Net zero spotlight: Singapore’s port, electricity and enterprise challenges

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Singapore, an island nation with a population of over five million people, is one of the most advanced but densely populated nations on Earth. So what does its net zero ambition look like? 

As the international infrastructure industry prepares to convene in Singapore in September, we look at the unique decarbonisation challenges Singapore faces in the first of a new series of country-by-country net zero spotlights.

Net Zero 2050

In 2022, Singapore formally set a target to achieve net zero by 2050 and to reduce emissions by around 60 million tonnes of CO2e by 2030. However, Singapore has a number of challenges to face if it is to achieve those aims.

Singapore is an alternative energy disadvantaged island city-state. Its high population density, lack of land and busy seas makes significant energy generation through wind and solar power problematic. The tiny country is also home to the world’s second largest container port, which represents a challenge because shipping remains heavily dependent on fossil fuels. And its diverse enterprise culture means a lot of small companies need help understanding how they can change. 

However, the country has had some success in keeping its carbon levels under control. Singapore’s Copenhagen pledge for Business-as-Usual (BAU) emissions was projected to be around 77.2 MtCO2e by the start of this decade, but achieved 30% lower than that at 52.8 MtCO2e.

Port of Singapore electrification

One of the big challenges will be reducing carbon use at the Port of Singapore, the second largest container port on Earth. To do this, the port has recently called for expressions of interest for electric harbour vessels.

New rules put in place by the Singapore government will require all new harbour vessels to be electric or compatible with biofuel or green hydrogen. This will see 1,600 such vessels providing services such as towage or bunkering replaced completely by 2050.

This will require significant investment in infrastructure for charging and battery capacity, back-up systems and other facilities necessary to ensure secure and efficient services are maintained. It will also require designs and standards to be put in place, common to all such vessels. 

Teo Eng Dih, chief executive of the Maritime Port Authority of Singapore, explained: “With common referenced designs and the aggregation of demand, we hope to reduce the upfront premiums and operating costs for new harbour craft. This will also support the development of green financing options and enhance the skills of our maritime workforce.”

Renewable electricity imports 

For electric harbour vessels to be low carbon, Singapore needs to address another major challenge – its electricity sector. Doing that in such a space-constrained nation will be hard. There is little space on land or at sea for wind turbines or solar farms, and little potential for conventional hydropower. At present, the majority of its electricity is generated by gas. 

To overcome this, Singapore announced in 2021 a plan to import four gigawatts of low-carbon electricity per year by 2035 – equivalent to 30% of its total electricity sector. To date, it has received proposals for projects from six countries amounting to 10 gigawatts of renewable electricity. 

Getting some of those projects underway is now the priority for Singapore’s Energy Market Authority (EMA). To do so it has reached agreement with the Asian Development Bank to support delivery, alongside the development of an ASEAN power grid that will help strengthen cross-border electricity transmission more widely. 

EMA chief executive Ngiam Shih Chun explained: “This collaboration will combine the expertise and resources of EMA and ADB to further unlock the potential for low-carbon electricity to power the region, and boost efforts to decarbonise our power sector through imports of low-carbon electricity.”

Singapore’s business sector 

Singapore is one of the world’s most important business hubs and business will play a significant role in helping or hindering net zero. With a highly diverse array of small and innovation companies, the city-state must ensure these companies have the information they need to reduce carbon too. 

To do that, EnterpriseSG, which represents small and start up companies across Singapore, has reached agreement with CDP, a global non-profit organisation specialising in environmental disclosure for companies. Together they are launching a dedicated environmental disclosure programme for Singapore businesses. 

The new programme will see Enterprise SG meet 70% of the cost for participating companies, who will benefit from detailed data on their own carbon impact, benchmarking against their peers, and information on what opportunities there are to reduce carbon. That will be of growing importance to companies seeking finance as more and more investors demand quantifiable sustainability.

Christine Wong, executive director of circular economy and sustainability at Enterprise Singapore, said: “As the global push for climate action intensifies, companies are increasingly facing requirements by investors, financiers and large corporate clients to disclose their environmental impact. This programme provides a step-by-step approach for companies to disclose their environmental data and ascertain the environmental footprint of their economic activities.”

Singapore will host FIDIC’s annual Global Infrastructure Conference from 10-12 September, with hundreds of industry leaders from around the world coming together to discuss issues such as infrastructure finance, construction law, sustainability and the digital revolution.