Sunday, July 31, 2016

AGO's Report: Recovering Student Loans, and the deliberate policy of MOE

[The Auditor General's Office (AGO) highlighted various Ministries lax financial controls, including MOE's recovery of student loans. 

MOE reply on its policy position, the social intent of easy student loans, and the need to exercise compassion to provide assistance to students from lower income families.

A Forum writer writes in support of a more compassionate approach to the recovery of Student Loans.]

Friday, July 29, 2016

Asia - a community governed by law or power?

Hugh White
For The Straits Times

Jul 29 2016

The aftermath of the July 12 decision over the South China Sea disputes confirms that big power play dominates Asian geopolitics

The Hague tribunal's historic South China Sea decision on July 12 seems to have settled one set of questions - a set of legal questions - once and for all.

But that hasn't ended the uncertainties because the decision has thrust forward a new and even bigger set of questions which now confront us in Asia more starkly than ever before. They are political and strategic questions about the kind of region we live in here in Asia, and the principles that underpin it.

The questions are these: Is Asia a community of nations governed by rule and laws to which all countries, big and small, must ultimately submit?

Or do we live in a region governed ultimately by power, in which the rules are only what the more powerful states want to make of them, and the ultimate arbiter is armed force?

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A cautionary tale of governance and Trump

Benjamin Goh and Saifudin Hamjuri Samsuri

July 27, 2016


It can be puzzling how someone as controversial as Mr Donald Trump could rise to political power in the United States. His antics are unbecoming of a world leader: From his call for a ban on Muslims entering the US, to his comparison of Mexican immigrants to “rapists”, to his sexist attitude towards women.

It is easier to dismiss this reality-star mogul as just an outlier in the often unpredictable drama in American politics, until one realises that he actually has a better-than-average chance of becoming the next American president.

How did he become so popular?

Some in Singapore point to Mr Trump as an example of democracy’s failure to prevent the rise of demagogues, or that his divisive ideology creates new tensions in American society. Perhaps the most troubling idea of all is people blaming the “stupid” American public for voting for Mr Trump.

All three statements above are the wrong lessons to draw from his nomination as the Republican presidential candidate.

The One Demographic That Is Hurting Hillary Clinton

Nate Cohn

JULY 25, 2016

The New York Times

The list of voting groups generally alienated by Donald J. Trump is long: Hispanics, women, the young, the college educated and more. How is it that he’s in such a close race with Hillary Clinton?

The answer lies with a group that still represented nearly half of all voters in 2012: white voters without a college degree, and particularly white men without a degree.

Mrs. Clinton is showing enormous weakness with this group. And these voters are supporting Mr. Trump in larger numbers than they supported Mitt Romney four years ago. It’s enough to keep the election close. It could even be enough for him to win.

In six polls conducted this month, Mr. Trump leads among white registered voters without a degree by a margin of 58 percent to 30 percent. This has been true, to varying degrees, for the entire year. It’s a significant improvement over Mr. Romney in 2012, who led in pre-election polls by a 55-to-37 margin among this group.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

50 Food Myths Busted: Setting the record straight on popular beliefs about foo

May 4, 2016, 12:44 pm SGT

Experts clear the air on widely held misconceptions and beliefs about food. They address questions on myths on the daily diet, pregnancy and babies, fuelling workouts, sickness and what we drink.
Poon Chian Hui
Assistant News Editor

Ng Wan Ching
Mind & Body Editor

Joyce Teo

Joan Chew

This story was first published in November, 2015 in an e-book titled 50 Food Myths Busted, in The Straits Times Star E-books app. In the book, experts clear the air on widely held misconceptions and beliefs about food. They address questions on myths on the daily diet, pregnancy and babies, fuelling workouts, sickness and what we drink. The book was conceptualised and written by the team at Mind & Body, the weekly health features section in The Straits Times.
Preface by Poon Chian Hui, editor, Mind & Body

Eat this, not that. People have plenty of beliefs about food – even more so when it comes to their health.

At Mind & Body, a health features section of The Straits Times, we get questions from readers about nutrition, dietary guidelines and even warnings about certain food items.

But the answers aren’t always clear-cut. Studies may contradict each other, and experts can have different opinions.

The Mind & Body team rounded up 50 confounding food myths and asked doctors and dietitians islandwide to clear the air, once and for all.

You will also find handy tips on how best to navigate each situation.

Should you always choose fresh produce over frozen food? Does eating before exercise give you cramps or stitches? And will consuming more fibre help to ease constipation?

