We live in a world where everything is interconnected and the novel coronavirus has proven just that.
While the COVID-19 period faced multiple challenges, reduced human activity has seen a positive impact on our environment: improvement in air quality, noise pollution, clean beaches, and reduced emissions due to air travel.
Yet, with lockdown measures introduced to rein in the spread of COVID-19, it also means that many of us are cooped up at home almost all the time. This has led to a rise in domestic electricity consumption – A particularly crucial topic of discussion we must have today.
The Energy and Carbon Landscape During COVID
According to the World Bank, each Singaporean contributed an average of 11 300 kg of CO2 in 2018 alone. That ranks us at 27th out of 142 countries in terms of emissions per capita based on the latest IEA data.
Source: Global Carbon Atlas. Note: Visual Capitalist (who created this infographic) only included places with a population above one million, which excludes islands and areas such as Curaçao, Brunei, Luxembourg, Iceland, Greenland, and Bermuda
In Singapore, 97% of the electricity in 2018 came from fossil fuels, including 1.4% of coal. Singapore prides itself on shifting to natural gas, producing 95% of the current electricity profile. However, even though natural gas emits 50 to 60 percent less carbon dioxide, it is still a fossil fuel and is not any less negative for the environment.
A Just Transition
If we want to have a meaningful conversation about moving towards a more sustainable future, low-carbon and renewable energy sources have to be a priority. COVID-19 has presented us with an opportunity to recover sustainably through green energy, local agriculture, and circular economy.
Some of these efforts are already seen on international and national levels, and so, it might be time for Singapore to make that just transition1 as well.
Unsurprisingly, carbon emissions data so far supports our observation. With many staying indoors, carbon emissions in almost all industries around the world fell. However, domestic carbon emissions rose significantly.
As demand for electricity rose steadily, energy prices did not see its fair share of stability. In March this year, a price war shook the oil industry, leading to volatile energy prices.
To help its citizens cope, Singapore doubled the Goods and Services Tax (GST) vouchers for 940 000 HDB households in April for utilities like electricity. While that is good news for the lower- and middle-income families that require assistance in daily living, these subsidies should not encourage the uncontrolled use of electricity.
How, then, can we as consumers improve the energy landscape of Singapore during this period of time?
What Can I Do About Energy?
Since we’re at home more, it is the perfect opportunity for us to look into our domestic energy consumption. Because we are all part of a larger energy ecosystem, every one of our contributions plays a part.
In that, we can make a positive impact simply by improving our lifestyle choices. This begins from within our humble abode!
1. Know which appliances use the most electricity
We can take a closer look at our daily habits. What are the electricity and appliances that you often use? Do you keep the air-conditioning on throughout the day? Do you leave your smartphone to charge overnight? Does your household install an LED bulb instead of incandescent lighting?
Given Singapore’s weather is already hot and sunny, why not enjoy a cool shower after a long day? By lowering the temperature of your water heater, you’ll be surprised at how much this tiny change could do to cut a huge chunk off your electric bill.
We understand that every household is unique and while not everyone uses electricity appliances in the same manner, the best way forward in shifting habits is to start small and begin with yourself.
Changing habits and making small milestone changes not only lowers your power bill, it can also help you to live more sustainably while staying comfortable!
2. Use less energy where possible
- Television, WiFi and even refrigerators can be turned off at night
- Engage in activities that don’t require electricity: gardening, workout, meditation, reading, etc.
Ironically, more air conditioning makes the environment warmer. The Guardian reported that this is a vicious cycle, and appropriately so. We are warm, we turn on the AC. The AC consumes electricity, leaving a large carbon footprint. That makes the climate warmer, and we jack up the AC even more.
- Switching to a fan – Saves $188 per month for each unit. Data from the American Journal of Engineering Research and Urban Forestry Network shows that this reduces the same amount of carbon emissions as planting 700 adult trees in a year
- Raising the temperature by a few degrees
Washing and Drying
- Washing the clothes once a week instead of twice – According to Energy Efficiency, the carbon savings is the same as planting 1 fully grown tree!
- Air or sundry the clothes
3. Improve the energy efficiency of appliances
In Singapore, an easy way to gauge the energy efficiency of our appliances is by the number of “ticks” shown on the appliance’s energy efficiency rating of an electrical appliance. More ticks indicate improved energy efficiency and greater energy savings.
Of course, this is not to say that we should replace our working appliances with those of higher energy efficiency.
In a 2019 Channel News Asia article, we are called to purchase high-efficiency appliances only when our old ones have broken down, preventing the waste of perfectly good appliances.
Another way of improving efficiency is to incorporate products or habits that boost the energy efficiency of appliances. For example, installing a CONTINEWM ® AC net improves the heat exchange of air conditioners and decreases energy consumption by 25% on average. This nifty technology was intended to be for commercial buildings, but we can attach it to our own homes too.
4. Support green and renewable energy
Source: Straits Times
Last but not least, we can adopt green or renewable energy. According to the National Climate Change Secretariat of Singapore, the installation of solar panels has proven to be the most promising renewable energy source for Singapore – It is clean, generates no emissions, and contributes to Singapore’s energy security. These are key factors of consideration to facilitate solar deployment.
However, some challenges that persist include land constraints and local weather conditions. Some may also identify solar energy as “elitist” or associate it with the “environmental leisure class” because installation can be expensive. Except, “elitist” may not be the right word to describe solar energy or the green movement in general. In fact, green building or green infrastructure is just seen as a better way to build our houses for a sustainable future.
We must remember that building a sustainable future requires hard work now.
As Singapore continues to explore new technologies to improve our carbon footprints, the challenge would be to find cost-effective ways of retrofitting existing infrastructure to make them more energy-efficient. Hence, making it crucial that we redistribute funds available for the development of energy-efficient products, materials, and renewable energy.
These are investments that pay off over time, that will not fluctuate in a shaky financial market, and the economics can prove it.
A Sustainable Tomorrow
Already in Singapore, energy companies like Sunseap, Sembcorp, and Geneco offer renewable or low-carbon energy like solar, hydrogen or biofuel. With this, we can limit the carbon emissions generated and do our part together for the environment.
For those who have the capacity to do so, switching to more sustainable energy providers incentivizes the government to continue solar installation projects or invest in better batteries for energy storage.
Having the capacity to afford solar panels or purchase renewable energy does require more money. However, this is where we can potentially leverage our privilege to tip the scale and make renewables cheaper in Singapore for the rest of society.
When the government sees that there is a demand for such sustainable energy sources, more subsidies may be given to these sectors. This makes clean energy accessible to more.
The most important thing to us and the planet is that we make efforts toward living a more sustainable lifestyle, as an individual, a family member, and the society at large. As the pandemic blows over, let’s take the time to reset while also reevaluating our sustainability goals to achieve a more sustainable tomorrow.
Keith Wo is a locally-based environmentalist, currently studying in Yale-NUS and is the Chief Sustainability and Design Officer of MBF. He is passionate about sustainability issues and, as the content creator of Bizsu, he educates the public about them.
Brice Degeyter is a French entrepreneur and helps companies develop business opportunities while protecting the environment. He is the founder of Bizsu, a company supplying sustainable, innovative and cost-saving products and services to corporations.
Global Initiatives, a Singapore based company focused on environmental services and advancing sustainability solutions through multi-stakeholder collaboration, partnerships, and forums. This article was edited to fit the profile of the company and cater to our respective target audiences.