An interview with SIT’s Professor Lock Kai Seng, Associate Professor Steve Kardinal Jusuf, and Assistant Professor Sivaneasan Bala Krishnan on the institute’s initiatives to push for a more sustainable Singapore.
The recent swaths of rain that have covered Singapore in August have led to flooding in several areas. In fact, on August 24, western Singapore was hit with more rain in three hours than the country has recorded in previous years for the whole of August. While some might shrug off rainfall in Singapore as simply something inherent in our tropical climate, according to the Singapore National Climate Change Secretariat, the total annual rainfall in Singapore has increased at an average rate of 67 mm per decade from 1980 to 2019. Worryingly, such a trend of increased rainfall is not slated to fall any time soon as the world enters a climate crisis.
As such, there is an urgent need to restore our ecosystem and work towards building a sustainable living environment with food security and green infrastructure. Recognising this importance, Singapore announced in February 2021 its “Green Plan 2030” that aims at sustainable development, net-zero emissions, and forging a green economy. To support this, the Government is investing more than US$18 billion (S$24 billion) in research, innovation, and enterprise over the next five years.
As a leader of innovative learning, the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) has been grooming a generation of students, imbuing them with real industry problems to develop solutions that will fill the gaps for our future ecology and economy. In this interview, we have SIT’s Professor Lock Kai Seng, Associate Professor Steve Kardinal Jusuf, and Assistant Professor Sivaneasan Bala Krishnan to share with us more about SIT’s key initiatives to push for a more sustainable Singapore.
As Singapore develops its infrastructure, building new roads, MRT stations, shopping malls etc., how can Singapore expect to curb rising urban temperatures?
Singapore can potentially build upon sustainable infrastructure engineering to improve existing and new architectural structures. By incorporating sustainable innovations and energy-saving technologies into these structures, our carbon footprint can be reduced considerably.
One such innovation would be the Agrivoltaic and Photovoltaic systems built upon rooftops. Solar panels and hydroponic farms coexist to not only harvest electricity from the sun to produce renewable energy providing power to various technological systems, but also furthers the agenda towards greater self-sufficiency in renewable food source production.
On a wider scale, building infrastructure could look to incorporate smart technologies throughout its structure. For instance, the Singapore Institute of Technology’s Smart Campus located in Punggol is wired with a campus-wide smart sensor network of over 10,000 sensors that are capable of collecting temperature, ambient light and human presence data. These are shared with the Integrated Building Management System (IBMS), which continuously analyses and controls the campuses various systems such as lighting, lifts, air-conditioning and security, to derive optimum environment, enhance campus experience and workspace efficiency. Other passive innovations such as adding flora alongside certain building’s exterior optimise shading and ventilation.
Singapore is currently providing incentives to encourage the adoption of electric vehicles, but as of April 2021, the Land Transport Authority reports only 1,400 electric cars. What is hindering Singaporeans from making the switch to electric cars?
Electric vehicles (EVs) will play a major role in Singapore’s drive towards reducing carbon emissions and promoting sustainability. However, as a long-term initiative, the nascent stages of EV’s currently in Singapore curtails Singaporeans from making the switch due to external factors such as charging infrastructure, emission rules, and tax incentives - all of which are inherent to our domestic vehicle ownership scheme.
Singapore’s limited landmass presents an obstacle for the expansion of charging infrastructure that is key for the operation of an EV, which runs off sophisticated battery management systems. Incentives for EV owners, like the alleviation of emission rules and generous tax incentives, still pose a barrier in the long-term practicality of utilising EVs. This is especially so if the user is a go-getter who is required to travel extensively throughout the day.
Maintenance and expected life of batteries are other major concerns with EV ownership. Since they are still in the nascent stages of adoption, the information and their related costs are not readily available today in the Singapore context, thereby presenting a drawback when it comes to considering an EV switch.
About 80 per cent of Singapore’s electricity relies on natural gas. While natural gas produces fewer carbon emissions, less is not zero. Are alternative sources of energy available to Singapore, or what can we look forward to in the coming years?
Singapore’s energy sector has come a long way since its early days. Over the last fifty years, we have moved from oil to natural gas for cleaner power generation. We have also seen more use of solar energy, particularly on rooftops and reservoirs.
However, as a small, resource-constrained country, Singapore imports almost all its energy needs, and has limited renewable energy options.
In efforts to continually explore new options for energy supply and enhance energy security, Singapore is exploring a variety of different options, including regional power grids, and emerging low-carbon alternatives such as low-carbon hydrogen and carbon capture, utilisation and storage.
Waste-to-energy plants that use household, commercial, and industrial wastes as a fuel for generating power is another source of alternative energy explored in Singapore. An Integrated Waste Management Facility can help Singapore meet its waste management needs, energy demand, and achieve long term environmental sustainability.
What are some projects SIT have undertaken to alleviate the impact of climate change?
