Engineering solutions to water scarcity in Singapore.

Singapore, a small South East Asian country registered total sales of 664.5 million cubic meters of water in 2015. Out of this 664.5 million cubic meters of water, 514.7 million cubic meters were through sales of potable water, 124.8 million cubic meters were through sales of NEWater and 25 million cubic meters of water were through sales of Industrial water. This figure is expected to grow and water demand in Singapore currently stands at 430 million gallons a day. This is significant amount of water usage for a country the size of Singapore.


Singapore has four water taps which are used in meeting the water demand. Mainly, (1) Imported water from Johor, (2) Local catchment water, (3) desalinated water and (4) NEWater. Imported water makes up a substantial portion of the water used in Singapore. Receding water levels at Linggiu reservoir shows how vulnerable Singapore is in relying heavily on imported water. In November 2016, it was reported by the newspapers that the Linggiu Reservoir was down to 22% full. This poses a significant challenge for Singapore as Johor might not be able to meet our water needs if such circumstances continue to persist. As we battle for self-sufficiency in meeting water demand locally, it is important to note that Singapore-Malaysia has chosen not to renew the 1961 agreement for imported water from Johor. Since, the political will is weak, it is safer to assume that Singapore must become self-sufficient in her water needs by 2061 when the 1962 agreement expires.


The engineering contributions to becoming self-sustaining when it comes to water is as follows,

  • Building more desalination plants based on existing technology
  • Investing on research on water technology that also involves adsorption desalination.

Singapore’s fourth desalination plant is currently being built and the fifth one is in the pipeline. This engineering solution helps Singapore to survive even if we could not strike out an agreement with Malaysia. The second proposed solution includes investing in research and development on water technologies. In July 2016, the newspaper reported that an additional 200 million Singapore dollars will be injected over five years in research and technology into the water industry. This shows the commitment of the government of Singapore in R&D.

Flowing water in Ang Mo Kio -Bishan Park (One  of the major parks in Singapore)


The public and private sector must work together to achieve water self-sufficiency if we are to survive the next 50 years. In my next article, I will share some portions of adsorption desalination systems and how we could use it in Singapore.




National Engineers Day (2016) and Energy Innovation Challenge (2016)

2016 was the second year for the Energy Innovation Challenge (EIC) coordinated and executed by the Institute of Engineers and Singapore Science Centre. This year on top of being a Mentor, I decided to help out the working group for National Engineers Day 2016. This year I got to mentor another team of three bright and brilliant kids from Yishun Junior College. The difference in EIC 2016 compared to EIC 2015 was that this year we had an additional non-compulsory SPRING Singapore report element.


1424458_10153663452548051_2805728808127916824_n-1Door gift (power bank) for the Energy Innovation Challenge 2016


This year, the students were working on a battery that stores energy based on chemical reactions that could be done in an isolated environment such as a deserted island. Concept was interesting and I personally learned a lot since my work mostly involves physics when compared to laboratory based chemistry. The team received a consolation prize for the effort and at the end of the day the experience garnered in such competitions values more than any monetary gift prize.


National Engineers Day 2016 exhibition and display.
Compared to the work that I had to put in as part of the working committee, mentor ship was relatively easy. Running a national level event is not an easy task but we did it successfully nevertheless.



Lets’ do it again next year if God Permits.

World Engineers Summit (WES) and National Engineers Day (2015), Energy Innovation Challenge (2015)

2015 was the inaugural year for the National Engineers Day’s Energy Innovation Challenge (EIC) coordinated and executed by the Institute of Engineers Singapore and Singapore Science Center supported by National Research Foundation. I had signed up for the event as mentor to be paired up with students to assist and guide them towards innovative ways of harnessing energy. The team that I was assigned with was from Anglo Chinese Junior College, three bright and brilliant kids from Indonesia. In my day to day work, most of my interactions are with much elderly men and woman and it is sometimes difficult to attract younger degree holders to the construction industry. So it was personally a very enriching experience working with students 10 over years younger than me. This was not only limited to the discussions we had during the entire length of four months through various mediums, the kids were well prepared and confident in their delivery during the actual presentation.



Door gift for the Energy Innovation Challenge 2015


The actual poster used during the presentation. The work and dedication that has gone into this poster is clearly visible.



The presentation to the judges where the team explains the solar collector in detail.


The picture shows the Minister award the students 2nd runner up for the competition.

The team won 2nd runner up for the presentation and concept during the award ceremony on Nation Engineers Day 2015 and I was personally glad and fortunate for mentoring such bright kids. I do hope they move on to becoming great engineers and scientists and make substantial positive contribution to society and the world.


I also attended the World Engineer Summit concurrently and it was an interesting and educational seminar with many keynote industry expert speakers.


Door gift for the world engineer summit. I particularly liked this door gift as the thumb drive as seen on the picture had a cover using recycled paper.








Energy and sustainability in Singapore

Singapore in recent years have increased spending on the construction of underground and aboveground rail network, new hospitals, schools, office buildings and other key infrastructure. The additional infrastructures supported by building services have directly contributed to the increase in energy consumption. The advent and influx of electronic and digital devices have continuously increased the energy consumed per person over the years. Singaporeans, expatriates, visitors and tourists’ use of portable devices such as mobile phones, tablets and personal computers have also increased extensively for the purpose of entertainment, educational and professional purposes. Mobile devices that consume power have in most cases become a necessity. The energy consumption per device might not seem significant but when combined calculation over 5 million civilians over 365 days a year is considered, it will affect per capita energy consumption. This will translate and reflect on the overall energy usage in Singapore.

