Fortunately for us who live in Singapore, we have the liberty to breathe clean air, drink clean water and not have to deal with mountains of waste on our city’s streets. However this liberty is being threatened due to the pace at which the world is destroying the environment. The frequent hazy winds from Indonesia are perhaps the best signs to remind us of the dangers that come with relying on traditional practices to fuel our needs. As such we need innovators with fresh ideas on how to combat environmental issues and I had the pleasure of speaking with one such innovator, Ihab Seidy, founder of Transkinect.
Noticing the loss of energy when vehicles slow down before a speed hump, Mr Seidy ingeniously developed Movnetic– a smart hump, which converts that energy loss into a source of renewable energy. These humps are cost effective and can be installed into any road under 5 hours, making Movnetic an ideal stepping stone for any responsible city planner looking to harness a ready source of clean energy.
Starting off in Egypt, Mr Seidy then moved to Singapore to access the South East Asian market, following Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s 2013 invitation to entrepreneurs all over the world to come and test their technology here. Receiving generous support from the Singaporean government, Transkinect’s smart humps can today be found all over Asia, the Middle East, Europe and America.
Trends in the region
ASEAN is urbanising steadily and the urban population is expected to account for 49.7% of the total ASEAN population by 2025, up from 41.8% in 2010, which is an addition of around 94 million people to urban areas. (ISEAS, 2010) This demographic shift represents a significant change in the infrastructure needs of cities as pollution, traffic jams, housing shortages, energy deficits and other tandem problems from urbanisation piles up as the urban population grows. Rising to the challenge of urbanisation, governments are increasingly looking to harness technological advancements to meet these needs. Vietnam for example has embarked on the Ho Chi Minh City Green Transport Development Project, which is set to improve traffic management systems, introduce smart cards for public transportation and build an electronic infrastructure to improve public administration. (World Bank, 2015)
Riding on the trends
Looking to access the rapidly urbanising ASEAN market, Mr Seidy came to Singapore. Possessing an excellent business environment second only to New Zealand in the Doing Business ranking of 2018 (The Straits Times, 2018), Singapore was fertile ground for Transkinect to grow. The Singaporean government in particular has been highly supportive of clean tech development, identifying this sector as a strategic growth area and since 2007 has spent more than $700 million in funding for R&D, manpower development and grooming of Singaporean based clean tech enterprises (SPRING, 2017). Mr Seidy highlighted that SPRING Singapore is a good model for governments looking to nurture clean tech companies as they provided not only funding but also crucial connections to potential clients.
Challenges in expanding overseas
There is no doubt that Asia urgently needs to develop a sustainable way forward to power the region while limiting environmental damage. However clean tech is still a relatively new field and markets are still unwilling to let go off traditional fuel sources. Mr Seidy attributes this to the lack of awareness and understanding about cleantech which leads markets to be less inclined to adopt innovative solutions from this sector. Banks tend to be unwilling to invest in cleantech especially since they lack experience with the cleantech business model. Only 45% of renewable energy projects in South East Asia are bankable while the remainder lack the financial viability to obtain support from banks. ASEAN governments could potentially support the remaining 55%, but they too tend to be unwilling to invest in solutions that are not tested and proven (United Nations Environment Programme and DBS, 2017). The Philippines still adopts protectionist policies towards Foreign Direct Investment and has been limiting the amount of funds flowing into renewable energy. (Eco-business, 2017) Additionally, Asia is facing a severe skills shortage (Human Resources Online, 2016) and given how unfamiliar the Asian population is with the clean-tech industry, the skills shortage is even more prevalent and Mr Seidy has found difficulty in attracting talent.
Enabling overseas expansion
While clean-tech is absolutely essential for the region, the lack of awareness and therefore trust is hampering the ability of our clean-tech companies to market their innovative solution since many potential clients seek to invest only in the tested and proven. As a leader of clean tech in the region, Singapore can boost trust in clean tech for the region by following the example of countries like Germany, Norway and Sweden in ending reliance on traditional fuels and transitioning completely to use only renewable energy sources. To start this energy revolution, Mr Seidy proposes that the government must be the model for Singaporean companies to follow. One of the ways the government can do this is by investing in clean-tech for government buildings to show their commitment and trust in clean tech solutions. It will truly be a powerful statement to our business leaders if the Parliament house was powered solely by renewable energy sources.
Additionally, the government should actively push for the adoption of clean technology. Mr Edwin Khew, chairman of the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore, has observed that “Singaporeans are used to laws and fines to drive what they do. If there are no laws then the conclusion is it is not important so it is not necessary to do” (Eco-business, 2014). Mr Seidy also agrees with this sentiment and suggests that the government can commit to have specific percentages of our energy needs come from renewable energy within a specific timeframe. Regulations will be needed to make renewable energy a compulsory consideration for companies. For example, regulations should be set on how much energy must come from renewable sources when new shopping centres are built. As the world faces the threat of environmental collapse, Singapore has the chance to lead the energy revolution to secure the wellbeing of future generations and thus even if investing in new technologies may bear a heavier upfront cost, we will reap the benefits within a few years.
Planning for overseas expansion
For clean-tech companies looking to expand overseas, Mr Seidy emphasis that in addition to understanding the markets deeply, finding connections to the government is essential. The cleantech industry suffers from a lack of awareness and therefore the influence and support from the local government is needed to encourage adoption of new cleantech solutions.
Call to Singaporean companies
The world stands at the crossroads; one path leads to continual environmental degradation and the other to a sustainable future. Singaporean companies have the best environment in the South East Asia to lead the charge towards the latter by innovating new solutions to fuel modern living. Looking at Transkinect, it is clear that there are plenty of renewable energy sources around us, what we need is visionaries to innovate new ways to harness these sources of energy. If Singaporean clean-tech companies can do this, there will be a myriad of expansion opportunities given that new solutions for environmental protection are desperately needed all over the world.
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