MANILA, Philippines – Mike De Guzman is one of the few Filipinos who looks forward to receiving his monthly electricity bill.
In the past 8 months, he’s been paying less and less for his power usage. If he used to pay around P24,000 (US$555*) to electrify his two-story, 3-bedroom house in Makati, now he has been paying only half, around P12,000 ($277). On good months, he has even gotten it down to P9,000 ($208).
He and his wife whoop for joy as they read a Meralco bill that had just arrived – P9,500 ($220).
Why the lower bill? Did electricity get cheaper without the rest of Metro Manila knowing it?
In a way, yes. For the past months, the De Guzman household has been getting around 80% of their electricity from the sun.
Their home’s roof is strapped with 20 solar panels that produce an average of 675 kilo-Watt-hours (kWh) or P8,000 ($185) of electricity a month.
From 8 am to 5 pm, the De Guzman home is powered by the sun. At night, when the sun too must sleep, the normal Meralco grid kicks in.
Is this cheating? Nope. In fact, the De Guzman household is one of the first to make use of a renewable energy program of Meralco called net metering.
Net metering allows households to sell back excess electricity generated by their renewable energy systems and use them as credits to lower their electricity bill the next month. (READ: Renewable energy use gaining worldwide – IEA)
Meralco came up with the program to comply with the Renewable Energy Act of 2008 which allows each homeowner to have up to 100 kWp (kilo-Watt peak) of installed solar panels under net metering. (READ: DOE to add more renewable energy in grid by 2014)
In June, Meralco announced they had finalized the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) for the net metering program.
Plugged into the sun
De Guzman became a bonafide champion of solar energy a year ago when he bought his first solar panel.
“I put it in this house, I turned it on, I turned on my aircon and the meter wasn’t moving. Then I knew I stumbled upon something,” he told Rappler.
At that point, he was close to desperate to find a cheaper energy solution. His family owns a call center, an apartment building and hotel, which all use vast amounts of power. Couple that with Philippine electricity rates (around P11 to P13 per kWh or $0.25 to $0.30), one of the highest in the world.
The abundant sun tends to be overly-generous. On summer days when the sun shines longer, De Guzman’s solar panels produce up to 34 kWh as it did last May. This is enough to run an aircon for 45 hours.
Often, he has more energy than he needs.
“I had so much power I didn’t even know what to do with it. Last summer, I just turned on my aircon and put the dog in the living room because I had a lot of power. I could use 3 aircons and not use a watt from Meralco.”
So he visited the Meralco office in Pasig City asking for a program that would buy his excess solar power from him. After several letters and the pressure of the Renewable Energy Act, Meralco launched its net metering program in September 2013.
The program allows the De Guzmans to use their solar panels for their daytime electricity consumption. At night, they use their subdivision’s Meralco grid which they pay for monthly.
But if their solar panels generate more electricity than they use (as is usually the case), the excess energy goes to Meralco’s grid to be used by other customers.
Meralco “pays” for this extra energy by subtracting the cost of that electricity from the De Guzman’s bill the next month.
The family is able to save even more by combining net metering with Meralco’s Peak/Off-Peak (POP) program.
The POP program means that, instead of charging you the same rate for electricity, Meralco will charge a higher rate for daytime consumption and a lower rate for night-time consumption.
This is because demand for power in the daytime is higher than at night.
Currently, Meralco’s POP daytime rate (average generation charge) is P7.50 ($0.17) per kWh while it’s evening rate is P3.50 ($0.08) per kWh.
Meralco “buys” De Guzman’s excess electricity for P5.50 ($0.13) per kWh. So even if he still pays for the electricity he uses at night, he gets credited more per kWh he generates in excess.
“It comes in handy if you go for vacation for a month or you’re out of the country. Then when you come back, you’re going to have a lot of credits because your panels were generating energy all that time. Eventually you’ll use it all up within the year,” said De Guzman.
Is it affordable, practical?
De Guzman spent around P500,000 ($11.600) for his 5 kW solar panel system. He says it’s worth it, considering the savings. (READ: Renewable energy in PH affordable in long term — study)
“It will pay for itself in 5 years. The solar panels themselves will last for 25 years. It’s better than a time deposit,” he said.
Solar panels have begun to make so much “economic sense” that De Guzman now runs his own solar panel-installing company.
The past 3 years have seen the cost of solar panels go down to less than half, largely because of China, he said.
“Solar panels used to be expensive. The only players were Americans and Germans. I have this US inverter that used to cost US$5,000 (P216,000). The one I have now from China is $1,100 (P47,500).”
Solar panels vary in size and cost. A tiny 80-watt solar panel can be had for P3,000 ($69). A 250-watt panel is sold for around P15,000 ($347).
In general, each 250-watt solar panel can save you P200 to P500 ($4.6-11.6) each month, said De Guzman.
With solar panels, one size does not fit all. The size and cost of a system depends on the amount of appliances, electric consumption and architecture of a house.
Solar panels are ideal for houses with wide roofs, said De Guzman. They aren’t practical for apartments since balcony space is often not enough for a solar panel. Apartment owners would have to ask the building owner for permission to use the roof.
Panels are most efficient during the summer months of April and May. During the rainy season, from June to July, the panels will generate two-thirds what it would on a summer day.
They are easy to maintain, and need only a wiping down or cleaning every few months. But after 25 years, they will be producing 20% less electricity than they did when first used.
To avail of the net metering scheme, home owners can call or visit Meralco Business Centers. They will be asked to sign a Net Metering Agreement and provide several required documents.
Meralco says it should take 3 months from application to actual connection of a resident’s solar panels to the net metering program.
Availing of the POP program is a bit trickier. The resident’s usage must be over P8,000 ($185) a month. It also requires more documents.
De Guzman’s company, Solaric, sells solar panel systems and takes care of net metering and POP applications. So far, they’ve installed systems in around 30 homes in Metro Manila, Cebu, Dumaguete and Cagayan de Oro.
As a “guinea pig” of the combined programs, De Guzman had to wait 10 months before he could make full use of the schemes. He had to go through 150 pages of paperwork.
But for him, it was all worth it.
Aside from electricity bill savings, his solar panels have lessened the load for an already power-strapped country.
It’s a happy coincidence that solar panels work best during hours when the country’s grid is most burdened.
From 10 am to 2 pm, electricity grids work on overdrive, sometimes requiring Meralco to buy power from coal and diesel generators at very high rates.
“So when you have a lot of solar, it coincides with the peak demand,” said De Guzman.
“We supply the grid with our excess power when the grid needs it the most. Instead of me being a burden, I’m a positive producer of power.” – Rappler.com
*US$ 1 = Php 43.22
Solar panels image via Shutterstock