MANILA, Philippines – At least 8 malls in the Philippines will be partially powered by solar panels by the end of 2014, a local solar power company behind the projects said.
Last September 20, Central Mall Biñan in Laguna was the first of the 8 to be connected to solar power. The 2,514 solar panels spread across 7,000 square meters of the mall’s roof make the project the biggest operating solar rooftop plant in the country with a capacity of 700 kilowatts.
Energy from the sun captured by the panels is converted to electricity by 87 inverters, enough to supply 30% of the mall’s energy needs.
Central Mall Biñan’s newly-installed solar panels will be able to save the mall’s management more than P750,000 (US$16,700) on monthly electricity bills.
Leandro Leviste, the 21-year-old founder and president of Solar Philippines, could name only 3 of the remaining 7 malls set for solar panel installation by the end of the year: SM North EDSA in Quezon City, Robinson’s Palawan, and City Mall Roxas.
These 3 malls should have solar panels by December, he told Rappler.
SM North EDSA is set to become the Philippine mall with the biggest solar panel installation spanning 11,511 square meters with a capacity of 1.5 megawatts, the mall management told Rappler.
Solar power is all about the right business models.
The malls entered into a special Power Purchase Agreement with Solar Philippines that enables them to have solar panels installed without shelling any payment up front.
The Power Purchase Agreement allows solar panel customers to have solar panel systems installed at zero up front cost.
The customers then commit to pay the solar power vendor for all the electricity generated by the panels at a rate lower than the normal electricity rate in the area.
Central Mall Biñan, for instance, is buying solar-generated electricity at a rate 20% lower than Meralco’s commercial rates.
“If it’s cloudy? You pay nothing. What if it’s sunny? You pay more because you use more. What if [the electricity generated by the panels] is not enough? You buy from Meralco. What if it’s too much? You sell to Meralco. How can you lose?” explained Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla during the mall’s launch.
A new deal for solar power
Central Mall Biñan’s solar power project is the first to avail of the Power Purchase Agreement.
Petilla said malls that are able to strike such a deal with solar power vendors should consider themselves lucky.
“It’s a good business model because the risk is with the vendor. Should [the vendor] get Chinese solar panels? It may not last long. But the risk is not on the user’s end,” he said.
He explained that solar power deals that put the risk on the customer is what has doomed renewable energy in the Philippines.
In typical renewable energy deals, the vendor tells the customer they will save a certain amount in monthly electricity bills by availing of the RE technology, but the customer would have to pay for the equipment in monthly installments. (READ: How practical is solar power for PH home owners?)
The monthly installments are cheaper than the average electricity bill savings. But these savings are projected averages which depend on the availability of the renewable energy source.
For instance, it will depend on how many sunny days there are in a year. The more sunny days there are, the bigger the savings. But the vendor can never ensure how much exactly the customer will save because they can never be completely sure how much the sun will shine throughout the year.
“But one thing is for sure, the customer has to pay the monthly installment for the equipment. So the customer will say, ‘I’ll think about it.’ In other words, ‘never mind,’” said Petilla.
More malls using electricity generated by their own renewable energy systems may help prevent the predicted 2015 power crisis.
Malls have a large roof area and solar is all about economies of scale.
Electricity consumption by malls is huge. It’s no wonder that in such a mall-crazed country like the Philippines, energy demand peaks during the same time malls are open: from 11 am to 7pm.
For this reason, the DOE is even contemplating a circular just to lower the energy consumption of malls.
“In 2015, one of the measures we are putting in place is to ask all mall owners to limit their air conditioning units to 25 degrees [Celsius],” said Petilla.
Malls with solar panels are likely to be exempted from such a circular because they are not drawing anything from the power grid, he added.
Besides having the potential to create a big impact on the impending power crisis, solar-powered malls are also ideal for solar panel systems.
“Malls have a large roof area and solar is all about economies of scale. Malls also consume the most electricity at the time when solar production is at its highest,” Leviste told Rappler.
For this reason, Petilla said the DOE is pushing for more malls and schools (which also tend to have large roof areas) to have their own renewable energy systems installed.
Greenpeace renewable energy campaigner Ben Muni lauded moves to connect malls to renewable energy.
“I think it’s about time that malls put their investments in the right direction. Being one of the country’s in Southeast Asia known for huge malls, the Philippines can take the lead in showcasing how RE and businesses can be combined to address both economic growth and environmental sustainability,” he told Rappler.
RE, or “green energy” as it is dubbed by environmentalists, is being promoted as one of the solutions to global warming. (READ: Renewable energy use gaining worldwide – IEA)
Unlike the combustion of conventional fossil fuel sources of energy, the generation of RE does not emit greenhouse gases or emit air pollutants when consumed. (READ: PH Gov’t offices told: Use solar panels, reduce P13-B electricity bill)
Greenhouse gases from the power and transportation sector are the main drivers of climate change, a global phenomenon which may cause the Earth to warm past liveable limits.
But the impending climate crisis is not the only reason for more businesses and households to avail of solar power and other RE technologies.
True to his nature as a businessman, Leviste said, “The key is that solar is commercially viable and only in being so does it reach meaningful scale.” – Rappler.com
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