Building on the success of the biennial Singapore International Water Week (SIWW), Singapore will host the SIWW Technology and Innovation Summit 2015 on June 16-17, 2015. This invitation-only high-level summit is the first-ever platform to bring together leaders and key influencers from among water utilities, industrial water users, solutions providers, researchers, investors and multipliers for discussions and exchange of technological best practices to meet current and future challenges in the municipal and industrial water sectors.
OOSKAnews spoke with Peter JooHee Ng, Chief Executive of PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency, Executive Director of the Environment & Water Industry Program Office (EWI), and Deputy Secretary (Special Duties) in the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources about the event, Singapore’s water situation, and the country’s approach to fostering innovation and adopting innovative technological solutions.
OOSKAnews: What is the SIWW Technology and Innovation Summit (STIS) about? How does it complement the biennial Singapore International Water Week?
Ng: The biennial Singapore International Water Week (SIWW) is now a preferred gathering for thought leaders and practitioners in water management from governments, industry and academia the world over. SIWW 2014 attracted 20,000 participants from 133 countries, and witnessed the announcement of some $10.9 billion USD in new business.
Inspired by the success of SIWW 2014, and while waiting for SIWW 2016 to come around, we intend to convene a select group of 200 to 300 experts and practice leaders in water management here in Singapore this June for the SIWW Technology and Innovation Summit (STIS). Our hope is that this group, through guided conversations, will help to illuminate the way forward in terms of the next wave of innovation in water and wastewater management.
We are cognizant that the water industry’s traditional conservatism and cost structure can often impede innovative, let alone disruptive, change. But change is much needed as the world sinks deeper and deeper into water crisis.
STIS will pay specific attention to the municipal and industrial water sectors. Our objectives, after making the case for change, are no less to identify the key technological areas for urgent focus, and to suggest the best ways to bring innovative solutions to market.
Consisting of five sessions over two days, each session expressively themed and directed by an eminent chair, I believe the Summit will generate dialogue and discussion of high quality. Specifically, these sessions will:
- articulate the global forces and trends that are driving the need for innovation, and set out clear criteria against which successful innovations can be measured against;
- offer possible ways to reduce barriers to entry and mitigate risk in the innovation process;
- identify clear technological areas of focus in the treatment and distribution of potable water, and in wastewater discharge, collection and treatment; and
- provide advice on sustainable funding models for developing, scaling and implementing innovative water solutions.
Details of proceedings will be captured in a post-event document dubbed “Blueprint for Water Solutions,” which will in turn inform the agenda of SIWW 2016.
OOSKAnews: Can you share with us the water situation in Singapore and why water sector innovation is so important for you?
Ng: Singapore is both a city and a country. It is also a very small place. At 700 square kilometers, it is smaller than the five boroughs of New York or greater London. Although tiny, Singapore has a lot of people. More than 5.5 million people call Singapore home, making it one of the most densely populated countries in the world.
These 5.5 million people consume 1.8 million cubic meters of water a day. But there is just not enough space on Singapore to collect and store all the water that we need. As such, although right on the equator and in the tropics, Singapore is actually a water-scarce country.
So you will appreciate that water security is an existential challenge for Singapore. But today’s Singapore is not short of water, and if we do our work well, it should not ever have to go thirsty. In Singapore, tap water is perfectly wholesome to drink. And we could possibly be the only country in the world that reclaims used water on a large scale. Today, Singapore is a world leader in water husbandry, and Singaporean water companies bring class leading capabilities to the global marketplace.
Quite remarkably, Singapore has managed to turn a disadvantage into a strength, and a vulnerability into opportunity. Although everyone takes for granted clean freshwater at a turn of a tap, it is our responsibility in PUB to guarantee that Singapore will never ever run out of water.
OOSKAnews: What are the specific objectives that Singapore wishes to achieve through water sector innovation?
Ng: Our magic sauce in Singapore is continuous innovation.
Because the heavens do not give us enough water, we have to look for alternative sources.
First, we have to maximize our own yield. Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's founding prime minister, challenged us almost 50 years ago to collect every drop of rain that falls on Singapore. This led to a massive cleaning up of waterways. Today, two-thirds of Singapore serves as a water catchment. Our ultimate target is turn 90 percent of Singapore into catchment.
Second, we have to think of water as an endlessly reusable resource. We collect every drop of used water and worked hard on reclamation technologies. Today, we are able to turn used water into sweet water for very little money. We call this reclaimed water NEWater. And NEWater alone can provide up to a third of current daily demand in Singapore.
