John Ng, general manager of the utility company, says he has had green energy on his mind since he started his career as a boiler engineer more than 35 years ago.

“I entered the energy industry in 1985. As a boiler engineer, we should make sure that the boiler is operated as efficiently as possible,” he told CNBC’s “Managing Asia: Sustainable Future”.

Ng explained that while boilers tend to work efficiently, they can emit heat and dust. “So we installed sustainable dust collection devices … that’s how we started generating electricity to make sure everything that goes into the atmosphere is as clean as possible,” he added.

As CEO of YTL PowerSeraya, a Singaporean power producer for businesses and private customers, sustainability is becoming increasingly important.

The company switched from using oil to using natural gas to generate electricity in 2003. Three things were required for this transition. “The stars must be aligned,” said Ng.

“The first is the availability of (a) combined-cycle power plants with modern technology. Even if you have modern technology, you must have fuel too. During this time Malaysia and Indonesia (had) opened up the export of natural gas pipelines to Singapore.” he explained.

“The third thing that is important is that in 2003 it was (was) also the time when there was a new market framework in which your electricity production costs must be the cheapest if you are producing electricity in a market want, “said Ng added.

While gas-fired power plants are still emitting carbon, emissions levels are below those of oil or coal-fired power plants, according to Ng, and YTL PowerSeraya is now expanding its solar power capacity.

Solar plans

In April, the company named Lim Han Kwang as group leader, retail, regulation and renewable energy, with responsibility for leading the company’s green efforts. Lim is also CEO of his retail company Geneco, which provides solar panel installation service to customers and also offers renewable energy plans.

However, solar energy is not without its challenges. The photovoltaic modules require a lot of land and of course also sun, which can occur at times in Singapore’s tropical climate. “You are looking at Singapore today … the cloud is actually covering the sunlight coming into Singapore. So that means we can rely 100% on solar energy in Singapore,” said Ng.

One way Singapore can improve its access to solar energy is through the proposed Australia-ASEAN Power Link, which aims to transfer power from solar panels in the country’s Northern Territory to parts of Asia over a 2,800-mile cable. It is planned to be operational in 2027.

Ng called the ASEAN project “very, very interesting”. “However, we have to balance the balance between being able to supply electricity ourselves and buying a wholesaler that is 100% overseas.”

“The pandemic made life very, very difficult for us. But the good thing is that we are getting on well.”

A Singapore household that installs solar panels can expect to recoup their costs in about seven or eight years, Ng said. That period would be a little shorter for the wholesale side of YTL PowerSeraya’s business.

One energy source that emits “almost zero” carbon is nuclear energy, Ng said, although the Japanese Fukushima Daiichi power plant disaster in 2011 means public perception of nuclear energy is poor and policymakers are unwilling to discuss it. “The question is, how do you make nuclear power safer? How do you make nuclear power more acceptable to the public?”

Waste management, regulation and safety skills and expertise need to be developed before the city-state is ready to build a nuclear power plant, Ng said.

Sunset solution

Employee training and motivation are two issues that Ng addresses when asked about the toughest lessons of his career. “It has been difficult, especially over the past seven years when the region’s energy industry has suffered approximately $ 2 billion in financial losses. Employees believe this is, and it is, a ‘sunset industry’ is a sunset industry. ” How can you keep improving? “

Ng launched a “Cultural Change Initiative” which has helped the company move forward and improve the company’s technical performance. The company has not recorded any blackouts or “travel” in two years.

YTL PowerSeraya’s power generation group saw its market share drop by 2.5% in 2019-2020. This emerges from the latest annual report published in June last year. Oil prices fell dramatically during the pandemic last year, but the company – like others – suffered from the asset’s “over-hedging”, Ng said. In addition, total electricity consumption fell as jobs were closed by ordering accommodation, which was a “double blow” for energy suppliers. “The pandemic made life very, very difficult for us. But the good thing is that we’re doing fine,” said Ng.

In the coming years, increased demand for renewable energies will help the industry work more efficiently, according to Ng. “Consumers want more renewable energy, but that’s only part … The important part for all CEOs is how we encourage (people) to use less and be more efficient about our operations.”