By all accounts, the future for Singapore's power generation appears to be a bright one, and not just because the island got an energy security boost from a new liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal.
The rising potential of solar photovoltaic (PV) power is another game changer, said Associate Professor Tseng King Jet, who heads the power engineering division at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
"The falling price of PV panels, the gradually rising costs of grid electricity and the easing of restrictions on incorporating solar PV systems into building roof-tops will result in greater energy security, diversity and flexibility for Singapore," he said.
Today, about 90 per cent of the country's energy needs are met by natural gas, but Singapore has been ramping up its use of solar energy, the only renewable energy source currently connected to the national grid.
As of the end of last year, the installed capacity of grid-connected solar PV systems had reached 9,989 kilowatts-peak (kWp) - the measure refers to the amount of electric power that can be produced by a solar PV system at its peak, up from 5,938kWp the year before. Last month, the cap for intermittent energy supply to the national grid was raised from 350MWp to 600MWp. The cap is in place because energy reserves are required as a backup to ensure system stability.
The Energy Market Authority's chief executive, Mr Chee Hong Tat, says there is room for expanded use as long as unstable output arising from weather conditions and shadows can be managed to avoid outages. "The good news is that we have enough reserves in the system to support up to 600MWp of solar or almost 50 times the total amount of solar currently installed in Singapore.
"Hence, there is a lot of headroom for consumers to use more solar energy without affecting grid stability," he explained.
This is actually not bad news for Singapore's power generation companies, Prof Tseng said, not least because the only way that energy demand will go is up. Also, despite the growing penetration of solar PV power, it is unlikely to be able to meet more than five per cent of Singapore's average energy needs in the foreseeable future.
Growing demand, coupled with a drive towards clean energy, has meant that job opportunities abound in the energy sector. Some 2,400 new technical professionals will be needed in the power sector over the next 10 years.
Skill sets are constantly evolving as well, said Prof Tseng.
A report by a power sector manpower taskforce has recommended ways to attract talent to the industry, such as by offering scholarships, competitive wages and outlining a clear career path.
Energy companies say they are constantly on the lookout for people to groom.
The industry has evolved beyond hard hats, steam rooms and machinery, they say.
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