On the issue of energy security, Hawaii shares a number of similarities with Singapore. Both islands are vulnerable to price fluctuations and supply disruptions.
Hawaii relies on imported petroleum for about 90 per cent of its primary energy. Most of this oil comes from foreign nations, with a growing percentage from the Middle East.
Singapore has, over the years, shifted from importing fuel oil to natural gas from Malaysia and Indonesia. Fuel oil forms 21.6 percent of our electricity fuel mix; natural gas, 75.8 percent. Even so, some 80 percent of our crude oil imports are from the Middle East, and a major crisis in that region will disrupt our oil supplies; likewise, a geopolitical conflict in Malaysia and Indonesia.
So it’s interesting to learn that the United States Pacific Command, which oversees military operations throughout the Asia-Pacific, has paid global security company Lockheed Martin US$9.32 million to develop Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (Otec) technology.
Otec isn’t new. It’s been around since the 1880s and uses the temperature difference between deep and shallow waters to run a heat engine. The challenge with Otec is in generating significant amounts of power efficiently from this small temperature ratio, and the infrastructure is very costly.
In addition, the military in Hawaii is investing in hydrogen as an electrical energy storage system. Both these technologies are, at this stage, experimental and expensive, but the pay-off, should the military succeed, is greater energy security for Hawaii.
Singapore, too, is looking into energy security and investment in renewable energy. A liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal, when completed in 2012, would help diversify our electricity sources by allowing the Republic to import LNG from countries further away. Built on a 30-hectare Jurong Island site, the terminal will have a capacity of 3 million tones per annum, with potential for expansion to 6 million.
In July, the government bought 4,348 solar panels from Norwegian firm REC for $2.3million.The panels will be installed in six public housing estates, covering about 3,000 residential units, and are expected to produce 170 megawatts (MW) per hour of energy each year or a total savings of about $40,000 per year per precinct.
And there’s the option of nuclear power.
Singapore, along with other Southeast Asian countries, will work toward establishing a Nuclear Energy Safety Sub-Sector Network to explore cooperation on nuclear safety issues within the Association of South East Asian Nations.
With the exception of Brunei and Laos, the Asean nations are considering adding nuclear power to the electricity generation mix.
Vietnam has the most aggressive nuclear power ambitions. It recently announced plans to build eight plants by 2030, producing 15,000 to 16,000 MW of electricity. Indonesia plans to have four nuclear plants producing 6,000 MW by 2025, while Thailand plans to develop two nuclear plants to generate 2,000 MW by 2022.
The writer visited the United States and China on a Jefferson Fellowship from the East- West Center.