Read on to find out – the answers may surprise you. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Same old conspiracy theory from Indonesia

[Indonesia has been claiming for many years that many of their rich citizens have fled their country with the ill-gotten gains to seek haven in Singapore. And that Singapore has benefited from these wealthy crooks who invest in Singapore (or park their loot in Singapore Banks), and Singapore has grown so fast because of these money.

This is how the Indonesian government consoles itself for the success of Singapore, while Indonesia still has to resort to destroying their natural heritage to simply make a living.

And this urban legend/conspiracy theory will refuse to die. So here is the latest episode.]

Saturday, July 23, 2016

'You can disagree with us' [Michelin Guide Launched in Singapore]

Jul 23, 2016,

Wong Ah Yoke
Food Critic

In an interview right after the Singapore Michelin Guide was launched on Thursday night, Mr Michael Ellis, the international director of Michelin Guides, struggled to explain how Shoukouwa, a Japanese restaurant that officially opened only in May, got into the guide with two stars.

Michelin inspectors, he said, completed their tastings for the inaugural guide at the end of the same month.

He also said that different - "at least three or four" - inspectors, none of whom are from Singapore, had to go to a restaurant separately before awarding stars.

That would mean the inspectors visited Shoukouwa, which soft-opened very quietly in late March at One Fullerton, within the first weeks of its opening.

"It's probably the Japanese network. We sent a number of Japanese inspectors here to test the Japanese restaurants," Mr Ellis, 58, said. "It's the grapevine, chefs talk among themselves."

But he admitted that he was unsure of the timeline of the inspectors' visits to the restaurant.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

South China Sea: The French Are Coming

France, also an Indo-Pacific nation, has its own stake in the South China Sea.

By Yo-Jung Chen
July 14, 2016

China’s aggressive territorial push in the South China Sea has resulted in turning this busy international trade route into one of the most volatile spots in the world.

The U.S.-led international efforts to defend the freedom of navigation guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), aiming at preventing the entire South China Sea from becoming an exclusive Chinese lake, has just received a powerful boost in the form of the July 12 ruling of The Hague-based UN Permanent Court of Arbitration. Much to China’s anger, most of its sovereignty claims over the South China Sea are rejected in this ruling.

To the surprise of many, a seemingly unrelated European power, France, has announced its intention of coordinating the navies of fellow European Union nations to conduct Freedom of Navigation Operations or FONOPs in South China Sea. On June 5, at the Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian mentioned this initiative for joint EU patrols of “the maritime areas of Asia” and for a “regular and visible presence there.”

The four cryptic words Donald Trump can’t stop saying

By Max Ehrenfreund

June 13

Washington Post

A day after 49 people were killed in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, Donald Trump seemed to imply that President Obama might have been connected, in some way, with the attack.

"Look, we're led by a man that either is not tough, not smart or he's got something else in mind," the presumptive Republican nominee told Fox & Friends Monday morning.

Earlier in the interview, when asked why he called for Obama's resignation, Trump said, "He doesn't get it or he gets it better than anybody understands. It's one or the other."

Also during that interview, Trump repeated a four-word phrase that has come to define his conspiratorial campaign almost as much as his official slogan, "Make America Great Again."

"There's something going on," Trump said. "It's inconceivable. There's something going on."

Why do people hate people who defend Singapore?

And by "people" I mean "Singaporeans". 

And by "Singaporeans", I mean small-minded, pretentious, ideologues full of their own sense of superiority who happened to be Singapore Citizens.

First, let's hear what Theodore has to say. Then note his parting note at the end.

But before I forget, thank you Mr Shawcross for your sharing. I agree with you, Singapore is an amazing country. Not perfect, but it has got most of the things right. 

And the things that are "wrong" about Singapore, most of them are "First World Problems". 

Like not being able to get Pokemon Go!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Arabisation of Islam in Asia: A clash within civilisation

Baladas Ghoshal
For The Straits Times

JUL 19, 2016

The spate of terrorist attacks and the attendant violence witnessed in the last couple of months, including the recent attacks in Dhaka, Kishoreganj and Ektarpur in Bangladesh, and Nice in France, brings home the truth that something perverse is happening within Islam and Muslims alone can fight that scourge.

Analysts attribute the growth of Islamist radicalism to Muslim grievances about their culture and way of life not being given what they consider their rightful place in their own societies; transnational links with organisations like Al-Qaeda and now an even more dangerous phenomenon called the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or Daesh; hostility towards the policies of the West, in particular the United States and its support of Israel's policies towards the Palestinians, the occupation of Iraq and now intervention in Syria; and opposition to crackdowns on domestic militancy like in Bangladesh.

