16 Jun 2015 - 10:50 by OOSKAnews Correspondent
Opening the SIWW Technology and Innovation Summit (STIS) in Singapore on June 16th, Singapore Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan laid out an ambitious goal of making Singapore not only water independent, but also energy independent.
“My dream is that PUB (the Public Utilities Board) would become not just water independent well before 2061, but also energy independent,” he said.
Balakrishnan said achieving this is critical for Singapore. Water has been a key vulnerability, he explained. While more reservoirs and water catchments played an important role in overcoming the problem, it was only with the transformative step of reverse osmosis membranes a dozen years ago that desalination and recycling became medically safe and economically viable for the first time.
“This step completely transformed the economics and politics of water for us. We have continued to invest in desalination and recycling. This scale of investment has been unprecedented,” and it has enabled Singapore to convert an existential vulnerability into a strategic opportunity, he said.
Yet, according to Balakrishnan, “we have substituted one critical vulnerability for another. Today, we can produce water so long as we have energy. What this means is that the crucial vulnerability for Singapore has become the energy supply.”
Since his goal of becoming energy independent for water production requires “serious plans and realistic goals,” Balakrishnan outlined seven steps to achieve the objective.
First, he said, “we can improve the energy efficiency of reverse osmosis. Today, it takes 3.5 kilowatt hours to produce one cubic meter of water. Research will enable us to reduce this by half.”
Similarly, as a second goal, he targeted significant reductions in energy consumed by pumps.
Third, he said Singapore can recover energy from used water, as anaerobic bacteria interacting with organic material in used water will produce natural gas, which can be utilized to produce electricity. PUB’s pilot project, with a patented process that enables anaerobic digestion of the organic content of used water comingled with food waste, is an essential step.
Fourth, he said, Singapore is using floating solar panels and other initiatives to generate a significant amount of solar energy.
Fifth, “we can think about harvesting the energy of falling water. Every drop of rain has some potential energy. One key breakthrough is low-intensity turbines, micro-turbines, which can harvest that energy and store.” On a related note, he said, Singapore is embarking on a feasibility study of underground drainage and reservoirs where it can store excess water, harvest energy from it, and reuse it later after it is pumped out.
A sixth step is reducing per capita water consumption to well below the current level of 151 liters per person per day.
And finally, even though it is a small problem in Singapore, where water leakage is below 5 percent, PUB will work to further reduce water leakage.
“These are seven realistic ways to make real progress to achieve … water and energy independence by 2061,” Balakrishnan said. “Let’s aim for halving our energy imported for the production of water within the next 10 years.”