Opening Remarks by Dr Tan Wu Meng, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Trade and Industry and Foreign Affairs, at In Dialogue with Youth, held in conjunction with the SIEW 2019

01 Nov 2019

1. A very good morning to everyone. Let’s start with a quick survey. Who in this room has seen Avengers Endgame? Who in this room has seen the first Iron Man movie? And who in this room thinks that the most important invention in the first Iron Man movie was the Iron Man suit? But was it the suit? Or was it the energy source?

2. When I was a little boy, I spent a lot of time reading comic books, reading science fiction. I still do that today. And although not everything in the movies will come true, and not everything in science fiction becomes science reality, we do know that it happens sometimes.

3. How many here have seen the original Star Trek series? If you look back at that TV show, when it was first screened 50 years ago, they had this gadget called the Tricorder. This gadget could take pictures, could take videos, you could make video calls with other people and it could connect with a big computer, somewhere up there in the sky through a network around the planet. And these days, most of us have something like that in our pockets – mobile phones.

4. So what happened, over 50 years, is that what used to be science fiction sometimes could become science reality. In the movies, innovation sometimes happens because of life-and-death problems. And for us, in the real world, sometimes, life-and-death situations are what make us innovate as well.

5. When Singapore first became independent, we had big worries about water. “Water no enough.” There was water rationing in the early days, and some of our parents and grandparents would have shared about that. Because of that, we had to innovate to survive. We had to become a country that innovated in water – and today some of those technologies are not just helping Singapore, but other countries as well. Some of our companies, like Keppel and Sembcorp, are involved in water treatment projects throughout the world, such as China and the Middle East. And someday, by 2061, we aim to be self-sufficient in water. So that is turning a life-and-death situation into innovation and opportunity.

6. But our Newater and our desalination plants also need energy. In other words, water security is energy security. And that means energy security is also life-and-death for Singapore. And energy security also has to be about sustainability. The Paris Agreement took place in 2015; that was when there was an international consensus about climate change. But a long time before that, even when the science was not as understood in the 1960s – in those days when other cities were building lots of brick and steel and glass, we were building a garden city. We were growing a garden city – so that sustainability ideal is really part of our Singapore DNA.

7. I was in Washington last month at the International Astronautical Congress. They were celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing, the Apollo 11 Mission that put human beings on the moon for the very first time. Buzz Aldrin was there. One amazing thing is that when you listen to the reflections of astronauts, they have a special perspective, because when you look back on the earth from millions of miles away, you realize that our Earth is a little blue dot. We’re just a little blue dot, in the vast expanse of space. A little blue dot in the universe – there’s no Planet B. We’re just that little blue dot.

8. I was also recently at the Commonwealth Ministers Trade Meeting and spoke with Ministers from small Pacific islands. You can hear how worried their people are – because when the water levels of the ocean rise, it means small islands are in deep trouble. Again, it is a life-and-death situation. And in Singapore we are a small island as well, and that is why Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spent a lot of time talking about climate change at the National Day Rally. It is something we have been looking at for many years now, but I think it helps for us to reflect again from time to time.

9. The energy sector is a key part of our journey to achieving our responses to climate change. Because if you have a cleaner energy footprint, it means that when we speak with other countries, our voice has credibility. That is one reason why a cleaner energy footprint matters. It matters for our own people and it also matters for our place in the world when we speak with other countries. And so, just like the water story, we also need to invent better energy solutions to survive. And if we invent better energy solutions, we can also help other countries who are facing energy challenges. Countries like us who do not have geothermal from the ground. Countries like us where the wind does not blow very fast, which means it is a challenge to get wind energy. Countries like us which are pretty small, with clouds and rain for quite a bit of the year, which means solar – while quite important – is a challenge as well. Countries which, in one way or another, are alternative energy disadvantaged. What we invent, when we invent the future, gives us a chance to help change Singapore and the world as well.

10. When we make clean energy less expensive and more accessible, it also means we are fighting inequality. It means we are fighting inequality around the world and in Singapore. Because if clean technology is expensive, it costs a lot – it means very few countries can afford it. If clean technology is expensive, and costs a lot, it means families starting with less face very difficult choices about choosing between a more carbon friendly lifestyle and being able to cope. It matters how we innovate and whether we can develop solutions that cost less, and are more efficient, and can help more people around the world. We need to invent the future.

11. Earlier this week, you probably have heard about our new Singapore energy story, to build a more sustainable energy future for Singapore. And you’ll have heard about our Four Switches. Natural gas which among the fossil fuels is probably the cleanest. And with newer generations, newer turbines, the footprint will be even cleaner from natural gas. You would have heard about solar, which is for a small island on the equator like us, I think is our best bet for renewables in the next 10 years or so. And you would also have heard about tapping into regional power grids, so that countries around us, by connecting grids up, sharing and tapping with each other, we can also find ways to power our future. And we also need to continue researching low carbon alternatives, whether it’s carbon capture utilization and storage, whether its hydrogen, basically reducing our carbon footprint as well.

