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Singapore finds a new flame

Singapore finds a new flame
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In the new episode of our series on tomorrow’s urban challenges we are in Singapore, an example of a city searching for energy independence.

Key facts about Singapore’s energy sector:

  • The small republic lies off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula on a major shipping route
  • The island city-state has become a global hub for oil trading and refining
  • Singapore doesn’t have any natural fuel resources of its own and imports its supplies
  • Jurong Island has been home to major petroleum companies since trading began in 1891
  • A liquefied natural gas (LNG) cargo terminal began operations in May 2013
  • The city wants more energy security and not rely on gas piped in from Malaysia & Indonesia

This island state of 5.4 million people has long been a global hub for oil, but now it is also embracing natural gas.

More than 90 per cent of electricity here is now generated from gas; in the early 1990s nearly all of the power came from oil.

Anton Finenko, an analyst at the Energy Studies Institute at the National University of Singapore, told Urban Visions: “Using natural gas instead of fuel oil is more economically competitive and it’s also cleaner. So the efficiency of the gas turbines is nearly as double as the efficiency of turbines running on fuel oil.

“And also the power companies in Singapore were offered repowering programmes to be more economically competitive in the domestic market.”

Amid strong promotion of natural gas, more and more customers including shopping centres, hospitals and airports, are linking up to a fast-developing city gas network.

Euronews’ Seamus Kearney reported from a food hall that has linked up to the gas mains for its flame cooking: “With demand for natural gas expected to increase in Singapore, for residential and business customers, authorities are trying to find the best way to make sure that it continues to flow in the future, as cheaply and efficiently as possible.”

About half of households are currently served by the gas network, with most of the supplies piped in from Malaysia and Indonesia.

But having virtually no energy resources of its own, Singapore is mindful of the need to diversify its sources. Last year the city opened its first ever facility for receiving liquefied natural gas, or LNG, from overseas.

And that could lead to the creation of a new regional hub.

Anton Finenko at the National University of Singapore added: “Obviously this tendency will remain in the future, and several indicators speak for this evidence.

“For example, the LNG terminal in Singapore will be expanded in the next years, and also possibly another LNG terminal will be built in the east of Singapore in the upcoming decade. So from this we can conclude that natural gas will be a strong player in the domestic market in Singapore.”

LNG is gas that has been cooled down to very low temperatures, causing it to shrink 600 times. This means it can be more easily moved around in ships and trucks.

And experts say that is very attractive for countries wanting more energy security when it comes to their regular supplies.

Peter Lambert, a natural gas expert at McKinsey & Company, told Urban Visions: “Typically when you have a pipe supply, you’re really dependent on one or perhaps two countries to supply your gas. And if for whatever reason that supply is disrupted, perhaps for political reasons, perhaps for purely technical reasons, there’s very little you can do to replace it.”

Those countries, with the right facilities, could instead turn to the global market for LNG, and avoid the expense of storing backup supplies.