Future-proofing Singapore’s grid

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SP PowerGrid CEO Jimmy Khoo says Singapore faces common grid challenges yet delivers uncommon solutions. By Melissa Fitzgerald.

“We are looking for solutions to mitigate climate change and other challenges, but with the solutions are also opportunities for the energy industry, including the possibility of new business models,” says Jimmy Khoo, CEO of SP PowerGrid.

And Khoo, who is also Chairman of Singapore’s chapter of the World Energy Council*, explains that collaboration is key to unlocking these opportunities.

“Here and everywhere else in the world, energy companies have to think about what we need to do and come together to help solve the problems of climate change.” A topic that is top of his agenda at the moment and also “very pertinent to the problems we face” is the future of the grid.

So why is this such a hot topic? And what are the significant challenges for Singapore and ASEAN as a region?

Reliability is key

These are unprecedented times in the power sector. Energy companies face challenges such as continued investments to maintain infrastructure, and upholding reliability while keeping it cost-effective for the consumers.

Yet grid operators are also having to understand, embrace and incorporate increasing digitalisation, decentralisation, decarbonisation and electrification – all of which add to the complexity of operating the grid and equipping it for the future.

According to Khoo, until now, the key emphasis for the grid has been on reliability. “As one of the world’s most reliable power grids, SP Group has maintained this focus.

But the future of energy is geared for transformation, and we have to tackle climate change and the transition to new energy sources.

“How do we then focus on what is traditionally expected of the power grid and still cater to the evolving demands of the future?”He says adaptability, knowledge and reliability are paramount to grid optimisation, carrying the grid into its next stage of development.

Power companies are currently faced with challenges that operators 50, 25, and even ten years ago could not imagine, let alone manage. Khoo says because available digital tools are increasingly more powerful, addressing the issue of distance, and with greater bandwidth, obstacles preventing the development of the grid are on the brink of being overcome. However, even with the right tools, he says that power companies must ensure reliability still remains the overarching priority.

HERE AND EVERYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD, ENERGY COMPANIES HAVE TO THINK ABOUT WHAT WE NEED TO DO AND COME TOGETHER TO HELP SOLVE THE PROBLEMS OF CLIMATE CHANGE

Jimmy Khoo

A glimpse of the future

SP Group is not alone in having to overcome barriers related to reliability. However, the company aims to empower a sustainable energy future for everyone through reliable power and a smart grid. Khoo believes that new technologies will continue to explore “smartness”, which will lead to further grid optimisation.

With so many solutions being created seemingly every day, the grid will continue down the journey of intelligence in a way which defies imagination. For example, Singapore has begun utilising reservoirs in a unique way to fortify the grid with renewable resources.

Along with a smart grid, Singapore is committed to becoming more sustainable with the addition of energy storage systems and adding renewable resources to the energy mix with floating solar. The city-state is ahead of the curve in many ways, but some things are inflexible, such as the amount of open land available. That’s where the city-state needs to become resourceful.

“Recently, the Prime Minister visited a 60MWp capacity floating solar farm in Singapore and commented that the island nation will probably do a lot more of this – the concept is really applicable to Singapore because we don’t have much space, so we have to look for new ways of implementing solar energy.”

The project will be used to power the island’s water treatment plants, spans 45 football fields, and ties into the country’s installation strategy of at least 2GWp of solar PV capacity by 2030.

Accelerating EV rollout

In addition to the challenges posed by the adoption of digital technologies and the incorporation of renewables into the grid, electrification is a developing global trend. In Singapore, the electrification of transportation has been prioritised with a significant target put in place to accelerate EV adoption.

With these changes coming down the line, there will be infrastructure challenges to overcome, including vehicle-to-grid, significant charging infrastructure demand, and the added complications posed by fast charging. I ask Khoo what SP Group has up its sleeve for planning for the full electrification of transportation.

Unsurprisingly, he says much of the electrification planning revolves around accessibility and involves grid infrastructure to enable EVs. In respect of Singapore’s electrification targets, Khoo uses the tagline ‘Empowering the future of energy’ as a mantra. In this particular instance, he says, it’s a bit like solving a chicken-or-egg dilemma with what should come first and believes it is a globally common question: whether to start with charging infrastructure or electric vehicles, because they need to go hand in hand.

“A couple of years ago, we decided to champion electric vehicle charging, and we’ve been rolling out charging points across Singapore. “At this point in time, we are the largest charging provider with more than 400 points, and we are growing this number. If you follow Singapore energy developments, by 2040 all vehicles or cars will be electric.”

THE SMART GRID IS SOMETHING THAT, I BELIEVE, HAS NO SINGLE END-STATE

Jimmy Khoo

Right now, the focus is on enabling the extensive infrastructure for approximately 600,000 cars to have charging points, allowing movement from point A to point B. “The key focus will be to enable and empower the use of electric vehicles, and the key is creating accessibility. We believe that it is our responsibility to do as much as possible for Singaporeans.”
With the vision already set, how then should organisations enable optimisation and, in terms of infrastructure, support many of these green energy early days?

“That’s why we believe that we need to understand many of the new technologies by way of experimentation to study the applications and opportunities to implement all this new technology,” Khoo explains. SP Group has allocated funding for research and development to apply innovative technologies to understand the possibilities.

Khoo and his team recently launched Southeast Asia’s first trial of vehicle-to-grid integration to test and verify the possibility of using the energy stored in EVs to cater for demand on the grid, and to support the increased demand when Singapore phases out internal combustion engine vehicles.

These strategies combined will enable the small city-state to become more innovative and to secure its place as the ASEAN’s electrification leader. Khoo stresses that an intelligent grid that continues to learn is a vital tool needed to facilitate the transformation of the grid. With the incorporation of renewables, smart grids can contribute to combating climate change.

The grid in ASEAN has faults just like any other grid. However, the addition of intelligence will not only improve optimisation but also enlighten operators.

Nevertheless, the smart grid transformation in ASEAN will not be achieved overnight. “The smart grid is something that, I believe, has no single end-state,” says Khoo. “It will keep evolving. But what will continue to happen is that it will get more and more green and it will become smarter. It’s going to be a journey.”

Enlit Asia – The Future of the Grid

The Enlit Asia event, Future of the Grid, will be showcasing news from the brightest energy minds about the above themes and more. The event will be held on 28-29 October 2021 by Enlit Asia, partnered with World Energy Council and part of Singapore International Energy Week.

To learn more or to register, visit the website

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*) At the time of publishing Jimmy Khoo was the WEC Chairman but since then, Stanley Huang has stepped into the role.