These factors have, undoubtedly, contributed to a sense of growing alienation and feeling of victimisation and oppression among certain Muslim groups, and to an attempt to redress their grievances and frustrations through violence and terror.

More importantly, a fundamental transformation is taking place within the Muslim community all over the world - an identity formation based on a world view taken from early Quranic precepts and a code of conduct resembling a way of life that was prevalent in the Arab world in the mediaeval period during the formative stage of Islam.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Philippines’ pyrrhic victory


JULY 18, 2016

The Philippines is the last of the major parties in the South China Sea dispute to issue a statement on the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling last week on its case against China. President Rodrigo Duterte, in office for less than two weeks when the ruling was issued, has cautiously said that the Philippines should not “taunt” China or “flaunt” a ruling in favour of the Philippines.

Yet, new Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay has been widely criticised in the Philippines for appearing contrite, even apologetic in the first press conference after the ruling.

This despite the ruling comprehensively upholding the case filed by the Philippines against China in January 2013, and deeming much of China’s claims and actions in the Philippine exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea unlawful.

Why such a sombre official tone in face of a major victory? A victory for the rules-based order weaker states depend on.

President Duterte may well see the ruling as a pyrrhic victory and an unwelcome legacy of his predecessor, Mr Benigno Aquino.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Tribunal ruling a game changer

In essence, Unclos provides that if a dispute arises between two state parties that cannot be resolved by negotiation and exchange of views, either of the parties to the dispute can unilaterally institute proceedings before an international court or arbitral tribunal without obtaining the consent of the other party.

Robert Beckman
For The Straits Times

July 14 2016

What the tribunal did not rule on is as significant as what it did. It doesn't say whose territorial claims are superior, or that China's nine-dash line claim is illegal per se, or that China's construction of artificial islands is in principle unlawful.

The final award in the Philippines versus China arbitration was the most anticipated decision of any international court or tribunal in the area of the law of the sea since the entry into force of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) in 1994.

South China Sea, responses and position.

[More on the South China Sea ruling.

Three responses, reactions and one older article on Russia's position.]

US launches quiet diplomacy to ease South China Sea tensions

14 Jul 2016 07:29


WASHINGTON: The United States is using quiet diplomacy to persuade the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and other Asian nations not to move aggressively to capitalise on an international court ruling that denied China's claims to the South China Sea, several US administration officials said on Wednesday (Jul 13).

"What we want is to quiet things down so these issues can be addressed rationally instead of emotionally," said one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private diplomatic messages.

Some were sent through US embassies abroad and foreign missions in Washington, while others were conveyed directly to top officials by Defence Secretary Ash Carter, Secretary of State John Kerry and other senior officials, the sources said.

"This is a blanket call for quiet, not some attempt to rally the region against China, which would play into a false narrative that the US is leading a coalition to contain China," the official added.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Silicon Valley-driven hype for self-driving cars

Lee Gomes

July 12 2016

Because of reports that he may have been watching a Harry Potter movie at the time, Mr Joshua Brown, the Tesla Model S owner killed in the self-driving car industry's first known fatal accident, has come to be regarded as a reckless contributor to his own sad fate.

Here is another view: Mr Brown may be the first casualty of the widespread and potentially dangerous belief that autonomous cars are much closer to being road-ready than they actually are.

Mr Brown, who died in Florida on May 7, does not appear to have been heeding an important rule in the official instruction manual for the Tesla Autopilot feature he was using: Drivers should keep their hands on the wheel and be ready to resume control of the vehicle at any time.

Instead, he seems to have been answering to a higher authority: Mr Elon Musk, a founder and the chief executive of Tesla Motors. Mr Musk is well known for his salesmanship and he used it liberally in promoting Autopilot. "It's almost twice as good as a person" was one of his claims. Another: A driver could use Autopilot for the roughly 1,300km between San Francisco and Seattle almost "without touching the controls at all".

It would not be fair to tar all of the growing self-driving industry with Mr Musk's braggadocio. Nonetheless, his technological over-promising fits into a common narrative in Silicon Valley: The major engineering problems with self-driving cars have essentially been solved and their widespread adoption is inevitable. Ask "when?" and you will usually be told, "Much sooner than you think."

