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NTU team to harness power of nature

Sailors and windsurfers know the wind is stronger and faster once they are farther away from Singapore’s coast, although how much stronger and faster has never been clear.

But that should change, as the Energy Research Institute at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) is now mapping the country’s wind patterns as part of a push for world-class, clean-energy research and development (R&D) here.

It has put measuring stations atop several Housing Board blocks and on offshore islands.

It is also studying the patterns of waves, tides and currents around the island.

And next year, the institute will test turbines to tap these clean-energy sources.

For instance, a fan-like wind turbine could be placed in a breezy coastal area like Tuas or on a smaller island like Pulau Semakau, said Professor Subodh Mhaisalkar, the institute’s executive director.

He spoke to the media yesterday on the sidelines of the signing of two memoranda of understanding to carry out renewable-energy research.

NTU signed one with industry partners Det Norske Veritas, Rolls-Royce, Vestas and Keppel Offshore & Marine, and the other with the Norwegian University of Science & Technology and Norwegian Research Centre for Offshore Wind Technology.

Prof Mhaisalkar said Singapore’s wind potential is limited, as it is on the equator where gusts are light and variable.

‘We aren’t going to solve Singapore’s energy needs,’ he said.

‘If renewables can contribute 5 to 10 per cent to Singapore’s energy supply, then we have done extremely well.’

Renewable energy like solar power and wind power provides a tiny portion of Singapore’s electricity consumption each year.

But Prof Mhaisalkar said the wind maps can be used to design turbines for low wind speeds, and that technology developed here could be used in the region, from the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea.

The wind and wave-mapping project, which started in February, will be completed by April or May next year.

The next step, he added, will be to test a mid-sized wind turbine with an output of 200 to 500 kilowatts on a southern island like Semakau.

A 500kW turbine can power about 900 HDB four-room flats.

The research institute has designed several low-power wind and water turbines for use in urban areas, and plans to test them around Singapore.

If feasible, Prof Mhaisalkar said, they could complement other renewable-energy sources such as solar power in urban areas, and provide power for the world’s 1.9 billion people living in rural areas without electricity.

Singapore is home to the R&D centres of several large wind-power firms such as Vestas and Gamesa.

Wind power provides a large and rapidly growing share of the world’s renewable-energy output. According to the International Energy Agency, that share is growing at the rate of 27 per cent a year.

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