Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at the Official Opening of Jurong Island Desalination Plant on 17 April 2022.
Ms Grace Fu
Minister for Sustainability and the Environment
Ladies and gentlemen
I am happy to be with all of you here on Jurong Island, as we mark yet another key milestone in Singapore’s journey towards water sustainability.
Our Quest for a Sustainable Water Supply
The story of our water journey is one of grit and ingenuity.
We started with only two sources of water – our local water catchments and imported water.
These two sources quickly became inadequate to meet our needs, as our population and economy grew.
Importantly, these sources of water are also rainfall-dependent and left us at the mercy of dry spells. Those of my generation will remember that water rationing was imposed nationwide in the 1960s due to droughts.
Our founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew was very determined to find solutions to this critical challenge. To diversify our water supply, we began a long journey of exploring alternative sources.
As early as 1974, we opened an experimental plant in Jurong to produce potable reclaimed water by using advanced membrane technologies, including reverse osmosis, to purify waste water.
But the technologies then were unreliable, and prohibitively expensive. The experimental plant was decommissioned just a year later.
We did not give up. After more than two decades of research, the advances in technologies allowed us to eventually introduce NEWater as our 3rd tap in 2000.
But NEWater is limited by how much wastewater is generated daily. So we introduced a 4th tap – desalination – where water be drawn from the sea.
Desalination is not new. But it took several decades for this to become cost-viable for us, and we introduced our first desalination plant in 2005.
Desalination remains a very energy-intensive process, and we are investing in R&D to reduce the energy take.
For example, PUB will be building a desalination Integrated Validation Plant in Pasir Ris to trial promising technologies for implementation in full-scale desalination plants.
Through the scale up and validation of these technologies, the energy to produce one cubic meter of desalinated water could potentially be reduced from 3.5 kilowatt hours to less than 2 kilowatt hours by 2025.
The plant is just one of the many projects that are supported under our national Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2025 plan.
Under RIE 2025, we will also continue to devote resources to other areas of water research. This includes enhancing the efficiency of used water treatment, as well as developing innovative solutions to reduce industrial water consumption.
NEWater and desalination have been gamechangers. They are also weather-resilient, which puts us in a much stronger position to deal with the unpredictable weather patterns that climate change will bring about.
The completion of the Jurong Island Desalination Plant, or JIDP, marks another key milestone in our water journey.
It is the second desalination plant to start operation in the last two years.
It follows the Keppel Marina East Desalination Plant, which commenced operations in June 2020.
JIDP, which can produce 30 million gallons of potable water daily, will utilise the most up-to-date and proven technologies.
Its unique location is not by chance. We had planned for it to be co-located with existing facilities such as a power plant to tap potential synergies and resource-sharing.
JIDP is integrated with the Tembusu Multi-Utilities Complex, and shares infrastructure such as seawater intake and outfall facilities, as well as power supply.
This makes it about 5% more energy efficient compared to conventional desalination plants.
I am glad that we continuously seek to make improvements to each new plant that we build.
Completing JIDP, however, was not without its challenges.
COVID-19 resulted in a manpower crunch that affected the plant’s construction schedule.
I thank the consortium of Tuas Power and ST Engineering, as well as PUB, for their hard work and perseverance in seeing the project through to completion.
Not Losing Sight of the Challenge
Ultimately, we must not lose sight of the fact that water security in Singapore does not come easily.
We may not feel it in our everyday lives, because we no longer have water rationing like in the 1960s, and clean water flows readily from our taps.
But this did not happen by chance – it required sustained commitment of resources, and a strong focus on research and development.
And while we have 4 National Taps, we are mindful that each has its own limitations.
The first two taps, water catchment and imported water, are dependent on the weather. It is also not feasible to keep building reservoirs, given our scarce land and competing uses.
And while NEWater and Desalination are weather-resilient – they are also more expensive and come with a much higher carbon footprint, especially desalination.
But I am confident that we will continue to find new ways to increase the efficiency of our water supply, even as we enhance our water resilience.
The capabilities that we build here will be useful beyond Singapore, as many parts of the world will face increasingly grave challenges with water security.
But to ensure that we have true water security, we also cannot just focus on the supply side of the equation.
Our water consumption is currently projected to almost double by 2060. Just last month, PUB held its annual Singapore World Water Day campaign, to remind everyone that water is a precious resource, and that we must play our part to conserve water and make every drop count.
Businesses can also do more to conserve water, which would reduce their operating costs. I commend companies that have implemented solutions such as water-efficient equipment and water recycling systems. I encourage more businesses to work with PUB in pushing the boundaries of water conservation.
Let me conclude.
We have come very far on our water journey. But the journey does not end here.
I am confident that with the same grit and ingenuity, future generations of Singaporeans will continue to enjoy water security.
The opening of JIDP could not be more timely. 2022 marks the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment’s Golden Jubilee.
Over the past five decades, we have made great strides in making Singapore more green and sustainable. And our water story is a key highlight of this journey.
Today also marks the start of the Singapore International Water Week.
Water security is a common challenge across cities, especially with climate change.
The Water Week’s return to a fully physical event is a timely opportunity for the world’s industry leaders and companies to meet and co-create new solutions that will contribute towards a more sustainable water future for all.
I’m happy to see that some of our guests from abroad are able to join us here for this important occasion.
It is with great pleasure that I now declare the Jurong Island Desalination Plant officially open!
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