Businessmen tap the power of the sun

by Alena Mae S. Flores, December 20, 2014
from Manila Standard

Solar technology is now shining in the Philippines, as some businessmen began to install solar panels on rooftops of schools, office buildings and even shopping malls, seven years after the passage of Republic Act No. 9513, or the Renewable Energy Law.

A view of the Makati skyline from the solar rooftop of St. Scholastica’s College in Manila. Images by Roderick T. dela Cruz

This year alone, the industry saw a significant number of solar rooftop projects installed, a feat that has not been immediately felt after the passage of the law, which promotes the use of renewable energy resources such as solar, wind and mini-hydro projects.

Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla expects renewable energy projects including solar rooftop installations to pick up next year, heralding the golden age of renewable energy in the country.

Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla (left) inspects the
solar rooftop project installed by Propmech Corp. at St.
Scholastica’s College in Manila.  With him are Propmech

Petilla says solar rooftop capacity will continue to increase in 2015, amid the strong interest from schools, commercial and industrial projects and even government offices.

“You can never tell how many institutions are going to be included because it depends on the size of each project. Because of so many interests for solar technology at the moment, some of them are already moving on their own even without our initiative,” Petilla says.

The European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines estimates the potential market for solar rooftop projects at $450 million yearly, based on 50,000 households or a tenth of the half a million constructions yearly, with average solar panel installations of 2 kilowatts each.

Solar rooftop installations are expected to  reach 2.5 megawatts by end-2014, as more homeowners and enterprises realize the opportunities to save money and mitigate climate change by harnessing sunlight to power homes and offices.

ECCP says with the continued drop in system prices, solar energy is approaching grid parity, opening the way for more solar rooftop installations.

“Vast installation of solar panels on rooftops of households, commercial buildings and industrial facilities could help safeguard the country’s energy security over the long term. Rooftop solar panels could be a viable solution for the Philippines given its high solar irradiation level,” ECCP says.

The Philippine Solar Power Alliance earlier estimated that the country has an untapped solar rooftop potential of about 300 MW.

One company, Propmech Corp., recently installed a solar-rooftop project at St. Scholastica’s College in Manila that will enable the school to save as much as 20 percent in electricity cost.

“We are prioritizing schools for solar projects because of the reason they more open to the public than private companies, other institutions can freely go to them to learn about solar panels,” Petilla says.

St. Scholastica’s joins the rank of other schools such as Manuel L. Quezon University, Mapua Institute of Technology and La Consolaction College-Manila, in utilizing renewable energy.

St. Scholastica’s St. Cecilla’s Hall has been turned into a 96-kilowatt solar power plant that can generate 38.88 percent of the hall’s daily energy needs.  The amount will greatly reduce St. Scholastica’s monthly electricity expenses.

Members of the academe at St. Scholastica’s College in Manila watch the solar panels installed by Propmech Corp. at the rooftop of St. Cecilia’s Hall.

“It will bring us P400,000 savings per month, which will be equal to P4 million per year,” St. Scholastica’s president Mary Frances Dizon says.

The school’s power plant will operate through Manila Electric Co.’s net metering mechanism, which allows the school to sell its excess energy back to the grid.

St. Scholastica’s consumption is at peak during the day when classes are ongoing and offices are operating.  This means the solar project earns them the best savings.

Propmech is a local company whose projects include the Asian Development Bank’s rooftop solar plant, rural electrification of the government and Meralco’s solar system at the Meralco Fitness Center.

Another solar firm, Solar Philippines, is also bullish about solar rooftop opportunities in the Philippines.  Solar Philippines is expanding its solar rooftop projects to include industrial users with a capacity of 10 MW to 20 MW.

Leandro Leviste, the 21-year-old president of Solar Philippines, says the company plans to put up solar rooftop projects on industries located at the economic zones south of Manila.

“We’re also doing industrial projects that are in the 10 to 20 MW in size. So, can you imagine ten times bigger than what we’re currently doing here.  This is really because there is so much demand for ways to cut people’s electricity costs, given especially next year’s high power rates,” Leviste says.

Solar Philippines recently completed a 1.5-MW solar rooftop project at SM North Edsa, making it the world’s largest solar-powered shopping mall.  The North Edsa parking building was outfitted with 5,760 solar panels and 60 inverters covering over 12,000 square meters.

Solar Philippines also completed the Central Biñan Mall’s solar rooftop project and is set to complete solar projects on the rooftops of Robinsons Mall in Palawan and City Mall in Roxas City, Capiz.

Robinsons Mall’s solar project will generate 1.2 MW while City Mall Roxas will produce 600 kilowatts.  “Without overplaying our target, there is a potential for us to do over 100 MW in projects in 2015,” Leviste says.

The SM North Edsa Parking Building was outfitted with 5,760 solar panels with a combined capacity of 1.5 MW, making SM North the world’s largest solar-powered shopping mall.

“It’s really because it’s a perfect storm of high electricity rates, low solar panel prices and a power crisis,” Leviste says.

“The days of having to choose between business and the environment are over. Solar has gained a reputation of being expensive, not because of the technology, but because previous applications were too small to benefit from economies of scale. By building the country’s largest solar rooftop projects, we’ve become the first local company to make solar cost-competitive with fossil fuel,” Leviste says.

He says solar projects can be part of the solution to the impending power shortage next year. “All commercial and industrial building-owners can help curb the power shortage by converting their rooftops into solar power plants,” Leviste says.

Meanwhile, Petilla says government offices including the House of Representatives also plan to install solar rooftop technologies.

“House Speaker Sonny Belmonte instructed me to put the Congress building next in line. We are currently at the exploratory stage and will study the structure. Their parking lot is most likely to also be equipped with solar panels. We are expecting it to have a total capacity of 1 MW at the very least,” Petilla says.

Petilla says the Philippine Air Force is also looking at solar rooftop installation at the Villamor Airbase. “The only question we have for them is if they are going to stay in their current location. It is a valid concern as contracts for solar facilities last for 15 years. What if their place is sold within 10 years?” Petilla says.

Petilla says the Energy Department’s office in Taguig City will also showcase solar rooftop technology.

PSPA founding member Tetchie Capellan estimates that if 10 percent of rooftops in Metro Manila install solar energy systems, small power producers such as homeowners, business, factories, and malls can help Manila Electric Co. manage its peak load.

“Solar produces energy from 8 o’clock in the morning to 4 o’clock in the afternoon. The power supplied by solar during daytime allows it to add electricity when industrial and commercial establishments need power most,” Capellan says.

Solar applications have also long been used as off-grid solutions in rural and remote areas in the country.

Solar systems can also power basic necessities such as lighting, water pumping, communications and a variety of livelihood activities that immediately improve the lives of Filipinos in areas where electricity from the grid is not readily available.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s