Singapore: The ‘Living Lab’ for Renewable Energy Innovation

Wednesday, February 27, 2019 population and scarcity of resources have expedited the pace of innovation and made it necessary for the world to embrace new technology for the pursuit of environmental sustainability. In the past, countries like the United States have been the leaders in innovation but by launching the world’s largest floating photovoltaic (PV) test bed and building the first industrial micro-grid test system in South East Asia, Singapore has successfully emerged at the forefront of renewable energy (RE) innovation. And, is now ready to spearhead the ‘Living Lab’ for RE innovators to experiment with new ideas.


In 2006, Singapore propelled research and development (R&D) in the clean technology sector by investing US$1.5 billion. Recognizing the speed of transformation in the energy sector and the benefits of leveraging PV electricity, Singapore invested in PV technologies to generate affordable, reliable and resilient energy supply.


Over the last decade, Singapore has resolutely aimed to optimize PV systems while developing support infrastructures for PV modules. In 2014, Singapore launched South East Asia’s first industrial hybrid micro-grid test bed on the Semakau landfill as part of the Renewable Energy Integration Demonstrator-Singapore (REIDS) initiative. This US$6 million platform has, over the years, received investment from powerhouses in the energy and micro-grid industry including Accenture, DNV GL, LS Group, Schneider Electric and Sony.


Living up to the true spirit of its ‘Living Lab’ concept, the small nation-state has been engaging researchers and companies from across the globe to experiment, to act as a test bed and to scale up their RE solutions through Singapore. Thus, it came as no surprise when REC Solar, a subsidiary of the Norway-based REC Group, invested close to US$150 million — which is considered to be of the world’s largest fully integrated solar manufacturing facilities — into their production plant in Singapore. To step up the commercialization of innovative solar technologies in Singapore, the REC Group will also be investing an additional US$37 million in a research partnership with SERIS, one of the leading solar research institutes in the world.


To date, Singapore has productively developed and installed 10 different floating support structures for PV systems that were constructed by both local and overseas companies on the Tengeh Reservoir in 2016 to determine the foremost appropriate system for the country. Based on the results, the Public Utilities Board (the nation’s water agency) is currently studying the viability of deploying a 50 power unit (MW) floating star PV system at the Tengeh Reservoir, which could potentially power around 12,500 average households in Singapore.


Additionally, the Energy Market Authority (EMA), the primary public agency, which is in charge of finding consistent and safe energy supply for Singapore, declared in October 2017 that it will award a US$4.6 million research grant to a syndicate under the National University of Singapore to develop solar forecasting capabilities. The system will utilize the expanding pool of solar irradiance information and weather information to enhance the accuracy of PV output forecasts and grid management. The forecasting model may be applied to countries with comparable climates and weather patterns.


Although Singapore is a small country with limited capacity for PV installation, it is playing an outsized role in the innovation of RE technologies because the leaders understand that IP is the driving force behind innovation. One must remember that R&D and test-bedding of technology are critical as they embody the first half of the innovation value chain. Any innovation or new technology must be brought to the market to create a positive impact on the society, and the IP office is the catalyst in this process.


The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS), has transformed from being a traditional regulator to one of the torchbearers for the country’s innovation ecosystem. At the policy level, IPOS works closely with the Singapore’s public and administrative agencies such as the National Research Foundation, Agency for Science, Technology and Research and others that are involved in managing research projects or driving innovation in their respective fields, to develop the National IP Protocol. The new IP Protocol states that the agencies should channel their efforts towards commercialization of IP. To achieve this feat, agencies are being encouraged to provide the industry with access to publicly funded R&D to create and capture greater economic value for Singapore.


IPOS has also been proactively working in varied capacities. It is interesting to note that at the state level, its enterprise engagement arm, IP ValueLab (IPVL), is strengthening IPOS’ collaborations with Singapore-based enterprises, which aids in identifying and increasing their intangible assets to scale up and grow internationally. The across-the-board assortment of tools and services offered, complements the value proposition of Singapore as a ‘Living Lab’, taking care of the second half of the innovation value chain by bringing about concrete socio-economic benefits to the society.


Singapore has managed to remain at the forefront in the pursuit of innovation. However, its future depends on whether it can remain relevant in a global economy that is increasingly driven by innovation. Going forward, to entrench its position as an innovation and IP hub, Singapore will have to bring value to the global innovation flows and ensure that its IP policies achieve the balance between economic, business and creative aspirations.


Source: Global Innovation Index 2018: Energizing the World with Innovation report. Chapter 11: Singapore: A Living Lab for Renewable Energy, authored by Daren Tang, Intellectual Property Office of Singapore.

Picture credit: The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS)

Authors: Sushmita Yadav in collaboration with the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS)

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