The 2009 claims that changed the dynamics in the South China Sea

Navin Rajagobal
For The Straits Times

July 12 2016

Through the 2000s, China's charm offensive towards Asean succeeded. Today, China has tense relations with many of its regional neighbours, causing them to cleave more closely to America. What happened to spark that dramatic turnaround from foreign policy success to failure?
For much of this millennium's first decade, Mr George W. Bush was the president of the United States and his administration was preoccupied with 9/11, the "War on Terror", and actual wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The US, for the most part, didn't have much time for Asia and, in particular, Asean. Perhaps not much time was needed. After all, Asean was a relatively safe and secure part of the world with most South-east Asian countries being friendly or at least not antithetical to the US. Meanwhile, Japan was mired in economic stagnation.

Who stepped into this breach? China. In what was then called a "charm offensive", China's leaders made historic trips to Asean countries and concluded historic agreements. The "charm offensive" worked.

By 2008, China's official development assistance (ODA) to Asean countries surpassed Japan's ODA. Between 2003 and 2013, China's foreign direct investment (FDI) in Asean increased from just US$581.1 million to US$35.7 billion. In this period, China's FDI in the Philippines increased from US$9 million to US$692 million and the increase in Vietnam was from US$29 million to US$2.2 billion.

The landmark Asean-China Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA) came into effect in 2010. The ACFTA is the world's largest free trade area in terms of population.

How China could react if verdict is against it

July 12 2016

If the arbitration tribunal in The Hague rules against China, Beijing's options could range from benign to aggressive:


• Issues a strongly worded statement outlining its refusal to accept the court's jurisdiction and vowing to ignore the ruling.

• Extends its media campaign, proclaiming the support of more than 60 nations for its position.

• Reduces tensions by pulling back on the harassment of Filipino fishermen, refrains from adding military installations to reclaimed reefs in the Spratlys chain and leaves the Scarborough Shoal uninhabited.

• Ceases its radio warnings to military aircraft from other countries flying over features it claims, and invites new Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to direct talks.

What it means: A lowering of tensions allows claimant states to put the disputes to one side to begin negotiations and potentially jointly develop mineral and energy resources.

Monday, July 11, 2016

How will Singapore power the future? Experts discuss energy options

Jul 10, 2016

Experts at roundtable discussion chaired by The Sunday Times clue us in on our energy options
Warren Fernandez

Flick a switch, and the lights come on.

Turn a tap, and the water flows, pumped to the top of the tallest skyscraper.

Tap a remote, and the smart TV springs to life.

These are everyday realities, often taken for granted in Singapore.

They are made possible by readily available, generally reliable, and relatively affordable energy sources that power a modern economy.

The advent of new technologies, from robotics to 3D printing to electric vehicles, will increase the demand for energy, not just in Singapore but the world over.

As societies move up the development curve, more people will choose to buy computers, mobile phones and cars. Those trends, plus the projected growth in the world population to 10 billion, will see energy demand double by mid-century.

Amid all this is the urgent imperative to check greenhouse gas emissions which give rise to global warming, as nations agreed to do at the Paris climate summit in December.

The world, in short, will need a lot more energy, but with a lot less carbon dioxide (CO2) produced in the process.

Fail to achieve this, and the world faces serious economic and environmental problems in the years ahead.

More energy with less CO2
Which is why any discussion about the Future Economy, in Singapore or elsewhere, rightly begins with exploring future sources of energy - just where the energy to power tomorrow's growth will come from, at what cost, and with what impact to the environment. So, the first ST Future Economy Roundtable held last month took up this issue.

Shell Singapore's country chairman Goh Swee Chen, who was one of the Roundtable panellists, sums up the challenge this way: "We're a very carbon-based economy and we need to recognise that as we continue to prosper, we will need more energy. And so, we are in an energy transition, one that gets us from the high CO2 emitters all the way to a lower CO2 emission solution.

"In order for us to get to a scenario where we can have better living in a healthier planet, governments, private companies and society all need to work together to allow us to have an environment where we can prosper and at the same time live in a world of lower CO2 emissions."

While recent headlines have been dominated by plunging oil prices, the past few years have seen high energy prices, she notes.

The result: a boon time for investments in alternative energy sources, from solar to shale gas. New technologies and economies of scale brought prices of these energy sources down dramatically, she adds.

In the United States, the discovery of huge reserves of shale gas and advances in techniques to extract it helped the US become an exporter of gas - with economic and geopolitical implications - which few imagined possible just a decade ago.

It was also this wider use of shale gas for power generation that enabled the US to achieve significant reductions in its CO2 emissions in recent years, as promised by President Barack Obama, more so than his push to promote renewable energy sources such as wind or solar. So, technological change in the energy sector can have major disruptive effects which are felt way beyond the industry itself.

