Harnessing The Sun To Heal The World

With the rapid depletion of the world’s fossil-based energy resources and increased attention on global warming, the hunt is on for reliable sources of clean energy. This industry is set to boom within the next few years and Singapore is aiming to ride on this wave with the largest ever number of NRF (Clean Energy) scholars awarded.

By Farhan Shah

2010 is set to be the warmest year in Earth’s history with average world temperatures setting new precedents in the record books. The next generation promises to be even warmer with scientists predicting that the world’s average temperature will rise between 1.0°C to 3.5°C within the next century.

To address this alarming trend, many countries are investing in environmentally-friendly solutions to ensure sustainable development in face of rapid urbanisation. These provide significant long-term growth opportunities for the global Clean Energy industry.

Singapore has thus identified Clean Energy as a strategic growth area and aims to develop a globally competitive Clean Energy hub that will serve global markets. The Clean Energy Programme Office (CEPO) set up in 2007 is at the forefront of steering this effort and nurturing this growing field.

Primed for growth
With a good base of talent, extensive R&D and testbedding infrastructure for the fast growing Clean Energy sector, Singapore is further committed to grooming top talent as specialists to be future business leaders of the industry. In partnership with the National Research Foundation (NRF), CEPO is offering the Clean Energy PhD scholarships for up to four years of studies in a research area related to Clean Energy. It is tenable at NUS, NTU or overseas universities renowned in Clean Energy.

Upon completion of studies, the scholar is required to work in the Clean Energy sector in Singapore for a period of three to four years, at an organisation of their choice.

The largest ever cohort of NRF (Clean Energy) PhD Scholarships, was awarded by Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, in June this year. 21 outstanding students, with strong passion in Clean Energy research, were selected by CEPO. These students will pursue their research at top universities including the NUS, NTU, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Stanford University and Cambridge University.

Among them is Liu Licheng, who decided to take up the challenge of innovating and developing clean energy solutions with CEPO. “Taking up the scholarship not only provides me with a promising future but also an excellent platform to broaden my horizon in the clean energy industry,” Licheng shares.

Power of the sun
Licheng is looking forward to a career in the solar industry, one of the key areas in Clean Energy with potential for exponential growth. He is currently doing research on solar technology for his PhD studies at the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (SERIS), National University of Singapore (NUS), specifically in advanced photovoltaic cells. “My research is in line with the overall direction that CEPO is heading towards in the effort to develop the clean energy industry,” the 25-year-old explains.

Even though he is at the start of a four-year journey to complete his course, Licheng has big plans to contribute actively in the clean energy industry. “Although the specific ideas are yet to take form, I sincerely hope that the research I am conducting in my PhD studies will make a breakthrough in the solar energy industry in Singapore,” he says.

Another scholarship recipient, Lim Hui Min, is also at the same stage of her PhD studies as Licheng. But she is already dreaming of achieving great things in the solar field.

Her Material Science Engineering course at the Energy Research Institute @ Nanyang Technological University (ERI@N) will focus on a new generation solar thin film technology known as Copper-Indium-Gallium-Selenide (CIGS), which is gaining momentum globally.

“Since CEPO is responsible for developing Singapore into a Global Clean Energy Hub, my research effort could possibly generate clean energy products and solutions that can be exported,” the 24-year-old opens up.

Not only do CEPO scholars receive monetary and academic guidance for their PhD studies, they are also given opportunities to visit the various clean energy companies in Singapore. “CEPO organises field trips to solar manufacturing plants so that we can interact with the company directly to understand the needs and limitations of current technology,” Hui Min discloses.

Licheng feels these visits are invaluable to their career development. “These experiences are definitely crucial in the course of our PhD studies and are a great boon for our future career,” he adds on.

Both PhD scholars feel that the practical and industry-oriented nature of their studies is enticing as it gives them more options for their future apart from just a life of academia. “I would like to go into the industry and carry out applied research. I am the kind of person who would be more satisfied if I can see the impact and end results of the work that I have done,” Licheng reveals. “Being an academia is just one of the many options you can choose.”

A bright future
The flexibility that CEPO affords their scholars in the choice of their future employer is also something both of them appreciate. “With the variety of options offered to you, this scholarship is good if you are looking for a fulfilling career,” Hui Min says.

A rewarding career is definitely on the cards for anyone looking to go into the burgeoning clean energy sector. By 2015, the industry is forecasted to contribute a massive S$1.7 billion to Singapore’s GDP and expected to employ 7,000 people.

For graduates who are looking to leverage on this growth, Licheng gives a final word of advice. “The CEPO-NRF (Clean Energy) PhD scholarship is not merely a scholarship for PhD studies but the key to a successful career in the clean energy sector,” he concludes.

For more information, please visit http://www.cepo.sg/

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