Investment

Once a resource-constrained country, Singapore invests in sustainable and efficient technology to cater for its energy needs

Solar panels used to power walkway lights

Singapore has faced many challenges in the last two decades, most notably in the energy sector. With limited renewable energy options, the island still relies heavily on imports. Typically, according to the National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCA), the average wind speed is not powerful enough to activate wind turbines, while calm seas limit tidal power generation. Not to mention that the country doesn’t have a river system with fast flowing water which makes hydroelectric power a rather impossible investment option, and nuclear plants are not safe due to the limited land area and population density.

Nevertheless, Singapore has committed to becoming a benchmark in green energy and to profit from one resource the island has abundantly: solar energy. Earlier this year, the NCCA announced that the country aims to increase solar deployment from 47MWp to 350 MWp by 2020. The goal is that renewable energy would represent 8% of all the power demand. In order to do so, the country is investing heavily in research and development, as well as in creating an attractive ecosystem for cleantechs.

One of the projects developed by the government is to install solar panels on rooftops of high-rise public buildings, as well as on water surfaces. The latter, pointed as a bold and innovative pilot program, has reached so many good results that it was recently extended to the ocean. Popularly known as ‘energy islands’, the structure will supply energy to industrial and residential areas. Yet, as the geographical limitation makes it harder for the country to expand indefinitely its solar power plants, the government has decided to invest in efficiency.

The University of Singapore is thus working on solar cells that convert more sunlight into energy, and is, to that end, is making them cheaper to be integrated into buildings. The cost of solar energy has also been reduced in the last decade, making it more competitive.

Last year, the government announced that six clean energy investments across the fields of solar, wind, microgrids and energy management will help position the country as Asia’s leading cleantech hub. Currently, more 100 than clean energy companies are part of this ecosystem and helping to attract research funds, as well as an elite team of researchers. The university has already 110 PhD students, half of whom have graduated and are working in the solar energy industry.

As the authorities have secured the funding and support for these projects, the future for clean energy in Singapore seems bright!

Singapore is the host city for the Social Innovation and Global Ethics Forum (SIGEF), organized by Horyou, the social network for social good. The event will be held in September 2018.

The Asian city was recently named top country for meeting UN health goals and has already achieved 4 of the 17 sustainable development goals. Here’s the story.

Singapore has already achieved 4 of the 17 sustainable development goals

The year is 2015. A coalition of countries, Singapore included, have adopted the UN Sustainable Development Goals and two years later 43 of them presented Voluntary National Reviews in which they committed to specific goals. Despite the regional and national commitments, many countries are still far from reaching the voluntary goals they set for 2030 but some are taking a straightforward path. Singapore is one of them.

According to the SDG Index and Dashboard Report, Singapore has already reached four out of the 17 SDGs (1, 7, 8 and 9), the highest number in all South and East Asia. The city-state is also closer than any other country to meeting health-related targets, according to a global health review published by The Lancet Medical Journal last September. Singapore is now placed at the 61st position out of 167 countries in the SDG Index.

Its Achilles’ heel is the import of emissions, including nitrogen and carbon dioxide, which is common in small countries due to their need to import and trade goods. In order to improve this scenario, Singapore should whether diversify its economy or set trade policies so the imported goods would be more sustainable.

As for the other SDGs, Singapore is clearly investing in reducing gender inequalities, promoting education and strengthening institutions. The literacy rate has now reached 99,9% and the rate of female labor participation in the workforce is over 76%. The quality of institutions and the safety of the population is one of the highest in the world.

The evolution is ongoing. The city is making an effort to host more events related to the SDGs, such as the Unleash Innovation Lab, next May, and the Social Innovation and Global Ethics Forum, SIGEF 2018, Horyou’s main SDGs event, next September. In addition to bringing diversity and innovation, the events help the city to become known as an SDG-friendly place and a hub for ideas and actions to attain the goals.

The host city of SIGEF 2018 is a reference in MedTech and new technologies as indeed Singapore aims to be at the upfront of a promising market with the right setup to attract both investors and innovators.

(Photo: RENDY ARYANTO/VisualVerve.SG)

Singapore is home to more than 60 MedTech companies which are mainly focused on research to develop new and innovative health care approaches. It is, indeed, a promising market. According to the Singapore Economic Development Board, the Asian medical technology market is expected to be the world’s second-largest by 2020, with a promise of a better life expectancy and quality of life.

In the last few years, the government has made a big effort to build a welcoming infrastructure for these businesses, either by investing in patient care based on a talent pool with big data and analytics skills, or by developing a supportive ecosystem which counts on research institutions, universities and startups, all of which provides the MedTech companies with a rich and fruitful research and development hub.

