This ChannelNewsAsia report caught my eye this morning – “Easier entry for green energy suppliers”.

Unfortunately, reality is not as rosy as the headline.

The electricity market in Singapore is tightly controlled, and previously monopolised by Singapore Power – a corporatised body spun off from a government statutory board.

Liberalisation first started in January 2003, and it has been a slow process. The industry regulator Energy Market Authority (EMA) is doing it in slow, painful phases, beginning with the commercial sector.

The “easier entry” above simply refers to the scrapping of a relatively paltry $5,000 joining fee to join the energy market as an energy provider.

More than 4 years later, the entire domestic market of 1.2 million households in Singapore remain tightly bound to one company – SP Services (which happens to be a subsidiary company of Singapore Power).

It’ll be 2009 before a pilot trial to let the average consumer buy from other electricity providers even begins. Give or take another 2 years for the trial to be completed and analysed, it will easily be 2011 before we begin to see real alternative choices in the electricity market.

Even more astonishingly, the same CNA report above says that Singapore is planning to test by 2009 if renewable energies e.g. solar and wind power, can be fed into our national power grid.

I’m no energy expert, but it sounds like a relatively straightforward task. The Chief Executive of the wholesale market operator, Energy Market Company (EMC), Mr Dave Darlson himself admitted “there are no technical constraints to prevent renewable energy generators from joining the market“.

All these delays are highly unfortunate. The reason is simple – solar power.

Singapore lies in close proximity to the Equator (83 miles north of it), and so enjoys ample sunshine. Every day of the day, we get around 10-12 hours of daylight.

Sun - the perfect energy source

It is the perfect energy source – clean and abundant. Perfect for Singapore.

Let’s do some quick sums:

  • National average monthly electricity consumption of a landed property in Singapore = 739kWh
  • Latest tariff rates by SP Services = 18.88c/kWh
  • Average monthly electricity bill of a landed property = S$139.52

Assuming a conservative figure of 8 hours of daily sunshine, a 3kW solar panel system will generate around 626kWh of electricity per month (with a 15% efficiency loss factored in).

Don’t worry about the calculation, just look at the conclusion:

  • The solar panel system can provide 80% of the electricity needs, and
  • save the household more than S$118 every month (or S$1,416 every year).

Why then we are not allowed to install solar panels to generate electricity for our own homes?

In many places including USA, UK and Germany, it is possible to install a “grid-connected solar panel system” in your house. The system is plugged into the local electricity grid, allowing excess electricity generated to sold back to the electricity company for a profit. A UK journalist even reported a 4.1% return on investment (ROI) based on his personal experience.

Imagine operating your laptops and air-cons for free. And earning extra money to boot.

However, a report by Singapore’s National Climate Change Committee (NCCC) says:

However, for the generation of electricity, the capital costs of photo-voltaic (PV) cells have not reached a level that justifies its wider adoption.

I’ve no idea how much a solar panel system would cost in Singapore, simply because they are not available here. Overseas, a 3kWh system in the example above would cost tens of thousands of dollars.

It usually takes at least 15-20 years to recoup the cost. Let the individual decide whether it’s worth the high upfront cost.

But it’s not just about dollars and cents. Encouraging solar power would reduce our use of oil and gas, and their adverse impact on the environment.

Singapore is already lagging behind many countries in clean energy technologies. Speeding up liberalisation can only benefit us, and our environment.