Last week, I filed a bill in Congress targeting the installation of one million solar power systems in Philippine homes and business establishments in 10 years. This seems like a lot of solar rooftops. But trust me, its the only way to go in ensuring cleaner and cheaper electricity and achieving energy self-sufficiency.
Why solar power? And why target the small consumers?
We might not realize it, but we have been using solar power since the dawn of creation. Remember, in the beginning there was light.
The use of solar power is a no brainer for our country, which enjoys at least 12 hours of sunlight 365 days a year. Its free and available as long as the sun is burning, which means until millions of years from now. There’s no fuel to consume, only sunlight to tap on your photovoltaic panel, heating tube, or mirror.
The problem, of course, is the cost it takes to transform solar power into electricity. Despite radical advances in technology, it is still too costly for the ordinary consumer to buy photovoltaic panels, much like cell phones were considered a luxury 15-20 years back. Industry experts say prices of solar power systems are expected to drop dramatically in 3-5 years.
A raging debate in the energy industry is the proposed pricing mechanism for solar power. The Renewable Energy Act of 2008 mandates a feed-in tariff (FIT) for solar and other renewable energy (RE) sources that would give RE developers a guaranteed, premium price for the electricity they produce. The logic is that the higher than market rates would entice investors to put their money in RE.
The National Renewable Energy Board (NREB) is proposing a FIT for solar power of P17/kWh. This is much much higher than the average cost of non-RE power, which is around P4/kWh for coal and P6/kWh for natural gas. In fact, solar is considered the most expensive RE source. Using this logic, the more solar power developers enter the industry, the more expensive our power rates will be; a big no-no considering we already have the highest power rates in Asia.
But what is true at the macro scale may not necessarily be true at the micro level.
Assuming that the FIT is really P17/kWh for industrial RE developers (I know that in other countries its much less than that), would the same rate apply to an individually-owned solar rooftop system? Unlike the big RE company, the individual owner will have a much much lower overhead costs – solar rooftop systems are practically maintenance-free. No need to hire employees to clean the solar panel because members of the household can do this much like they clean the bathroom. No stockholders insisting that the household make millions worth of profits. No worries about high-paying executives enriching themselves from the solar rooftop’s operation.
What the individual owner will make sure is that his solar rooftop pays for itself by reducing his electricity bill. Since he will now produce his own power, he will rely less on the predatory players in the power industry. He will be more mindful of his power consumption, making sure he uses clean and renewable solar power as much as possible.
But its not only that. If we allow the individual owner to feed into the grid and get paid for the power he produces, then he can make extra money. For example, for most part of the day the family would be at work so the solar panel would produce excess power. What if this power can be sold to Meralco through a net-metering agreement, where Meralco then offsets the power it gets from the consumer’s monthly bill?
Now, what if we give these users a chance to pay for their solar power systems in 10, 15 even 20 years at low interest rates? What if they can borrow from Pag-Ibig, GSIS or SSS to buy a solar power rooftop, then cover the loan with the savings and earnings that they get from using the solar rooftop?
This is precisely what we envision in our bill, which we call the One Million Solar Rooftops Act of 2011. By providing incentives and credit facilities for small solar power systems, we hope to encourage the use of the cleanest and greenest RE source, thereby providing an alternative means of lowering electricity rates and achieving energy self-sufficiency in the micro and macro level.#