Home solar panels: a beginner's guide to saving electricity

SOLAR PANELS. Any type of roofing will do! All photos provided by Earnest Mangulabnan Zabala

SOLAR PANELS.

Any type of roofing will do! All photos provided by Earnest Mangulabnan Zabala

MANILA, Philippines – A month ago, we finally took the plunge. After years of hemming and hawing we finally agreed to have our heretofore bare roof be adorned with 12 solar panels. Each can generate 250 watts per hour from the rays of the sun for a combined total of 3 kw per hour. Every day, we get at least 4 hours of sunshine, effectively harvesting 12 kw each day.

What does this mean? It means during the day our household appliances are directly powered by electricity generated by these solar panels. It means our once idle roof becomes a quiet mini power plant for half the day while the sun is out. It lets us get off the Meralco grid for a few hours each day. Which of course, translates to savings when your monthly electric bill arrives. And on the average we are looking at a 40% "discounted" rate on our bill. 

This is the experience of Edgardo T. Valenzuela, an adjunct professor at the Ateneo School of Government and a homeowner in Alta Vista in Quezon City. Before installing two-kw solar panels on his 200-sqm property, his electric bill came in at P6,000 for a monthly electric consumption of 500 kwh. 

SOLAR SOLUTION. A QC home using the black series type of solar panels.

SOLAR SOLUTION. A QC home using the black series type of solar panels.

“But now, with the solar panels. I only pay P3,500-P4,000. My savings from the solar panel amount to at least 40% of my original bill,” he says.

This discounted rate already includes credit from excess energy that he "gives back" to Meralco via net metering. The model installed in his house, as in ours, is what industry people call a "grid tied system."  

His home is still connected to Meralco. His nighttime energy needs are still provided by Meralco. When the power company has a blackout, he experiences it as well. Net metering, on the other hand, is the process whereby unused and excess energy are fed back into the grid, which is then bought by Meralco at half the price. It is usually reflected as credit on his bill.

40% is a considerable rebate by any means. Why then are people not jumping on the chance to have a go at this kind of savings? The answer is affordability. Installing solar panels is not an easy decision to make.

In 2014, when Valenzuela decided to build his very own eco-house, the option to install solar panels came at a whopping cost of P320,000 for his two-kw installation (or P160,000 per one kw). He and his wife had to think really long and hard before they finally decided to do it, having had to withdraw a part of their pension plan to pay for their solar plans.

In contrast, 2017 prices are a little more friendly with one-kw costing P120,000. That’s a drop of 25% in installation costs. But even at this rate, prices are still daunting. It’s a commitment. Then again, maybe it’s our perspective that needs to change. Maybe, instead of looking at it as an expense, we should view it as an investment.

As Aison Garcia, co-founder of Solar Solutions Inc explains, “…yung cost na yun actually, mura yun (That cost is actually cheap) compared to what you are consuming from Meralco. Hindi mo lang ma-fe-feel. (You just don't feel it.) You buy it up front. But if you compute it over 25 years, parang less than P1 per kwh ang kuryente mo (it's like your electricity costs less than P1 per kwh).

TOP SOLUTIONS. Aison Garcia, co-founder of Solar Solutions and renewable energy advocate

TOP SOLUTIONS.

Aison Garcia, co-founder of Solar Solutions and renewable energy advocate

Based on its August 2017 news release, Meralco sells at P8.39 per kilowatt. The typical return on investment rate is usually pegged at 6-7 years. “After that, it’s pure savings,” says Valenzuela, who is halfway through his investment period.

Take heart though, there is an easier way for a homeowner who wants to go solar. Rappler asked if Solar Solutions is open to a modular system of installing these panels to make them a bit more affordable. The answer is yes.

For example, if after an ocular inspection, your house is assessed as needing 3kw (12 panels), you don’t have to shell out the whole amount right away. If you only have enough for 1kw (4 panels), they can do that for you. And if the following year, you are able to add another kilowatt, that’s also doable and so on and so forth, until you are able to reach your goal.

ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTMENT. Solar panels on top of the author's home in Marikina

ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTMENT.

Solar panels on top of the author's home in Marikina

Garcia also informed Rappler that banks like BPI and BDO, and government agency Pag-ibig will let you take out a loan specifically meant for solar installations. It bears asking even though the answer is quite obvious: aside from the economic advantages, why should more people convert to this way of thinking? 

“It makes sense, really,” Garcia opines. “Just imagine we have clear skies, the sun is shining more than 5 hours. We computed it at 4 hours lang (only) but that’s very conservative. Minsan hanggang 12 hours meron pang araw (Sometimes the sun's out up to 12 hours).” Valenzuela concurs. “We should. We are in the tropics. The sun is free. We should capitalize on that.” 

Then there is the environment to consider. In this age, we are asked to do more for nature. As private citizens we are compelled to look for ways in which we can contribute to efforts toward sustainability. A self-identified global citizen, Valenzuela who also worked with the UN FAO for 25 years, asks his big question: “How can we, as an individual, as a family contribute” to the care of nature?

The US Environmental Protection Agency has an online calculator for computing how carbon footprint reduction strategy can be understood in concrete terms. 

If your home has a capacity to generate two kw per day as Valenzeula does, multiply this number by 4 (hours the sun is out) times 30 (days in a month) times 12 (months in a year). You will get 2,880.

Plug this into EPA’s online calculator, and among others, it will say that this is equal to “carbon sequestered by 52.5 trees.” Which means that in a year, this solar energy generation is akin to growing 52.5 trees. For him, going solar is not just about economics but also partly about what he calls his "developmental commitment".

“We are not the government. We are people. What can we do in our own land?” he asks. There’s also freedom from price fluctuations. Every few months it seems, we are besieged with news regarding yet another round of price increase. It would be great to be in a position where news of this kind will not stress as much because half the time you are manufacturing your own electricity. And if this is liberating, think also of how solar installation projects benefit communities in disaster-stricken areas and far-flung regions."

Solar Solutions, ever since its founding in 2011 has been quietly providing much-needed power during times of disaster. Solar installation projects (this time with batteries for storing power) were installed in the wake of Typhoons Sendong and Yolanda. They focused on helping churches and evacuation centers since that’s where most of the people are.

IN CASE OF EMERGENCY. SolarSolutions provides alternative energy solutions during disaster response

IN CASE OF EMERGENCY.

SolarSolutions provides alternative energy solutions during disaster response

We are witness to how entire groups of people are isolated and rendered helpless when disaster strikes. Bridges collapse, clean water becomes impossible, power goes out for days (even weeks), and phones become useless as a result. Having an evacuation center with at least one bulb working and a chance to charge cellphones can spell the difference between despair and immediate help, of being in dire straits and empowerment.

Solar energy is pure science made concrete and practical. But there’s also something magical about it. Technology that brings a lot of good to your home via reduced energy consumption. It’s a great boon to both community and the environment. It harnesses the power of the sun, the abundant resource that greets us in the morning and is the subject of so many #sunset photos. If we stop and think about our specific geography and the amount of sunlight we get, going solar becomes a sensible option.

This leaves us with one more question. Is there a particular house design that is deemed perfect for solar installation? Garcia shakes his head, “Wala. Basta meron kang bubong, puwede.” (None. So long as you have a roof, it's possible.) – Rappler.com