In Singapore, for example, solar power has seen a major ramp-up in recent years, with efficiency rising and costs falling to the point where the cost of harnessing energy from the sun is now in line with that of more conventional sources.

The Energy Market Authority's director of industry development, Dr Alvin Yeo, points out that since 2010, Singapore has seen a 19-fold jump in solar-powered energy, helped by several government initiatives to give it a push.

"That's very encouraging and the question now is how the Government can work with business, as well as push some technologies, to make sure that we have more of these renewables in the energy mix in the future," he says.

One major player in the field, Mr Frank Phuan, co-founder and director of home-grown solar energy firm Sunseap Group, notes that more local and foreign firms are now seeking out his company for clean-energy solutions that are less pollutive. They do so not just to shave their energy bills, but also to check their carbon emissions.

Solar power, he adds, also allows them to hedge on energy spending, since low prices can be locked in for longer periods, unlike other sources which are more dependent on fluctuations in oil and gas prices.

The pressure on governments to deliver on pledges made to curb CO2 emissions, as well as companies recognising that they had best prepare for the eventuality that some form of price for emitting CO2 will be adopted, is driving this development, notes Ms Jessica Cheam, editor of Eco-Business, a website on green issues.

Carbon pricing aims to set a cost to polluters and create schemes to pay that cost - for instance, through "cap and trade" systems where they buy and sell carbon credits.

But while recognising that the government has been proactive in driving solar power adoption, Ms Cheam laments the lack of a similar push to promote electric vehicles.

Agreeing, Professor Subodh Mhaisalkar, executive director of the Nanyang Technological University's Energy Research Institute, points to recent advances in storage capacity of batteries, which not only give solar power a boost, but also make electric vehicles more viable.

Boosting energy efficiency - improving the way energy is used in homes, offices and factories - could also see big gains being made, he adds.

Leading the way in developing such clean energy solutions could be a new competitive advantage for Singapore, he continues, just as the Republic turned water from strategic disadvantage to economic opportunity.

This is especially significant since 70 per cent of the world's burgeoning population will live in cities by 2050, consuming 75 per cent of the world's energy and accounting for 80 per cent of the CO2 emitted.

"Singapore is an ideal mega-city in the tropics and if we can get a handle on how to reduce our CO2 emissions, the solutions that we develop could be exported to every part of the world," said Prof Mhaisalkar.

Related Story: Future fuel options
Jul 10, 2016


Solar cells harness light and heat from the sun and convert them into energy. Solar power has been touted as the most promising source of renewable energy for Singapore.

However, it accounts for less than 1 per cent of the electricity consumed here, due to high costs and land constraints in installing solar panels. The Government aims to make it 5 per cent by 2020.

Take its SolarNova programme, which aims to increase solar demand across government agencies. Under the scheme, the Housing Board has committed to a target of 220MW, by generating power through solar panels at 5,500 blocks. 


The movement of wind through special turbines generates electricity. Wind power generation in Singapore faces difficulties of space constraints and low wind speeds.

While commercial wind turbines operate at wind speeds of above 4.5m per second, the average in Singapore is only about 2m per second.

But Nanyang Technological University (NTU) researchers are working on turbine designs that could tap wind energy in Singapore's climate, and be installed along the coastline or on islands such as Pulau Semakau. 


Fuel cells convert the chemical energy of a type of fuel, typically hydrogen, into electricity, generating heat and water in the process.

It is more expensive than oil and gas, due to the high cost of extracting and purifying hydrogen, but its emissions are far cleaner.

JTC Corp's CleanTech One building is powered by a fuel cell plant. NTU researchers are also exploring how the technology can be used to fuel drones. 


These run on rechargeable batteries and release no tail-pipe air pollutants.

There are only about 120 electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles here today, but NTU researchers believe they could make up as much as 30 per cent to 50 per cent of Singapore's motor population by 2050. This could cut vehicle pollution by as much as 30 per cent.

Early this month, the authorities appointed BlueSG, a subsidiary of French electric car-sharing operator Bollore Group, to run a fleet of 1,000 cars by 2020 under a national electric car- sharing programme. 


This converts solid waste into energy via combustion, reducing the volume of waste along the way.

Singapore has four waste-to- energy plants - Tuas, Senoko, Tuas South and Keppel Seghers Tuas - as well as the Semakau Landfill. Another is being built by Hyflux and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Tuas.


