Space-starved Singapore builds floating solar farms in climate fight

SINGAPORE (AFP) – Thousands of panels glinting in the sun stretch into the sea off Singapore, part of the land-scarce city-state’s push to build floating solar farms to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

It may be one of the world’s smallest countries, but the financial hub is among the biggest per capita carbon dioxide emitters in Asia. And while authorities have been pushing to change that, renewable energy is a challenge in a country with no rivers for hydro-electricity and where the wind is not strong enough to power turbines.

So the country turned to solar power – however, with little land space in a place half the size of Los Angeles, it resorted to setting up energy plants off its coasts and on reservoirs.

File photo shows a worker pulling a cable along a floating solar power farm at sea, off Singapore’s northern coast just across the Malaysian state of Johor. PHOTO: AFP

“After exhausting the rooftops and the available land, which is very scarce, the next big potential is actually our water area,” said Jen Tan, senior vice president and head of solar in Southeast Asia at conglomerate Sembcorp Industries, which is building a project.

The government last month unveiled a wide-ranging “green plan” that included steps such as planting more trees, reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills and building more charging points to encourage the use of electric cars.

Among the measures is increasing solar energy use four-fold to around two per cent of the nation’s power needs by 2025, and to three per cent by 2030 – enough for 350,000 households per year. As well as on water, solar power plants have already been built on rooftops and on the ground.

One newly built solar farm spreads out from the coast into the Johor Strait, which separates Singapore from Malaysia.

The 13,000 panels are anchored to the seabed and can produce five megawatts of electricity, enough to power 1,400 flats for an entire year.

“The sea is a new frontier for solar to be installed,” said vice president for engineering at Singaporean firm Sunseap Group Shawn Tan, which completed the project in January.

“We hope that this will set a precedent to have more floating projects in the sea in Singapore and neighbouring countries.”