26 June 2008

Excerpts from a speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the World Cities Summit, 24 June 2008:

The first element of sustainable living is to conserve resources. It is especially important to conserve energy, in the form of electricity and fuel. This is both to minimise wastage, and also because usually energy derives from fossil fuel, and saving energy also reduces carbon emissions.
The idea is there, but it does not convey the urgency and gravity of the sustainability problems that we are facing due to resource depletion. It would have been better, albeit tactless and undiplomatic, to have said bluntly: "The first element of sustainable living is to understand that any society that continues to use critical resources unsustainably will collapse. (Tainter's Axiom)"
To have the greatest effect, energy efficiency should be factored into the way the whole city is designed, including its urban layout, buildings, transport system and industrial facilities...Such cities can still improve their energy efficiency, for example by encouraging use of public transport instead of cars, and not over-cooling or over-heating buildings. But substantial improvements will take time.
Energy efficiency is, of course, desirable. What the Singapore government often overlooks is total consumption. There are, after all, finite amounts of fossil fuels and no measure of efficiency is going to stop us from exhausting what's left in the ground if the total quantity of energy we extract increases every year. Instead of focusing purely on per capita consumption, it's more important and logical to be mindful of total energy consumption.

Look at the charts below and compare how even though we have improved our energy efficiency, total electricity consumption has risen relentlessly.

Sources: EMA, Singstat and E2Singapore

One more thing about efficiency that we need to be mindful of - Jevon's Paradox
In economics, the Jevons Paradox is an observation made by William Stanley Jevons, that as technological improvements increase the efficiency with which a resource is used, total consumption of that resource tends to increase, rather than decrease. It is historically called the Jevons Paradox as it ran counter to popular intuition. However, the situation is well understood in modern economics. In addition to reducing the amount needed for a given output, improved efficiency lowers the relative cost of using a resource – which increases demand. Overall resource use increases or decreases depending on which effect predominates. --- WIKI
Ideally energy should be priced not just at today’s market levels, but also taking into account the likelihood of a future carbon-constrained world, be it due to scarcer supplies of fossil fuels or a post-Kyoto regime to restrain carbon emissions.
"Scarcer supplies of fossil fuels" - Peak oil, Peak Natural Gas.

Another strategy is to shift towards clean and renewable energy, like wind and solar power, with a smaller carbon footprint. These should be part of the solution, but realistically they lack the scale to replace more than a small proportion of fossil fuel use.
Good. He realises that alternative energies are not a direct convenient replacement for oil.

There have been breakthroughs in water technologies, more so than in clean energy. In the last two decades, advances in reverse osmosis and membrane technologies have made desalination, water reuse and other water purification techniques significantly cheaper, and enabled them to be deployed on a large scale. This has transformed the problem from an absolute resource constraint to a question of economics. More water is available, at the right price.
I disagree. The question is not entirely one of money but more importantly energy. Water treatment plants require huge energy inputs to operate. How are we going to produce affordable potable water if the price of energy continues to ascend? How can we maintain or increase our current treated water output levels if there is a shortfall of energy? Like the Minister Mentor, he is holding on to a fundamental error held by mainstream economists by believing that money will solve our resource problems:

Error: Economic activity as a function of infinite "money creation", rather than a function of finite "energy stocks" and finite "energy flows". In fact, the economy is 100% dependent on available energy -- it always has been, and it always will be. LINK
The full text of the PM's speech can be found here.