A microgrid is a self-contained power system of solar panels and batteries. Small-scale and able to sustain itself, it can provide electricity to remote areas.

The Energy Market Authority is piloting a microgrid test-bed at the jetty area of Pulau Ubin. 


A smart city is a vision of urban development which uses big data and other advances in technology to improve the quality of life for residents.

In Singapore, the Govern- ment's Smart Nation Programme Office oversees the smart city push. The goal is to be more energy-efficient by reducing the heat generated by the environment, such as by cutting down on congestion or building naturally cooler homes.

Related Story II: Get set for the solar-powered, cheaper-battery revolution

Renewable energy, driver-less cars, and the possibility of a carbon tax. These topics take centre stage at a roundtable discussion about energy in the future economy, moderated by Straits Times Editor Warren Fernández.
GOH SWEE CHEN, Shell Singapore chairman
ALVIN YEO, Energy Market Authority’s director of industry development
SUBODH MHAISALKAR, executive director of Energy Research Institute@NTU
FRANK PHUAN, Sunseap co-founder and director
JESSICA CHEAM, Eco-Business founder and editor

Jul 10, 2016

Rising energy demand and pressure to reduce CO2 emissions will drive innovation

Q. Let's take up the point on how energy might be a disruptor. We've seen oil prices plunge over the past months and now they are hovering around US$50. We've seen the emergence of shale gas over the past decade, bringing new energy supplies to the market, and serving as a disruptor to the whole energy industry. So the energy sector is facing disruption, with major implications for other sectors, too. What is the impact on Singapore, today and in the future?

GOH SWEE CHEN When we look at the last five to 10 years, when the price of crude was accelerating, going above US$150, that was when the most number of innovations came through in our industry.
At that high price, it did encourage investments. The industry saw investments in renewables treble and in many cases rise more than five to six times. And the investment in these technologies has actually driven down prices of renewables. So the industry has seen that the cost of solar energy has gone down more than 60 per cent. Since 2011, the price of electricity per kilowatt hour from wind has decreased, and it's about as much as from gas. In fact, the cost of energy from solar sources is now lower than from gas.
So, in our view, in order to live in a world where we need to provide more energy but with lower CO2 emissions, we need to think about energy sources as being on a transition pathway. The transition from coal to oil to gas, renewables, and nuclear as well, is something the world needs to grapple with.

SUBODH MHAISALKAR There have been significant new investments in energy innovation. The investment in renewables in 2013 was higher than investments in fossil fuels. So, from that perspective, 2013 was a game-changer.
I'm very optimistic that this will continue, regardless of oil prices, for two reasons. First, renewables are really the simplest answer in terms of electrification of remote areas. The second reason is the realisation that this would be a start for addressing the low CO2 future.

ALVIN YEO Could I take up a point that Swee Chen made... In Singapore today, 95 per cent of our electricity is produced from natural gas. And that is expected to continue over the medium term. But interestingly, we have seen solar jump by 19-fold since 2010 to reach about 70 megawatts peak.
That's very encouraging and the question, again, is how does the Government work with businesses, as well as push some technologies, to make sure that in the future we have more of this renewables-mix?
So, for example, what the Government has done is to streamline the connection process to the grid to seven days. That's a major move. And, we have seen how Frank managed to bring together 800 different sites to power up Apple's operations in Singapore. That's a great example of innovation.

FRANK PHUAN Having been in the solar industry for the last 20 years, I have seen three waves of change. The first wave was that of feed-in tariffs, when government incentives were given to push the investments of renewables like solar, which usually has a high upfront cost.
The second wave has been the grid-parity wave. Grid parity means that we are operating at a point where the cost of producing renewable energy is on a par with your energy tariff. In some cases, renewable energy is even cheaper. For example, in Singapore, when our company offers to sell electricity to potential customers we actually offer discounts (on existing utility charges). So the very fact that we can offer a discount and allow customers to get savings is an economic benefit.
The third wave stems from what happened in Paris during the COP21 (climate change summit), which called for carbon reduction. So everybody, especially a lot of US multinational corporations, are now aligned in terms of carbon reduction. They come to our company, requesting carbon-free energy solutions. Apple, for example, made such a decision. It has been followed by many other US companies. I think local listed companies, because of sustainability reporting, will follow suit. When the third wave comes, it will be so huge that we will see supply falling behind demand for renewables.

Q. So when do you see this third wave coming?

JESSICA CHEAM It's already here.

