Let the sunshine in

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If solar energy is held as the poster child of the renewable energy initiative, it has also attracted criticisms. As I have earlier explained in this energy series, the first criticism is the proposed cost-per-kilowatt-hour Feed-in-Tariff rate of solar energy, which the Energy Regulatory Commission has now pegged at P9.68 (lowered from the last-proposed P14.65), is perceived to be higher than the rates Filipino consumers pay for power.

That perception already exposes flaws in that argument against solar production. Just to recap: consumers don’t pay the FiT outright, the rate they pay is computed based on production and distribution costs plus the consumer base served; depending on the production mix each distributor purchases, the solar-FiT rate averages out with inputs from lower-rate technologies like fossil fuels into the final cost consumers pay; and solar-FiT, or the investments for solar power infrastructure, is living with a known fixed cost over time, compared to gambling with the volatile variable, historically upward-trending cost of fossil fuels. Coupled with the other benefits of solar energy, the scales should be tipped towards letting the sun shine on Philippine energy policy.

The immediately-appreciable benefits of solar―zero emissions, essentially free (though intermittent) fuel supply―are well-understood and need not be repeated. We focus instead on the Philippines’ surprising suitability for solar power generation.

Even considering the heavy rain which have all but washed out Luzon the first two weeks of August, on average the Philippines gets enough sunlight to provide around 4.5-5.5 kWh per square meter per day, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. One of the benefits of the tropics, compared to latitudes closer to the poles, is the longer duration of sunlight, both within the day and across the year, boding well for sustained solar energy production.

The other key advantage of the Philippines is its specialization in electronics, and its potential for the manufacture of photovoltaic (PV) cells, the basic unit of solar electricity. In fact, we are well-poised to be a power player in solar power, argued a 2008 Bloomberg Businessweek article, considering that the country hosts the manufacturing plants for SunPower and Solaria, a well-educated and flexible engineering workforce, and a strong electronics background―for solar cell export. Both boasted of the ingenuity of its Filipino engineers in making PV cells more efficient and affordable to manufacture. All that’s needed, the article continues, is to encourage a local market for PV cells, for domestic consumers to purchase solar energy.

PV cells lend themselves to easy deployability and distribution. On the industrial scale, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH, Renewable Energy Developers Center, and WWF Philippines argue that solar plants are faster to throw up than their fossil fuel equivalents: a 1-MW plant within six weeks, or an Italian 70-MW affair in nine months, compared to at least three years for a coal plant. At the user end, PV cells can be quickly and easily set up in a day or two, through the use of increasingly affordable home/rooftop solar energy kits, or integrated into the architecture of new and existing buildings in urban areas. Already this series had touched on solar’s deployment to power isolated and detached communities. It is not too labor or investment-intensive, apart from the costs of PV cells themselves (and again, increasing use generally decreases costs), to embed solar energy onto the already-existing Philippine electrical infrastructure.

On that note, further governance incentives to mainstream solar energy can ensure its place in the Philippines’ energy agenda. Allies as politically diverse as Bayan Muna’s Rep. Teddy Casiño and Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Manuel Villar are pushing solar in their respective legislative agendas, to extend financial incentives and loan assistance from government institutions to promote homeowner and end-user solar energy. Right now, we as a country are too familiar and comfortable with fossil fuel energy, even as we bemoan oil and coal prices; perhaps these legislative initiatives, if passed, will be the proverbial kick out of the nest for a fledgling Filipino solar market.

In defiance of its critics, solar energy is not the cost-burden, exotic, before-its-time bugaboo that should be warily approached. Rather, solar energy is surprisingly flexible, readily deployable, can be made affordable, a perfect fit for the Philippines―if we act now. Even the savings alone from the reduced need to import oil and coal to fuel power plants (at the producer level), or end-user solar energy production reducing household energy budgets, and the need to purchase electricity from the grid, justifies taking that first step towards sunlight. Yet that first step, to reiterate a theme of this series, can radically transform the energy sector and even Filipino lives.

Let solar light the way for the Philippines’ renewable energy agenda, and its future.

Facebook Page: Dean Tony La Vina Twitter: tonylavs

Source: Manila Standard Today

This entry was posted in Industry NewsSolar News.