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A growing number of companies listed on the Singapore Exchange have in recent years embarked on projects ranging from solar-power installations in India to hydropower plants in Indonesia. Examples are Charisma Energy, SHS Holdings and ISDN Holdings. Kow Juan Tiang, the group director of environment and infrastructure solutions at International Enterprise (IE), noted that more than 50 homegrown firms have developed expertise in renewable energy and are actively pursuing projects overseas.

The nascent clean-energy sector in Singapore follows years of government-led investment in research and development efforts in renewable energy.

The Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (SERIS) was the first of a string of research bodies. It was set up in 2008, with the aim of cementing the Republic's position as a solar energy hub in the Asia-Pacific.

The Energy Research Institute at the Nanyang Technological University (ERI@N) came along in 2010 to study wind and marine renewable energy, fuel cells, energy storage, green and smart buildings and electro-mobility; a year later, the Experimental Power Grid Centre (EPGC) by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) opened with a one-megawatt experimental power grid.

The three institutions aim to go further than the basic research by the local universities; they will partner companies and create commercially viable solutions. In all, some S$2 billion has been pumped into R&D to grow the clean-technology (cleantech) sector - which includes environment and water solutions - since 2006, said the Economic Development Board (EDB). Another S$900 million has been set aside for R&D in urban solutions and sustainability in the recently unveiled Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2020 plan, which maps out the track for Singapore R&D in the next five years.

The development of the clean-energy sector is, first and foremost, to serve Singapore's needs in enhancing energy security and lowering carbon emissions.

Singapore has identified solar power as the only technically feasible, renewable energy source for domestic consumption.

Over the years, however, the ambit of the sector has broadened, as the country has set its sights on exporting clean-energy expertise to the region.

Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S Iswaran last year identified the clean-energy sector as one with "great potential" for Singapore because of the demand for it in Asia - not just in terms of the technology but also in financing models and business structures that Singapore can develop.

This article was first published on March 2, 2016 at The Business Times.

(AH)

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