By 2020, the world will most likely face three vital trends that could impact on the way we generate and consume energy. The most significant trend will probably be the increasing environmental concerns across the world that forces the government to reduce their reliance on oil to generate energy. This is followed by the increasing hunger for energy from more developing or even undeveloped nations. Furthermore, the current renewable technology may also be improved and expanding at an exponential rate across the globe by 2020, making more renewable energy such as solar and nuclear energy replacing energy generated from oil. Under such circumstances, Singapore may face with various challenges but it is also a golden opportunities for Singapore to achieve sustainable economic growth and enhance its energy security.
Analysis of the mega trends
Environmental concern over producing energy from oil may be magnified a few times from now to 2020. This is probably a result of environmental education in school and increasing media coverage over the potential environmental impacts from the burning of fossil fuels. Even in a primary school’s textbook, we may see information such as the burning of oil to generate energy will lead to the melting of ice at two poles. When this group of people grow up six years later, it is not hard to imagine that they will demand much more from their governments, especially democratic governments, to impose measures to protect the environment by minimising the burning of fossil fuels. Unlike today’s governments in which they focus more on the interest of gigantic oil companies and MNCs (multinational corporation), governments may need to look at the interest of both groups of people six years later.
At the same time, countries across the globe may demand more energy to fulfil their economic development and to meet an exponential increase in their population. According to the Department of Economic and Social Affairs in the United Nations, the world’s population may reach 8 billion by 2020, a rough eleven percent increase from today’s 7.2 billion. This means more usage of our limited energy. Together with the economic objectives in many developing nations, we may predict an enormous increase in the energy demanded across the world. This may lead to the shortage of energy supplied and countries may limit their energy export to other countries in order to safeguard their own sufficiency. Protectionist measures may be introduced.
On the other hand, we may also foresee an era of exponential growth in renewable technology. Even in today’s world, we may already experience a hint to what the future renewable technology has to offer. From the inventing of more efficient and cheaper organic photovoltaic solar panel to the creation of solar vehicles such as Stella that could drive 800km without recharging, renewable technology has shown its capability in transforming the way we generate energy. In 2020, with the possible maturity of such technology, it may partially substitute fossil fuels to produce energy for our daily consumption.
Singapore’s challenge mainly comes from its limited land space and lack of natural resources such as petrol and natural gases. This may sounds clique but Singapore has mostly imported its natural gases from Malaysia and Indonesia and its crude oil from United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. What this means is that Singapore relied heavily on other countries for its domestic energy. This is dangerous. Despite the ongoing contracts by Singapore Power Gas Company with Indonesia and Keppel Gas PTE with Malaysia’s Petronas, we cannot ensure that these countries may still obey their contracts in the face of power shortage in their own domestic market. Therefore, Singapore may face protectionist measures such as trade quota from these countries. An increase in the price of energy may become inevitable in the future.
In addition, in his book Sustainable Energy Without The Hot Air, David JC Mackay has mentioned that to make a difference, renewable facilities have to be country-sized. He is referring to the inability of the renewable energy to generate enough energy for Britain if it were not large enough. This may apply to Singapore as well. Even with renewable technology become cheaper and more efficient, it will not benefit Singapore if we do not devote our precious land to build these infrastructures. There is a limit to the amount of renewable technology such as the building of solar panels we can use in Singapore.
In the face of such challenges, it may also be a great opportunity for Singapore to gain. This includes the increasing expertise in renewable technology. Since 2011, Singapore has invested more than $800 million on research and development (R&D) in clean energy, water and green buildings. This includes the setting of Solar Energy Research Institute. This will probably make renewable technology our comparative advantage and with countries around the globe demanding more clean energy, Singapore may enhance its economic growth through renewable technology.
As other countries may introduce protectionist measures to limit their oil and gas exports, I think Singapore can expand its usage of renewable technologies by making them country-sized to achieve future energy security. This includes building of solar panels on the roofs of majority buildings such as HDB (Housing Development Board) flats. We may also look into ways to collaborate with neighbouring countries by setting up solar panels or other renewable facilities on their soil and transfer a portion of energy generated back to our country. In addition, we may also explore the opportunity of building a nuclear power plant in remote distance to ensure future energy security.
Singapore may face many challenges due to its limited land space and lack of natural resources. We may need to focus on two directions to ensure energy security and economic growth in 2020. The first is to invest heavily on renewable technologies to meet the worldwide demand for renewable energy. The second is to increase the scale of renewable energy to meet the potential shortage of energy supply.