PHUAN Yes. In the last six months, since the commitment made to COP21, we have seen a lot of companies approaching us for clean energy solutions that they don't mind paying a premium for. This has never happened in Singapore. Most of the time a typical Singaporean company will ask you, "How much savings do I get?" And if there are no savings, that's a no-go.
But nowadays, companies do approach us and say, "I don't mind paying a premium as long as it allows me to reduce carbon, as well as treat it like an energy hedge over a long period of time."

CHEAM I think the growing momentum behind the Paris Agreement, which Frank mentioned, has everyone talking about CO2 price. They know it's coming in some form. It might be as in China, where they have a cap-and-trade system, or it might be like in Europe, where they have a fixed carbon price. But whatever it is, businesses realise that in this business environment, if you do not price in the carbon risk, if you do not price in climate-related risks, your business model might not be feasible. And so that's driving the investments.
Governments are also cognisant of that fact. That they are parties to the UN Paris Agreement also means they now have a responsibility.
In some countries, governments play a stronger role than others. In Singapore, the Government is very persuasive, and that's good, because the Government sets the legislative framework and it also sets the incentives for businesses to adopt these energy solutions.
In this respect, in some areas, the Government is doing better than others. I would say in solar, it has been taking the lead in recent years. But in other areas, like electric vehicles, they have been a little slow.

Q. Why is that?

MHAISALKAR Going for solar is really a no-brainer. But what needs to be realised is that for any solution with renewables, it has to be coupled with energy storage.
What has happened in the past five years with energy storage is you've seen up to 50 per cent reduction in the costs of batteries. So if you look at battery pricing, we are now down to about $350 per kilowatt hour. The forecast is over the next five years, that $350 per kilowatt hour is likely to come down to $200. So that will have a two-fold impact. The first impact is it will be even easier to couple the energy storage with solar, which is already price-competitive.
The second impact it will have will be on electric vehicles. It is forecast that within the next five to 10 years, the electric vehicles will be more or less on a par with internal combustion engine vehicles. So from this perspective, I think we are really in for quite a revolution in terms of what would be possible in terms of CO2 reduction by use of electric vehicles. If you convert practically all of our buses and 60 to 80 per cent of our taxis to electric vehicles, it would reduce our CO2 emissions by up to 30 per cent.

Q. So why do you think electric vehicles are not getting as big a push?

MHAISALKAR Solar has taken off because it's made business sense. With electric vehicles it has not made business sense so far. For several reasons. The first reason is the cost of batteries, which we see coming down tremendously.
The second reason is it still needs six to eight hours to charge an electric car. So that revolution is also coming. Fast charge solutions from a battery perspective are coming.
The third aspect of it is availability of charging stations. And that is also changing. All of these factors are converging to a solution. Last factor, perhaps, one would just argue is the range. On a full charge, a car like a BMWi3 would give you 140km in a place like Singapore. For the most part it's good enough. But the next-generation vehicles would give you 200km to 250km in terms of range.

Q. In a city like Singapore, this would make eminent sense?

MHAISALKAR Absolutely...

PHUAN The availability of the charging points is an issue. Also, from the grid perspective, if everybody owns an electrical car, and everybody goes home and charges their cars at the same time, the consumption curve of Singapore would look very different.

Q. But you could use differential pricing to manage that?

PHUAN Yes, I think we are on the verge, but it will take a little bit of a push from the Government.

[April 2019 update.

Solar and other renewables will NOT be the solution.

This video (below) explains why.

Don't have 17:30 to watch?

At about 1:55, he explains how solar has its problems. On problem is the intermittency of Solar & Wind Power (2:35). At about 5:57, he gets to the crux of the problem: Sunlight and Wind are just too diffused as energy sources and you need to cover vast areas of land to harness the energy of these renewables.

At about 6:20 he explains the challenges of integrating unreliable solar and wind energy into the grid. The problem is the the unreliability of solar and wind, means that there must be a power plant that can respond quickly to unreliable energy from solar and wind. And that means using dirty fuel power plant. Nuclear cannot respond that quickly, so switching to solar and wind will mean closing down nuclear and building more coal and gas power plants.

So, is he proposing Nuclear as a solution? At 8:27 he starts to discuss the fears of nuclear power.

And he points out at about 10:10 that solar panels require a lot of material and that adds to the carbon footprint of solar panels. And there are no plans to deal with solar panels at the end of their life. And they will end up being shipped to developing countries where the heavy or toxic metals in the solar panel end up endangering the poor workers and the environment.

He summarised from 13:10 onwards. And he begins to make his pitch about saving the environment, nature, and wildlife.