This ecosystem allows for companies like Tictrac – an app developing company which focuses on tracking health data and giving tips and information to its users -, to come up with solutions for patients with diabetes and other chronic diseases. In a recent interview, Martin Blinder, Tictrac CEO, confided that: “It is for people to find reliable information about the best way to reduce risk and improve their health. After meeting their doctor, people go home with some very high-level information, often go online and end up finding a lot of contradictory information or dangerous fat diets”. The company has a partnership with the Singaporean Ministry of Health, which aims to use more technology to prevent and manage diseases.

The successful combination of a friendly environment for MedTech innovation and public-private partnerships has pushed many companies to be more willing to invest in this market. In the last few years, a number of Singaporean IT businesses have set up MedTech operations in order to profit from the market’s good prospects. The electronic manufacturer Venture Corp is one of them and has been shifting their investment to LifeSciences and Medical Technologies, which now represent 43% of their revenues.

In a speech at a MedTech event last year, the Minister for Trade and Industry S. Iswaran stressed the importance of investing in new health care technologies knowing that populations are getting old and that artificial intelligence is taking over most industries. “We know that the nature of jobs is changing profoundly, as technology and automation play an increasing role in driving innovation and operations,” he said. “We need to transform our societies and economies to become more age-friendly, and turn longevity into a positive force for economic and social development.”

The host city of SIGEF2018 next September is thus the perfect place to bring together innovators and entrepreneurs from all over the world. Organized by Horyou, it will include a special panel on MedTech.

The latest Green Transition Scoreboard® (GTS) found that private green investments now total more than $8.1 trillion USD ($8,133,456,730,370).

Published annually since 2009 by Ethical Markets, the GTS is a global measure of private green investment in five green sectors: 1) Renewable Energy, 2) Efficiency, 3) Life Systems (water, waste, recycling, community investing, e-learning and fintech), 4) Green Construction, and 5) Green Corporate R&D. Government investments have been omitted wherever possible and technological criteria are strictly applied.

Sector Amount US $


Renewable Energy – $3,427,534,992,202

Energy Efficiency – $1,748,904,490,919

Life Systems – $1,660,880,346,366

Green Construction – $914,736,379,757

Corporate Green R&D – $381,400,521,125

Grand Total – $8,133,456,730,370***

The aggregated total is tracked by Ethical Markets Media Certified B Corporation’s team of experts and global advisory board, led by CEO Dr. Hazel Henderson, futurist/author and former US government science policy advisor.

Henderson said “The green economy is growing faster than anyone realizes. We knew that this good news on the progress of the global green transition couldn’t be fully covered by mainstream financial media and news programs whose advertising is still from fossilized sectors.”

GTS co-author Tim Nash, The Sustainable Economist, adds “Although the USA is expected to fall behind due to federal policies that put obsolete industries like coal ahead of thriving green sectors, large corporations are stepping up to invest billions in more efficient technologies.”

The full 2017 GTS report titled “Deepening Green Finance” can be downloaded free here: 2017 Green Transition Scoreboard Cities and states worldwide are now leading, energized by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and many others. The UNEP Inquiry on Design of a Sustainable Financial System is successfully engaging conventional financial markets. Co-director Dr. Simon Zadek welcomed the release of the GTS report, “With a changed political landscape, the case for green finance has to be strengthened, so your work is very important and has to be widely used”.

The GTS report traces private money shifting from incumbent fossilized sectors to emerging green opportunities. Financial firms are being forced to innovate as pressure grows from all sides.

Activist ethical investors and divestment campaigns are getting louder. New pressure from above is driven by the National Development Commitments (NDCs) signed by 194 governments under the UN COP 21 and 22 climate accords and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Pressure is also coming from below with the rise of Silicon Valley’s Fintech100, including crowdfunding, peer-to-peer lending, and reward currencies.

Horyou is the Social Network for Social Good, which connects, supports and promotes social initiatives, entrepreneurs, and citizens who help the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals to build a more harmonious and inclusive world. Horyou is also the host of SIGEF, the Social Innovation and Global Ethics Forum, taking place in Astana, Kazakhstan during the EXPO 2017, from 5-7 September. We invite you to Be the Change, Be Horyou!

Eric Lonergan first grabbed my attention when I came across an interview with him in an Irish Sunday newspaper. As somebody who also read philosophy and political economy at University, I’m always intrigued as to how I often look at economic issues through a completely different lens than some of my contemporaries who have studied pure finance or mathematics. Horyou, although not solely profit seeking, is an enterprise like any other with respect to having financial costs, so it is keenly aware that money, whether used for social or personal interest, is a tool of mobilization. In the interview I read, I learned that Eric Lonergan has just written a book on the philosophy of money and society’s relationship with it it. And I found myself nodding along with much of Eric’s hypotheses, so I was delighted when he agreed to sit down for a chat.