12. I am going to talk a little bit about solar today, because you would have heard that by 2030, we are planning to deploy at least 2 gigawatt peak of solar energy in Singapore. That is enough to power 350,000 households on our island. More than 7 times what we are doing today. But this would not be easy. Some surfaces are better at capturing solar than others. It means we need to get solar panels that are more efficient, so that on the side of buildings, you can capture solar energy as well. It means you have to look at every surface, from floating on the reservoirs to offshore sea space, as well as having newer building designs where the walls of buildings can be a solar catchment. Just like water where every drop counts and every waterway counts. It also means that, for solar, every surface has to count. Every solar photon has to count. Is it impossible? Is it difficult? Yes, it is difficult. But we do some of these things, not because they are easy, but because it is difficult. We do some of these things because it makes a difference, for us, for younger generations and the rest of the world as well. And I look forward to hearing your ideas, during the “Energy MythBusters” segment later on.

13. But that future is not going to invent itself. The future is invented and built by people – by our people. And that is why we have been working with industry to offer the Energy Industry Scholarships since 2014. This year we are awarding 9 Energy Industry Scholarships, the largest batch so far.

14. I want to talk a bit about Amirul, one of our scholarship awardees today. He is pursuing a diploma in mechanical engineering at Singapore Poly. His parents come from the power sector as well. His dad works at an integrated oil and gas company. His mum works at a power generation company, one of our gencos. And one message that he learnt from his mum and dad is how you always have to keep on learning, always have to keep on upgrading, because with new technology and newer business models, by learning and upgrading, that’s how we chase the future. That is how we build a future together.

15. Building energy awareness also starts from young. Many of us here, would have helped our parents or grandparents get used to new technology. It could be teaching your grandma how to operate Whatsapp or sharing IT skills with your loved ones or even with your neighbors. It matters that every Singaporean from young understands energy better, especially in schools and higher education. MOE and EMA have created a series of education resource videos. This is the third batch so far, and the latest batch is on energy storage systems and energy economics. Energy storage is going to be a game changer, because if you think about solar power, the biggest challenge is what happens when the sun is on the other side of the world and not shining on you. What happens if it is raining and there are clouds getting in the way. If you have an energy storage system to store that solar energy when it is bright and release it back into the grid when it is dark, you can average it out. You can even use energy storage systems, ESS, as a short-term backup to conventional generators, so that if there is a short-term black out, it buys time for the grid to adapt and respond. We also know that energy economics is important because that is how we understand what determines energy markets. And our friends from EMA and MOE are now going to show you a sneak preview of these videos which will be going out soon.

16. Our energy sector is not just about technology, it’s about people. In the energy sector, we have many unsung heroes, working behind the scenes in different roles to keep the lights shining bright, to keep the future bright. And I want to share two stories that show the qualities of what I call “The Spirit Of Energy”. The spirit of people in our energy sector.

17. One quality is the courage to try. Mr Ted Chen understood early on that the electricity grid is changing. In the old days, the grid used to be a one-way power system. Big centralized generators, one-way grid. But today, that grid is two-way because when you have solar, when you have energy storage systems, the energy is moving back and forth. When you have digitalization, the data is also moving two-way. It is a different kind of grid that we are building today and will be even more different tomorrow.

18 Ted also started his own company, Evercomm Singapore, at age 23. And this company harnesses digital solutions to help us to use energy more efficiently. Evercomm has grown from a start-up to a leading energy management company, valued at more than $30 million dollars today. You’ll be hearing from him later – although I’m not sure if his speech will be called a “Ted Talk”.

19. The second quality of The Spirit Of Energy is sharing. Sharing our knowledge and experiences, so that workers and team members grow stronger together. And we need to empower every worker with the right skills to build the energy future of tomorrow. Brother Abdul Samad who is with us today, is the General-Secretary of Union of Power and Gas Employees (UPAGE). He understands this very deeply. He and his team have been working for many years, with industry and government, to help workers upgrade skills. He has been working with training institutes to develop courses customized to the power sector. And for their efforts, both Ted and UPAGE have won awards at this year’s Singapore Energy Awards.

20. In the movies and science fiction, when there is a life-and-death situation, it gets resolved quickly – a few hours from start to Endgame. But in real life we know that it’s different. We know it is a long journey. Our water story started 50 years ago – we are still writing that story and building that story for the future. Our energy story is still evolving, and everyone here today is part of writing that energy story for tomorrow. Everyone in this room, and especially the young friends among us today. If we work together, pull together, learn together, with that spirit of energy, we can invent that future. A future that is cleaner, greener, more sustainable and a future that is going to make a difference in Singapore for people from all walks of life. And a future that will make a difference for the world. Let’s invent that future together, and I look forward to hearing from everyone later.

21. Thank you very much.

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