Powering clean energy growth in Asia

Multinational firm DNV GL's Clean Technology Centre is contributing to Singapore's effort to be a regional clean energy hub. Vaidehi Shah profiles the Centre's cutting edge research.

dnvgl ctc
DNV GL's Clean Technology Centre is a one-of-a-kind facility and the heart of the multinational's energy operations in Asia. Image: DNV GL

Singapore has set its sight on becoming Asia’s hub for clean technology solutions - an ambition which its economic agency, the Economic Development Board (EDB), says will add some S$3.4 billion to the country’s gross domestic product and 18,000 jobs by 2015.

The city-state’s efforts to create an attractive business environment by developing sound legal frameworks and building robust infrastructure made it the perfect location for multinational firm DNV GL to set up its state-of-the-art Clean Technology Centre here in 2010.

The centre’s managing director Dr Sanjay Kuttan tells Eco-Business in a recent interview that Singapore was an attractive option because “it was easily connected to the rest of Southeast Asia, and offered a safe, stable political climate which was conducive for business.”

The centre -  the nucleus of DNV GL’s energy business in Singapore - was first set up in March 2010 by Norwegian firm Det Norske Veritas (DNV), which has transformed significantly over the last two years through mergers and acquisitions.

In 2012, DNV acquired KEMA, world renowned experts in the power sector. In September last year, DNV underwent a merger with German classification society Germanischer Lloyd (GL). 

This led to the new DNV GL brand and corporate identity, which was marked by the company’s new Asia Pacific headquarters in Singapore. The new building was opened in February with about 500 employees, and earned a Green Mark certification with green features such as motion based sensors for lighting and increased recycling facilities, reflecting the company’s commitment to sustainability. The Green Mark is Singapore’s green building rating system. 

Kuttan says the merger combined DNV’s expertise in maritime, oil & gas, energy, software and business assurance with GL’s brands, namely Garrad Hassan, GL Renewables and GL Noble Denton, which brought expertise in marine advisory services, software and business assurance.

“There is a lot of heritage behind the three coloured stripes of DNV GL’s new logo,” he adds. “We are stronger now, and we have a deeper pool of expertise and capabilities to draw from.”

The unification of these heritage brands under the DNV GL umbrella has also expanded the scope of services offered by the CTC, which can be broadly categorised into energy advisory, renewable energy advisory, and research and innovation.

“With expertise in oil & gas and maritime, we had an overview of the energy supply process from well to wheel,” says Kuttan, referring to the hydrocarbon energy supply chain from extraction to transportation.

But the combination of expertise from its merger and acquisition entities adds expertise in areas such as market structures and policy, smart metering and demand response, allowing DNV GL’s scope of work to extend “from well to plug,” or to the point of electricity supply in the home, adds Kuttan.

In Singapore, for example, the centre and Singapore’s Energy Market Authority (EMA) are working together on the Pulau Ubin Microgrid Testbed, which explores the possibility of creating a small-scale electric grid infrastructure on the island that also incorporates renewable energy into the electricity supply.

This is a solution that could be adapted for off-grid communities in the region, says EMA.

Strengthening Singapore’s cleantech ecosystem

DNV GL’s expertise in affordable, reliable and clean energy is crucial to ensure the region develops responsibly, as they are one the key actors that has the knowledge and reach to help implement such projects in the region.

Constant Van Aerschot, executive director, Singapore Business Council on Sustainable Development

The Clean Technology Centre also works closely with Singapore’s cleantech community on research that improves energy infrastructure and policy - a move which has raised Singapore’s profile as an energy leader in the region.

For example, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the centre and the Energy Research Institute at Nanyang Technological University (ERI@N) in 2012 explored the possibility of using liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a fuel for shipping. 

Professor Subodh Mhaisalkar, executive director of ERI@N credits this study, which was the first of its kind in the region, as bringing about “a paradigm shift for Southeast Asia’s shipping sector.”

“It opened up possibilities for reductions in cost and carbon emissions, and enhanced efficiencies in the industry,” he tells Eco-Business.

The centre also has been developing collaborations with organisations such as local energy provider Diamond Energy, A*Star’s Experimental Power Grid Centre (a facility on Singapore’s Jurong Island that recreates grid-like conditions for energy researchers), the Maritime and Port Authority, and the National University of Singapore.

“Some of the most exciting ideas in the energy sector today include smart grids, demand response, smart asset management, renewable energy integration and electricity market restructuring,” says Kuttan. “In all these MOUs, we are in the stage of developing project proposals that will push the boundaries in these areas, and get these ideas closer to deployment.”

The centre also contributes to the long-term sustainability of Singapore’s cleantech industry by inducting students from Singapore’s universities and polytechnics into the world of clean energy through internship placements and career talks at tertiary institutions. It also works closely with the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore (SEAS), where Kuttan sits on the council, to provide trainers for courses in the local and regional cleantech industries.

“Part of growing the ecosystem is building up capabilities, and education is a very important part in this effort,” notes Kuttan.

He adds: “There is actually a shortage of engineers in Singapore, as graduates often leave for other sectors like finance. Through the career talks, we introduce students to the exciting things they could be doing as practicing engineers when they graduate.”

Leading Asia to a clean energy future

Having flourished in the 18 months since the merger that formed DNV GL, the centre is focused on staying ahead of the curve in a rapidly developing Asian market.

“It is not very easy to predict exactly what opportunities will arise in Asia’s market for clean energy right now, so it is a big challenge for us to scale up at a rate that captures the opportunities in a timely manner,” says Kuttan.

To prepare for this, DNV GL’s centre, which has 25 consultants today and has completed 456 projects since 2010, is committed to grow to a team of 50 consultants and researchers by the end of 2016.

DNV GL’s CTC in Singapore, with its strong competencies in renewable energy and smart grids, is envisaged to play a catalytic role in developing new innovations through collaborations with many other partners in the same ecosystem.

Goh Chee Kiong, executive director of cleantech, EDB

The company’s immediate targets for growth are Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. “Asia is the main field that we play in, but you never know,” he says. “We hope to become a competency centre for research and advisory services that will have a global footprint.”

To this end, the centre represents DNV GL as the founding member of the Singapore chapter of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). Together with agribusiness firm Syngenta, the firm also co-chairs “Action2020 SEA”, a science-based platform created by WBCSD and member companies which helps define priority areas and business strategies for sustainable growth.

Constant Van Aerschot, executive director of the Business Council on Sustainable Development (BCSD) in Singapore, tells Eco-Business that implementing WBCSD’s Action2020 in Southeast Asia, for example, includes introducing solutions that achieve the low-carbon electrification of remote areas, says Aerschot.

“DNV GL’s expertise in affordable, reliable and clean energy is crucial to ensure the region develops responsibly, as they are one the key actors that has the knowledge and reach to help implement such projects in the region,” he adds.

The centre’s involvement in such regional projects sits well with EDB’s vision of shaping Singapore to be Asia’s clean technology hub. The agency provided business incentives to DNV GL in setting up the centre, and is supportive of the company’s post-merger plans.

Goh Chee Kiong, executive director of cleantech, EDB, says that “DNV GL’s Clean Technology Centre in Singapore, with its strong competencies in renewable energy and smart grids, is envisaged to play a catalytic role in developing new innovations through collaborations with many other partners in the same ecosystem.”

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