Singapore is an island, surrounded by seawater. Some years ago, when membrane filtration technology made desalination economically efficient, we adopted it with great zeal. In Singapore, we are crystal clear about achieving three outcomes for water sector innovation: (1) increase water resources; (2) lower cost of production; and (3) improve quality and security.
OOSKAnews: Can you describe broadly Singapore’s method for encouraging and facilitating just such innovation?
Ng: The important thing to remember is that innovation and technical advances do not just happen by chance. Rather, they are the result of a deliberate regime that is encouraging and has clear aims, and they are backed up by a carefully designed supportive structure. There must be a method to the creative madness.
In 2006, almost 10 years ago, the Singapore Government established the EWI Program Office to coordinate a whole-government effort to achieve and sustain the outcomes that we have set out for the water sector. As CEO of PUB, I also lead the EWI effort.
Research and development lie at the heart of technical innovation. So the EWI structure we designed in Singapore is wholly supportive of R&D.
OOSKAnews: What are the specific ingredients of the Singapore method?
Ng: The first ingredient for successful R&D is money.
The EWI Program puts significant money on the table, to the tune of $350 million USD over 10 years, to entice both Singaporean and foreign entities to embark on ground-breaking water technology research in Singapore.
We fund both basic and applied research, and work with universities, companies and individuals. Today, there are 26 water research institutes and over 180 private water companies in Singapore, forming a thriving ecosystem conducive for making new discoveries and for bringing them to market.
Let me give an example of this research. We are dissatisfied with the current typical 3.5-4.5 kilowatt hours [of energy] required to desalinate 1 cubic meter of seawater. We think that 1.5 kilowatt hours, by way of electrochemical desalting, is possible, and we are supporting Evoqua Water Technologies, a Singapore-based company, in this quest. I am happy to report that Evoqua is making encouraging progress on this front.
Another example: Unaccounted-for-water makes up for a large chunk of system loss in many water utilities all over the world. Visenti, another Singapore start-up company, has invented a suite of smart sensors that, when embedded into the pipeline network, not only measure water quality all the time, but also predict leakage. We are hopeful that this technology will help us bring unaccounted-for loss to near zero.
Our EWI program doesn’t just provide funding, we also offer our PUB facilities for real-world test-bedding. Ready access to testing new and novel technologies in our water factories and network infrastructure is much sought after by researchers and developers. And we have hosted well over 100 test-bedding projects over the last few years.
International collaboration is another important ingredient for successful innovation. In this regard, we have entered into many partnerships and arrangements with other like-minded agencies around the world, in order to advance water research.
Our latest alliance is with K-Water of South Korea. Together with K-Water, we want to jointly develop new capabilities in water quality monitoring, photovoltaic systems and smart technologies.
The Singapore International Water Week, which takes place every other year, is another important collaborative platform. And I welcome every one of you to come to Singapore next year to attend Singapore International Water Week.
Last but not least, let me say a few words about nurturing human talent. This is perhaps the most important thing you can do to enable innovation.
For a good many years now, we in Singapore have been sending some of our best and brightest students to study water engineering and related disciplines in the best universities both overseas and locally. We offer sponsorships, all the way up to PhD level, for aspiring scientific talents. These engineers and scientists, once they return to Singapore after their studies, further enrich our burgeoning water technology industry.
OOSKAnews: Could you summarize the Singapore experience for us?
Ng: Singapore is water-starved and forced by our circumstance to find alternative ways to water sufficiency and sustainable water security. Our way of doing this is to “think out of the box” -- to innovate and try new ways.
Today’s Singapore is not short of water and, provided we continue to innovate, should not ever have to go thirsty. Today, through deliberate effort and careful nurturing, Singapore is a world leader in water husbandry, and Singaporean water companies are best-of-class in the international marketplace.
Driven by necessity and inspired by imagination, Singapore has managed to turn a disadvantage into a strength, and a vulnerability into opportunity.
In order to do this, we have set clear goals for ourselves, and established a national-level coordinating structure to encourage and sustain innovation in the water sector. Then, we put serious money on the table, committing substantial funding to water technology research and development. We also opened up our industry to the best the world has to offer, cooperated with anyone who is of like-mind, and dedicated ourselves to the very long term endeavour of nurturing human talent for the water sector.
In the process of doing all of these, we created conditions that unleashed the creative powers of private enterprise, which go on to help us advance a national objective. It has been my privilege to share the Singapore water story with you.