such as silicon photovoltaics, nano-structured solar cells, solar energy efficient buildings and systems. It has a services arm which reaches out to corporations ready to engage in the innovation of new marketable products, but little emphasis has been placed on it and hence little progress can be expected from the application of these solar energy system parts such as on transport vehicles.

The Biomass Refinery Mecca

Singapore is the world’s third-largest oil refinery centre. This puts her at an advantage of having existing supporting infrastructure that is also needed by the biomass fuel refinery industry. Just like how Singapore’s strategic position has been contributing to her oil refinery status, it is now serving as an important trait for the import of biomass from neighbouring countries. Singapore’s established port provides a developed logistics infrastructure that upkeeps Singapore’s reputation of being efficient in productivity. Neste oil[15] started the ball rolling when it invested 550 million Euros in a world-scale renewable diesel plant late last year. It opened in Tuas[16] last month and uses palm oil and waste animal fat from neighbouring countries as feedstock. It is the largest of its kind in the Asia-Pacific region at the time of writing.

Diesel from biomass might present opportunities in the development of clean long-distance land travel vehicles like coaches and trains in Southeast Asia. Hybrid vehicles and ethanol run engines are gathering interest in Asia, although not as quickly as one will prefer due to economic constraints, but hopefully this will spill over to heavy sea and air transport and freight vehicles, a market which is dominated by trade rather than consumer decisions, hence better controlled by authorities.

An Environmental Knowledge Hub

There are many clean alternative energy resources Singapore cannot import to process. She can only watch these clean energy technologies’ developments but she is in a good position to do so being politically neutral. Singapore already has a couple of informative portals like Eco Business[17] and Green Business Times[18] that keeps track of what goes on in the clean energy revolution. There is also constant news coverage in the local newspapers such as Today[19], The Straits Times[20] and The Business Times[21]. Apart from keeping track of the established markets of clean technology development, she is also at the heart of Southeast Asia, a vast rich region of untapped natural resources. Southeast Asia has been attracting speculation recently from optimistic clean energy infrastructure investors, and the media also serves to inform them of developments which they should be aware of to make better informed decisions. The media centre can also serve to display and spur on the creativity in the innovation of clean energy applications.  The media will also allow involved personal to react quickly when mature technologies that are ready for test-bedding their distribution and supply issues are spotted.

Legislation and trading

Singapore has a reliable and efficient working population who is highly adaptable to new knowledge. It is ready to provide consistent support in the new studies of global environmental law, finance, security and sustainable tropical urban planning. Areas such as international energy treaties, regulations, development mechanisms and market deployment schemes still lurk on unfamiliar grounds and Singapore being a country driven by external market forces, finds most urgency in understanding the function of energy systems on our environment. It can play an important role of consultancy and authoritative judgement, taking into consideration she is almost a totally ex-im dependent country.

Singapore is one of the very few countries who signs water pacts for import. Renewable energy import is fast becoming a reality as energy storage technologies advance. Energy scarcity and the need to source for new options is a global concern. Nations may want to hear about Singapore’s experience in water import agreements[22] and distribution methods. Being natural resource bare has driven Singapore to take water supply seriously thus she had made vast progress in the area of clean water technology of desalination, reservoir creation and recycled water.

The Garden City Continued

The Environmental Public Health Bill was formed in the late 1960s to turn Singapore into a garden city. This resulted in a garden city along with economic success two decades later. The urgency of a transformed global clean energy system sets the next lap for the garden city of Singapore.

In recent times, frequent flooding in busy city areas has resulted from climate change. This caused panic to a certain extent and the relevant authorities had to deal with the problem by elevation projects. Carbon emissions from this red dot may look negligible from the world’s perspective, but there will be a piece of utopia on earth if carbon emissions in areas like transport and telecommunications achieve zero levels on this tiny country. Transport produces 15.3% of total carbon emissions and electricity generation for commercial and residential uses account for 57%. Energy efficiency will be the primary source of carbon emissions mitigation for the remaining 27.7% beyond 2050.

Much has already been thought about integrating green practices into buildings with the existence of pro-sustainability architects like Ken Yeang. However, the development of green transportation can’t be said to be the same. As a summary of the current situation, the electric vehicle as an in-grid solution is still progressing in Singapore. Singapore is importing electric vehicles from Renault-Nissan and in talks to also do so with Japanese auto-manufacturer Mitsubishi.

The successful transport circuit of the micro-grid infrastructure can possibly be further examined to integrate with existing park connectors and roads locally as part of the urban-planning of a clean and sustainable garden city of the next half century. There can also possibly be more insights to a flawless transportation solution when studies investigating people’s travelling habits like whether they like to travel alone, in pairs or in a group on a daily basis, speed, variety of vehicles like scooters and buggies as well as Asian product design and aesthetics are done. The Japanese has achieved in engineering and product design and there should be leeway to find out what can be learnt from there.


Much more has to be researched and more plausible conclusions can be made by understanding the history of the development of this field in Singapore in greater detail.

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[4] On a small area of approximately 0.3 square kilometres of Pulau Ubin. Pulau Ubin is located at a 13 minute bumboat ride away from the North east shore of Singapore.

[5] Companies who have expressed interest so far come from Europe and Japan. Some of the companies who have showed interest are EADS Defence and Security Systems SAS, GE Pacific Pte Ltd, Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, Patrick Energy Services Inc, Sembcorp Utilities Pte Ltd, Shimizu Corporation, Singapore Technologies Kinetics Ltd, Tuas Power Ltd

[6] Research and Development on Renewable Energies, A Global Report on Photovoltaic and Wind Energy by the International Science Panel of renewable energies,






[12] Singapore lies in the tropical climate region of south-east Asia. Other principal tropical climate regions in the world are Brazil and West Africa. She experiences hot and humid weather through the year, has thunderstorms and much rainfall which provides for luxuriant green vegetation of the rainforest.

[13] Research and Development on Renewable Energies, A Global Report on Photovoltaic and Wind Energy by the International Science Panel of renewable energies,



[16] An industrial zone which also houses the second link to Johor Bahru, Malaysia and two of four incinerator plants servicing the island. It is located next to Jurong Island.









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