Singapore’s energy consumption in 2013 was recorded at 44,923 GWh compared to 35,489.3 GWh in the year 2005. With an increased consumption of more than 26.5% over 8 years and a projection for continuous increase in energy need, there is a need to review energy demand and if required build more power plants. With a global shift in energy generation that leans towards sustainable forms of energy, it would be prudent to design the next generation Singapore based power plants with sustainability as a core vision.

When alternative forms of energy are mentioned, harnessing solar power as a renewable source of energy has always been a viable option. The photovoltaic system could be integrated as part of the electrical installation works for new buildings or by conducting an addition and alteration works for existing buildings. However, it has to be noted that large spaces of area are required to have a substantial harvest of solar energy. Singapore’s limited land space makes it difficult to install large quantity of solar panels.

So what are the other options available for Singapore’s rising energy needs?

Nuclear and maybe geothermal sources of energy seem to be amongst the most viable options. But, are the common people convinced on the safe use of these options?

Perhaps not.

Experience or Paper qualification?

In a recent interaction with accomplished engineers, I was asked an interesting question. Which is more important, paper qualifications or experience? Some may choose paper qualification and others may choose experience.

20 years ago, in Singapore, a diploma was known to be considerable tertiary education and training. A diploma meant something in the 1990’s. Even with an “O”-levels education, an individual would likely be able to secure a job with decent career prospects. It’s year 2015 and even university graduates are sometimes underemployed. Setting aside the quality of the degree and training given by each university, a diploma has lost its market value over the years. So is paper qualification important? Partially yes.

The paper qualification does make an impact. But experience is still king. Take project management career for example. A person who is able to complete a small project with a value of 1 million dollars within time, budget and quality might not have the capability to complete a 100 million dollars project due to lack of experience. The paper qualifications might make it easier for him to understand what is required to lead and complete the project but without proper guidance from experienced staff, the person might not be fully equipped to complete the project. The same goes for more technical positions.

A combination of paper qualifications with proper understanding coupled with valuable experience allows the person to be more versatile when compared to a person with only paper qualification or experience. But the most important factor is in the understanding that learning is a lifelong process and something that does not stop once a person graduates with a certificate.

Sustainable design depends on ground level staff and users

indonesia chikarang roadsite innovation

The importance on sustainability have become a hot topic of concern in recent times.The focus on the overall reduction of carbon footprint and emission of greenhouse gases have become so significant that there are conferences fully dedicated to discuss these issues. Governments and major corporations around the globe are introducing measures and means to reduce wastage of energy and material resources. Energy consumption keeps rising everyday in developed and developing countries. If the energy is from a renewable source, it will not be of major concern on the emission of greenhouse gases and or global warming. Majority of the energy that is currently being consumed are generated through burning of fossil fuels. Putting aside the total power generated in a country, the question would be if the energy consumed is being utilized in a efficient manner.

So what is sustainability?

Sustainability is defined in the ASHRAE Greenguide (ASHRAE 2010), in general terms , as “providing for the present without detracting from the ability to fulfill the needs of the future,”

This book definition is however an aspiration.

In the construction of a building for example, there are multiple parties involved namely the architect and consultant whom design the building, the contractor who build it and the facilities management team who manage and maintain the facilities and most importantly the users of the said building.

  • The scope of the consultant is to design building and its related services in such manner that energy consumption is efficient. Extensive calculations and coordination work are done to ensure that the equipment chosen are energy efficient.
  • The scope of the contractor is to procure, construct, test and commission the building and its related services based on approved consultant drawings.
  • The scope of the facilities management team is to maintain the functionality and reliability of the constructed building and its related services.

Suppose everyone is doing their scope of work, the building energy consumption could still be poor. Some of the reasons are the ground support staff and the user. The following items are possible scenarios that could affect building energy consumption.

  • Opening windows and leaving doors open when air-conditioning system is turned on, thus allowing conditioned air to escape.
  • Forgetting to switch off air-conditioning system when it is not in use. (e.g. after office hours)
  • Forgetting to turn off lights when not in use.
  • Turning on centralized air-conditioning to facilitate one or two employees after official working hours.
  • Forgetting to switch off equipment’s such as personal computers after working hours.
  • Facilities management technical team switching on air-conditioning and lighting way ahead of required time of usage wasting energy.
  • Facilities management technical team bypassing energy efficiency parameter to meet user demands.

These human related factors will affect the overall energy consumption of a building. Increased energy consumption will lead to a costlier electrical bill. If each building has a user related energy wastage of 10%, at a national level, that would translate into 4-5 TWh (Tera Watt Hour) of energy every year. Educating ground staff and regular users must be a priority if we are really serious about sustainability.

Knowledge base and the sharing of educational information for free.

While I was going through some nice slides made to train those under me, I realized that it would be of benefit to share them with my readers. One of the initiatives that we should embark on is free education for those who wish to learn but unable to, due to the unavailability of resources. A country can only substantially grow when the population is well-read to a certain extent.