Solar, so good


June 30, 2013

The solar system at Mrs Jeanne Phuan’s home saves her $80 to $100 a month.

That is 15 to 20 per cent of her monthly electricity bill.

Mrs Phuan says it was a calculated long-term in- vestment, especially since their cluster house came with eight air-con units installed.

"We switch on the air-con pretty soon after we get home, so the electricity consumption is usually quite high."

It will take a decade to see a return on the ap- proximately $12,000 investment.

"When we bought the place, we intended to live in it for more than a couple of years, so for us, it’s Solar, worth it," says the 27-year-old, referring to the four-storey house in Pasir Panjang, which has 72 photovoltaic panels mounted on its roof. The solar energy supplements the regular electricity supply.

Harnessing solar energy for power is a practice that is gaining ground in Singapore, driven by lower costs and a greater level of acceptance among the public, say local providers.

Ms Paula Llamas, marketing manager at Phoenix Solar, says costs of the solar cells and installation have dropped.

Hence the increasing adoption of such technology in Singapore and around the world, says EDB managing director and Energy Innovation Programme Office co-executive director Yeoh Keat Chuan.

The Government is investing heavily. This week, it was announced that five teams were given $12 million in the first set of grants for their research to better convert sunlight into electricity.

And it was reported last week that the Ministry of National Development has earmarked $25 million for research into green technologies.

The Government has also implemented green measures for housing estates here.

HDB confirms that it has already installed solar panels at about 100 housing blocks in estates such as Punggol, Bukit Panjang, Tampines, Ang Mo Kio and Bishan.

As the adoption of solar power steps up, people like Mrs Phuan are also recognising the benefits.

"We have crossed a threshold in Singapore, where people have become familiar enough with solar cells to feel comfortable with them, rather than considering them suspiciously as an exotic new gadget," says Ms Llamas.

Architects also say they are noticing the "green- er" trend among the customers, but note that it’s happening more among the people who can design their own houses.

One home owner who has gone green is Dr Lau Chee Chong.

He shelled out $90,000 to install a solar system on the roof of his home in Sentosa Cove, in the name of preserving the earth for future generations.

"We have to save the poor earth. Somebody must start doing something, and then maybe others will follow," says the father of two girls aged 13 and 15.

His 3 1⁄2-storey bungalow, which overlooks the golf course and the sea, also features wood which used to line railway tracks in Australia.

The three-year-old home was specifically de- signed and constructed to maximise airflow and encourage breeze.

"This way, we minimise the use of air-con. I also tell my girls not to take hot showers unless absolutely necessary, as this reduces the level of energy we consume," says Dr Lau.

Architect Guz Wilkinson, who runs his own firm, says: "It is much harder for an apartment owner to be eco-friendly, aside from not running the air-con, as most of the design decisions are taken as the building is being designed and built, and the average owner will find it difficult to retrofit features."

But anaesthetist Kenneth Tan, who lives in a jumbo HDB-flat in Marine Parade, shows that apartment living is no barrier to harnessing solar energy.

About 10 years ago, the 48-year-old built his own solar system, which consists of two big solar panels and three smaller ones.

"It began with reading and buying books about the subject. Then came the hunting down of solar panels and other parts like batteries and charge controllers, some of which I bought from Sim Lim Square.

"Over time, I figured out how it works and an electrician gave me a hand in the installation," he says.

He is pleased with the approximately $5,000 set- up, even though the system doesn’t save him that much.

The learning process was well worth it, he says.

"The power generated is too little, and I don’t have enough space at my place to do more, but it’s a step towards being more environmentally-friendly, while being a hobby," he adds.

Did you know?

Solar systems installed in local homes are usually connected to the public grid.

This means the house has two parallel power supplies; one from the public network and one from the sun, says Ms Llamas.

"At night, the public grid supplies 100 per cent of the building’s electricity. During the day, the solar panels supply anything from zero to more than 100 per cent of demand, depending on the system size, solar intensity and what appliances are switched on.

"In case of surplus solar power, owners can sell their clean energy back into the public grid, making it available to other consumers," she adds.

Technically, if you produce more power from your solar system than you can use, a home owner can "sell" it back to the national grid in return for credits against the electricity bill.

Article published by: The Straits Times