Energy Efficiency Technology Centre (EETC)
The Energy Efficiency Technology Centre (EETC) at the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) was established in collaboration with the National Environment Agency (NEA). Operational since June 2020, EETC’s energy specialists provide counsel and energy efficient assessments to small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
The EETC has a plethora of systems that include pump and piping networks, Air-Conditioning and Mechanical Ventilation systems (ACMV), fan and mechanical ventilation systems, boilers and steam systems, compressed air systems and electrical installations.
Since the EETC’s inception, we have received great feedback from the SMEs. Through the completion of energy assessments for ten organisations spanning the industrial and manufacturing sectors, the EETC has been able to aid these SMEs in lowering operating costs, reducing carbon emissions, and building a better brand image. With our in-depth diagnostics and analysis of their current energy processes, the EETC has also helped in implementing energy efficiency improvement measures, which builds up local industrial energy efficiency capabilities.
The EETC staff are also trained in the relevant energy assessment skills that allow them to be self-sufficient at continually improving energy capabilities. The assessment takes on a holistic perspective on energy efficiency and is seen as a least-cost measure in Singapore’s vision of a more sustainable future.
What other stakeholders will SIT be working with to build a greener and more sustainable Singapore?
The EETC is currently working alongside the National Environment Agency (NEA) to improve the energy performance of SMEs in the industrial sector, with a current focus on manufacturing facilities. The NEA will also support the implementations of the recommendations through the Energy Efficiency Fund (E2F) whether it be in the digitalisation of their energy management systems or exploitation of energy-efficient technologies.
Through the EETC’s Energy Efficiency Upskilling Programmes (EEUP), energy professionals are able to get a deeper dive into the major industrial systems such as compressed air systems, boilers, steam systems, and electrical power systems, where a holistic infusion of theories and hands-on experience fronted by various subject matter experts allow course participants to confidently take on energy-efficiency auditing opportunities at their industrial plants in future.
Through this partnership, the EETC completes the pathway for aspiring engineers and energy managers to become certified Energy Efficiency Opportunity Assessors (EEOA) and chartered engineers. As the pool of certified professionals increases, it would give the EETC a chance to spot other opportunities beyond the industrial sector where these energy efficiency assessments can take root and inch us toward a greener and more sustainable Singapore.
EETC takes in undergraduates as Assistant Engineers under the Integrated Work Study Programme (IWSP) for a period from six months to a year. These Assistant Engineers work on industrial energy assessment energy efficiency projects under the guidance of EETC energy specialists, which provides them with further opportunities to continue with energy efficiency and sustainability capstone projects. Therefore, the EETC plays a meaningful role in the training and building of talents pipeline for a sustainable Singapore.
Apart from the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), what more can the average Singaporean do to fight climate change?
The notion of fighting climate change beyond the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse & Recycling), has always been associated with individual action being the driving force behind sustainability. However, individual efforts towards sustainability need to be further supplemented with advocating for change in the lifestyle as well.
In general, efforts at an individual level could be related to the use of air conditioning at home. For example:
- Singaporeans are encouraged to use fans instead of air conditioning
- In times of good weather, windows should be open to allow natural ventilation throughout the unit
- When the air-conditioning unit is in operation, it is advised to set the temperature at 25oC. Setting lower temperatures would increase the energy usage needed for cooling.
That being said, a conscious effort needs to be made beyond the four walls of one’s home, which is typically overlooked. For example, conscious consumers may walk out of a food establishment with food packaged in their own lunch boxes - seeing as how the pandemic has deterred dining out. As with packaged food, plastic utensils are customary. This means that consumers are more inclined to utilise them out of convenience, more often than not. Therefore, structural issues are an obstacle preventing the individual from having maximum impact on sustainability. Hence, there is a need to repivot the focus from individual change to systemic change.
With this, the burden on the respective industrial facilities would be considerably lightened and enable us to take more proactive measures towards reaching our various sustainability goals.
About the Interviewees
Professor Lock Kai Sang joined SIT in 2016, where he is the Head of the Energy Efficiency Technology Centre (EETC). Dr. Lock specialises in areas spanning the Electrical Power Engineering spectrum, including Energy Efficiency, Design of Mission-Critical Power Distribution System as well as Power Electronics and Electrical Machines.
Associate Professor Steve Kardinal Jusuf joined SIT in 2015, where he teaches sustainable infrastructure engineering (building services). His research interests are in Green Building technology and sustainability, building Information Modelling and building Energy Simulation, and neighbourhood-scale Microclimate Modelling.
Assistant Professor Sivaneasan Bala Krishnan joined SIT in 2019, where he teaches electrical power engineering and sustainable infrastructure engineering (building services). Dr. Sivaneasan is involved in applied research projects with strategic industry partners to help them implement new technologies that improve productivity and work efficiency, while ensuring a sustainable operation.