May 15, 2007
The sun rises on S'pore's solar industry
Landmark buildings may go solar; NUS in talks on research, teaching centre
By Jessica Cheam
THE solar industry is shaping up as a sunrise one.
Landmark buildings - and there are so many on this sun-drenched island - may soon sport solar panels that do double duty as roofs.
Solar-energy architects here are pushing for more than just solar panels slapped atop buildings to turn sunlight into electricity: They want to make what are called photovoltaic panels an intrinsic part of the structure and design of buildings like MRT stations.
The architecture department of the National University of Singapore (NUS) is now in talks with the Economic Development Board (EDB) to set up a research and teaching centre to promote the concept.
Details of the Building Integrated PhotoVoltaics (BIPV) Centre have not been finalised, but it is likely to be the first architecture-driven BIPV centre in Asia, said Assistant Professor Stephen Wittkopf of NUS.
The Straits Times understands that the centre, likely to be run by NUS, will also offer specialised programmes for students and eventually, for professionals, to get a qualification in BIPV.
BIPV could be the next big thing here, given that National Research Foundation chairman Tony Tan recently declared clean energy - and especially solar energy - as a likely major engine of Singapore's growth by 2015.
Singapore's thrust into clean energy received an infusion of $170 million from the Government recently as part of a larger $350 million fund set aside for the Republic's green-energy drive.
Prof Wittkopf said that, with Singapore buildings being chock-a-block and the island's location on the sun belt, it made sense to explore this technology.
Research on 'solar architecture' is already under way.
NUS' architecture department has been looking into how feasible it will be to apply this technology to selected buildings like Ang Mo Kio MRT station, the Environment Building in Scotts Road and the Poh Ern Shih Temple in Pasir Panjang.
How efficient is BIPV?
It is estimated that a system comprising 2,900 sq m of solar panels - the size of almost half a football field - can generate enough electricity to power about 100 three-room Housing Board flats.
This is the reckoning of Ms Huang Yi Xiang, 25, who is working towards a master's degree in architecture at NUS. She designed a 280 kilowatt-peak system for the Ang Mo Kio MRT station.
A kilowatt-peak is a measure of the amount of electricity produced under defined conditions.
Developing manpower and expertise in the technology is crucial if it is to take off here, stressed Prof Wittkopf.
He hopes the BIPV centre will do its bit to groom local talent for the solar industry.
He said: 'Seeing is believing. If people see these panels around them, it creates public awareness and acceptance, which will help create a future demand, and bring prices down to a competitive level.'
Price is a major dampener on the adoption of solar technology, and this is where the Government can step in, suggested Mr Christophe Inglin, who chairs the Renewable Energy Committee of the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore.
He added that BIPV was especially appropriate in Singapore, which cannot spare land for solar plants.
EDB said it was unable to comment further on the BIPV Centre but confirmed that it was 'in talks with NUS to raise the level of R&D in the area of clean energy'.
The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) also confirmed that it was in discussion with EDB and NUS and would release more details on the showcase project soon.