October 9, 2020
While COVID has Reduced Emissions, Electricity is Still Critical
We live in a world where everything is interconnected and COVID-19 proves that. Despite the challenging COVID-19 period, nature has been recovering: roaming wild animals, reduction of pollution and emissions, and collapsing meat industries around the world. Yet, COVID-19 also means rising domestic consumption of electricity which is a particularly crucial topic now.
The Energy and Carbon Landscape in COVID
Each Singaporean emitted 11 300 kg of CO2 in 2018, according to the World Bank. That is 17th of the 195 countries worldwide.
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, taking 95% of the electricity profile. However, even if natural gas emits less carbon dioxide, it is still a fossil fuel.
In such turbulent times, energy has become particularly volatile, making Singapore vulnerable to these energy prices. If we want to talk about moving towards a more sustainable future, low-carbon and renewable energy still have to be a priority. COVID-19 presents us a chance to recover sustainably through green energy, local agriculture and circular economy. While we do it on international and national levels, what about ourselves?
Carbon emissions fell in almost all industries around the world but rose significantly in the domestic sector. That’s to be expected since we’re spending most of our time at home. And with that comes greater electricity usage. So, Singapore doubled the Goods and Services Tax (GST) vouchers for 940 000 HDB households in April for utilities like electricity. That is definitely good news for the lower- and middle-income families that require assistance in daily living. However, these subsidies should not encourage uncontrolled use of electricity. How do we improve the energy landscape of Singapore in this period of time?
What Can We Do About Energy?
Since we’re at home more, it is the perfect opportunity for us to look into our domestic energy consumption. Looking at the big picture, we are part of this whole energy ecosystem. We should do something to improve our lives and those of our future generations no matter how small our impact. Definitely, there is a feel-good sensation from the positive impact we make.
Know which appliances use the most electricity
We can take a closer look at our daily habits. Every household is unique and not everyone uses the appliances in the same way. For example, some households do not use air-conditioning, so focusing on managing usage from appliances we use a lot reduces our environmental impact.
Use less energy if possible
We probably see energy savings as a way to reduce our utility bills at home and that is a legitimate reason for reducing electricity consumption, on top of a greener future. Here are some examples:
- 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 vicious cycle makes us need more cooling which is unsustainable.
- 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 sun dry the clothes
Improve the energy efficiency of appliances
In Singapore, an easy way of gauging efficiency is by the number of "ticks" shown on the appliance's energy efficiency rating of an electrical appliance. More ticks indicate better energy efficiency and greater energy savings.
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 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 even attach it in our own homes too.
Support green and renewable energy
Lastly, we can adopt green or renewable energy. Energy companies like Sunseap, Sembcorp and Geneco in Singapore offer renewable or low-carbon energy like solar, hydrogen or biofuel. For instance, burning hydrogen releases water, instead of carbon dioxide like fossil fuels do. With all this, we can limit the carbon emissions generated and collectively do our part for the environment. For those who have the capacity to do so, switching to more sustainable energy providers incentivises 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 hope that we use 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, making 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 re-evaluate our sustainability goals in order to achieve a more sustainable tomorrow.