Category: Singapore

ASEAN energy trends – reflecting after five months in the region

So far on my travels I have been to Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and I am now in Thailand.  I thought it might be a good time to stop and reflect on some of the energy trends in the countries that I have visited, and to give some thought to what I may find in Thailand.  All of these countries form part of the ASEAN group – the Association of South Eastern Asian Nations.

The IEA, in their energy outlook report for 2013 for the ASEAN group, put the following graph together.  I can tell you that from my experiences in these countries, I’d tend to agree with their findings.  The first thing I noticed upon arriving in Bangkok, after spending over two months in Vietnam after two months in the Philippines, was that there is definitely more money in Thailand.  Singapore is on such a different scale that it should almost not be included in the graph.  I suppose it could be the exception that proves the rule (or trend) in the region.

ASEAN electricity demand per cap vs income [Source: IEA]
ASEAN electricity demand per cap vs income, 2011 [Source: IEA]
I am yet to travel through any rural parts of Thailand, but from what I’ve seen in the city, there does seem to be more prolific use of electricity here.  I will keep an eye out for any rolling brownouts or load-shedding (of which I saw a LOT in the Philippines and less in Vietnam).

It’s interesting to look at these graphs and stats after travelling in the region for a while.  Here’s another one showing how the wealthier countries have pretty much got universal access to electricity, and that those countries that are in the middle region are still fairly reliant on biomass consumption, even if they have access to electricity.


Many of the street food vendors in Vietnam (delicious by the way) were using charcoal under their carts to cook their food.  So you see this in action even in the cities.

I have had a look at the info available on the World Bank’s Database, and have pulled out some graphics on some key energy related stats for the region.   What they show is a general trend for increasing CO2 emissions, increasing energy consumption and a consistent or increasing reliance on energy imports.  Renewables are increasing, slowly, for all countries other than the Philippines, where the noticeable drop in renewables is balanced by a sharp increase in coal consumption).

CO2_kt CO2_perGDP CO2_tonnes_per_cap Elec_coal elec_kwh Elec_renewables Energy_imports Energy_use

A short summary of Singapore’s electricity market

There are a number of players in Singapore’s electricity market and the best summary that I’ve found to date is on the Energy Market Authority’s website found here.  This short document gives a high level overview of who the main parties are, how they interact, how the electricity and funds flow between them, and who qualifies for what.  It’s a good read, but I thought it would be useful to distill some of the key facts, and add a few other items that I’ve learned as I’ve investigated this a bit.


Contestable vs non-contestable consumers:

There are two types of electricity consumers: contestable and non-contestable.

Non-contestable consumers do not have any choice as to where they purchase their electricity from.  They are customers of the National Electricity Market of Singapore (NEMS), which is operated by a licensed entity – SP Services.

Contestable consumers, on the other hand, can choose to purchase electricity from licensed retailers, or from the NEMS, depending on which suits their consumption patterns best.  In order to qualify to be a contestable consumer, the monthly consumption of the consumer needs to be more than 2,000kWh, with a bill of at least S$550.  Consumers in different locations can aggregate their consumption to qualify as a group to be a contestable consumer.

There appears to be increasing interest amongst consumers to be considered as contestable, as the threshold to qualify was halved for both monthly consumption and monthly spend in July 2015.

Licensed entities:

The Energy Market Authority is the industry regulator for electricity, gas and district cooling and the system operator.  They issue licences and regulate Singapore’s competitive electricity market.  The following are licensed entities present in Singapore’s electricity market:

  • Generators – there appear to be 14 generators licensed.  Generators have capacity of one or more unit generating 10MW each.
  • Retailers – there also appear to be 14 retailers licensed.  They are not necessarily the same entity as the generators.  These retailers are authorised to sell electricity to contestable companies.  If they are market participant retailers, they need to be registered with the Energy Market Company, to purchase electricity from the NEMS, and to sell onwards to contestable consumers.   If they are not registered, they can purchase electricity from the Market Support Services Licensee (currently SP Services) and resell on.
  • Wholesale Generators – 14 seems to be a bit of a magic number, as there are 14 licences listed on the EMA site.  Again, not necessarily the same parties.  This licence is required for generators with one or more units between 1MW and 10MW which are connected to the grid.  If the generation capacity is less than 1MW they need to be registered with the EMA (i.e. not licensed).  If they have more than 10MW, they need to bid into the NEMS to secure dispatch.
  • Wholesale Interruptible Load Generator– this licence is required for generators who wish to make their load, or their customers loads, interruptible during periods of a shortage of supply.  Here there are less than 14 licensed entities
  • Market Supply Services Licensee – this is SP Services.  Their role is to manage the
    • Settlement of bills
    • Meter reading
    • Data management
    • Transfer services for customers wishing to swap retailers
    • For contestable customers with no appointed retailer, facilitation of access to the NEMS
    • Supply to non-contestable customers
    • Billing and payment for charges relating to the transmission system
  • Transmission company – this is SP PowerAssets.  They own and manage the national electricity transmission system, and are responsible for all operations and maintenance works required.
  • Market Company – this is the Energy Market Company.  They operate and administer the wholesale electricity market (NEMS).  They schedule generating units, which is interpreted to mean ensuring adequacy of supply for anticipated demand, and they settle the accounts of the market participants.
  • Embedded generators – this is for an entity wishing to generate electricity primarily for their own use.  They are allowed to connect to the grid, and can sell excess electricity.  There does not appear to be a licence required, however, generators are required to apply to the EMA in order to be classified as an embedded generator.  The generator will be required to ensure that their load is at least half of the production in any twelve month period.  In addition, the majority of the generator facilities, land etc (>50%) is to be owned by the same entity.

Here’s a little graphic from the EMA site showing the overall structure.


The demand for cooling in Singapore’s buildings

According to the Energy Market Authority, the building sector accounted for 37% of all of Singapore’s electricity consumption in 2014.  Under the Building Control Amendment Act of 2012, building owners are required to submit energy consumption data to the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) on an annual basis.   In 2014 the Building and Construction Authority released their first benchmarking report, looking into the energy trends within 884 commercial buildings.  This report has been updated in 2015, and they now have access to data from over 1,000 commercial buildings, equating to over 20million m2.

They have started tracking the breakdown of building type, gross floor area, energy intensity and energy utilisation year on year.  Nearly 50% of all commercial buildings are offices, with hotels and retail buildings making up the majority of the rest of the buildings.

Sitting just over one degree above the equator means that Singapore is hot, all year round.  The scale and extent of the buildings, and the level of air-conditioning that you feel whenever you walk into one makes you realise that the energy being used to cool buildings down is no small statistic.  The BCA reports that air cooling in non-residential buildings account for 60% of all electricity consumption, with a further 10% used on mechanical ventilation.  In the 2015 benchmark report, they indicate that 77% of all large commercial buildings are cooled by centralised chilled water systems.  It is no surprise then that so much of the emphasis at the International Green Building Conference last week was on energy efficiency retrofits in commercial buildings, and that the majority of discussion on suitable interventions focused on improving the efficiency of the cooling system.

Michael Anderton of Johnson’s Controls spoke on a retrofit project that he’d been involved in, addressing inefficiencies in the Lucky Plaza mixed use building on Orchard Road.  They engaged with the building owners on a guaranteed savings ESCO model, and through the redesign and retrofit of the building’s cooling system, they have been able to save nearly S$1million every year on energy costs.  Some of the main areas that they addressed were:

  • inefficient piping layout, with too many bends and corners;
  • over-spec’d pumps; and
  • badly maintained cooling towers.

The sizing of the pumps seems to be quite a big issue here, as Lee Eng Lock from Monitoring & Verification put it – the cooling systems in Singapore are effectively like a person washing their hands with a fire hose.  The BCA has a target for 80% of all buildings to be Green Mark rated by 2030; the redesign of air conditioning and cooling systems will be very important in the achievement of this target, and it should have a marked impact on the energy intensity of Singapore’s building stock.