Eric Lonergan
Eric Lonergan

1) You did your undergraduate degree in philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford and your masters in economics and philosophy at the London School of Economics. Subsequently, working as a hedge fund manager, do you find yourself reading certain situations or analyzing things differently to your colleagues who might have studied pure finance?

One of the challenges with education in areas like economics and finance is that you have to learn the conventional wisdom before you can identify what’s wrong with it. So I spent a lot of my time studying mainstream economics and finance – much of which has some insight. Even advocates of ‘efficient markets’ like Eugene Fama, have useful observations. That said, the most useful studying I have done, ironically, was philosophy. I learned that virtually all theories are flawed, as is a lot of ‘expert opinion’.  Financial markets are similarly unforgiving. Pure finance typically ignores the most important aspect of markets – human behavior and psychology.  

2) In your recent, highly acclaimed book ‘Money’, you make the point that money as a function should be looked at as a tool to live rather than an ability to accumulate. Was this view formed from your academic study or from seeing money at work in the real world?

Part of the reason I wrote ‘Money’ was to broaden our understanding of money and finance. One of the intellectually fascinating aspects of money is that it underpins human progress, but it is also a source of many problems. I tried to explore this theme more broadly. Finance connects us all at a real human level – pensions are inter-generational transfers, mortgage lending connects depositors and young households etc. And at the other extreme, millions of people are inter-connected through global financial markets. I have seen both sides at work in the real world. At a positive level, global investors can try and set high standards for global governance, encourage long-term thinking in policy-making, and finance international trade and the exchange of technology and ideas. These are all positive forces. The other side of this interdependence is that you can have destructive financial panics – which I witnessed first-hand in the late 1990s, during the Asian crisis, and again in 2008. The challenge for policy-makers is to harness the benefits of trade and finance and mitigate these risks – which primarily means developing policies to prevent or shorten recessions.  

3) There are hundreds of stories of people leaving finance post crises, when the greed of the system was exposed, including Horyou’s own CEO who held director positions at JP Morgan and Bank of China. As someone who still works in the industry, have you seen a definite culture shift/change in priorities? How does conversation within the industry compare to pre-financial crisis?

I do think there has been a cultural shift, encouraged also by a major shift in the regulatory environment, which should be welcomed by the industry. But it would be naive to think that an industry mainly focused on making money will foster a culture of generous, socially-minded, individuals! The main challenge for the regulators, who have a difficult task, is to ensure that the incentives of participants in the industry are aligned with doing the right thing, and ultimately the interests of broader society. 

Money: The Art of Living
Money: The Art of Living

4) Horyou have just launched their global social currency “Spotlight”, which matches investors to social enterprises they want to support. We see that there is a huge appetite for impact investing, green finance etc. What are your views on these areas? Will environmental/social returns ever override profits for investors or as consumers become more discerning and regulations tighten, do you think they even have a choice to ignore more sustainable investment patterns?

My thinking on this has been heavily influenced by knowing and working with Nigel Kershaw from the Big Issue, and one of the UK’s leading social entrepreneurs and thinkers. I think social enterprises will grow in importance. In contrast to many charities, which have to devote considerable resources to fund-raising, social enterprises can be self-sufficient. And they can have an economic advantage – there is little doubt, I think, that consumers will continue to be more discerning in considering the broader effects of their actions and those of the enterprises they interact with.

5) What are the main areas you are seeing investment opportunity in, in the short term?

I try always to think in terms of the ‘long term’ – there is a lot of distracting noise in the short-term. I think one of the most interesting aspects of public markets currently – a huge fad – is what I call ‘volatility aversion’. Investor obsession with recent historic volatility as a measure of risk is causing huge anomalies in pricing. The most straightforward manifestation of this is the equity risk premium – the difference in implied returns from equities compared with government bonds. Global equities are currently priced to deliver far superior returns to government bonds over the next five to 10 years.

6) Finally, Horyou support people making impact on society for good. What impact or contribution do you want to be remembered for/still want to achieve? 

I’m too much of a philosopher to want to be remembered for anything – I’m not sure that’s a helpful ambition! I would be very happy if I could contribute to the development of policies that shorten the duration of recessions.

Eric Longeran has an interesting way of looking at the world. I could be accused of bias, considering we share many of the same views on the concept of money within society, but the more we watch economies evolve each day, the more we realise how we view money and our propensity to spend or save, is actually very much driven by human sentiment and social pressures, be it from our neighbour or the data we see in the markets. There is nothing to say that these views are right or wrong, but it is becoming more apparent that the discipline of economics is moving away from linear models and learning to adapt to the uncertain world we live in today.

Written by Dearbhla Gavin

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