Of course he is just one person, and some of this illustrations may not be as relevant as it could be, and maybe you want to check his information. If you are really enamoured with "really romantic solutions" like solar and wind, I do not expect this single video will change your mind. But if you are intellectually honest, and if you have a soupçon of scientific literacy, you will know that his arguments are valid, and you should investigate more. And find out for yourself. And make up your own mind.]

Friday, July 8, 2016

Raising minimum wage could force millions into unemployment

Peter D. Salins

JUL 7, 2016

In this campaign season, politicians across the country (including the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate and perhaps even the Republican one) have called for raising the minimum wage. Not just marginally, as in the past, but all the way to US$15 (S$20.30) an hour, more than double the current national level of US$7.25. Even elected officials and candidates in states with higher minimum wages like New York have jumped on the US$15-an-hour bandwagon. Their justification: "You can't support a family on the current minimum wage."

What the advocates fail to acknowledge is that minimum wage workers with families to support are already eligible to receive a financial boost under a national programme called the earned income tax credit. This programme, instituted in 1975 and expanded since then, paid benefits to 27.5 million low-income workers in 2014. (That same year, only three million workers fell to or below the federal minimum wage, so the credit also helped millions of other low-wage workers.) Technically, such payments are classified as "refundable tax credits", paid to qualifying workers when they file their annual income tax returns.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Pressure piles up on leaders as business landscape shifts

Koh Choon Hwee

June 30, 2016

In May 2012, one year after a Singapore General Election that was said to have ushered in a “new normal”, a Chinese expatriate crashed his red Ferrari into a taxi and a motorcycle, killing himself and claiming the lives of a Singaporean cab driver and the taxi’s Japanese passenger.

About a week later, The Wall Street Journal ran an article titled Ferrari Crash Foments Anti-Foreigner Feelings in Singapore. In it, the author noted increasing levels of xenophobia in the country, and cited local academics who expressed the need to deal urgently with such divisive anti-foreigner sentiment.

Here’s the Thing So Many Americans Can’t Grasp About Bernie Sanders

The U.S. likes to brand itself 'the land of opportunity'—yet our poster boys for innovation go to Harvard

By Pete Ross



Watching this year’s presidential nomination process from Australia has been a very interesting affair. I can’t say I’ve followed every single speech or piece of news, but I’ve certainly kept abreast of what is going on and have seen plenty of articles and commentary from people on my feed putting their opinions forward. What interests me the most are the people and media pundits who emphatically denounce Bernie Sanders and his supporters. The reasons all generally boil down to the fact that he is the reincarnation of Karl Marx and he wants to turn the U.S. into a communist state. That he is so far left of centre that he’s basically off the chart.

For those people, here’s a reality check.

Around the rest of the world, Mr. Sanders represents a point on the political spectrum that is mildly left of centre. His “wacky” ideas of free (and we’ll get to that term a bit later) education, free healthcare, regulating banks and corporations and so on are all actually staple ideas of many of the happiest and most prosperous countries in the world. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the happiest countries in the world index for 2016. The U.S. doesn’t make the top 10—but almost every single country that does has the kind of policies Mr. Sanders is promoting at some level. Looking at the other candidates, Hillary Clinton would in most countries be considered right of centre, not left. Donald and Ted? Man, those guys are so far right of centre you couldn’t plot where they exist—they’re pretty much off the spectrum.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Defining China: A rising, fragile global power

Jean-Pierre Lehmann
For The Straits Times

July 5, 2016

China is no part of the emerging market; nor Brics, nor Chindia. China is itself, and has to be understood on its own terms.

Among the many daunting questions the planet is facing, the most important for at least the first quarter of the 21st century, in all likelihood extending to the first half, is the Chinese question.

Will China's peaceful rise succeed, or will it fail? How will Chinese society evolve? How will the world adapt to a China rising not only economically, but also geopolitically and militarily?

There is an understandable visceral desire to be optimistic. "Things will be okay"; "All that the Chinese really want is to be economically successful"; "Maoism has been metamorphosed into materialism". There is, of course, some of that, but complacency and wishful thinking are dangerous. There is an imperative to face reality with a hard, analytical look.

Voters hold key to democracy working

July 5, 2016

The aftershocks following the political earthquake of the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom are still shaking the foundation of British politics. This is certainly a time for both the leadership and the people to be clear-eyed about the future. But top leaders have dropped out or are on the ropes and many people are upset and confused over the result. Millions want a second referendum, but they forget that votes have to be binding to be respected as the will of the people. Flip-flopping people would get no respect at all.