Paving the way for solar energy

By Herbert Vego

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” says a popular proverb traced to Greek philosopher Plato (428-348 BC) in his immortalized treatise, The Republic. Indeed, where there is a need, we find ways to meet and solve whatever problem head-on.

Simply put, the driving force behind an invention is a need – say, the need to check the abuses of price-manipulative oil cartels and coal diggers. Here in the Philippines, we are fed up with the prohibitive cost of electricity being wrongly blamed on distribution utilities.

It is unfair to always blame the distribution utilities (DUs), such as MORE Power and ILECO, for higher power bills in the city and province of Iloilo. They do not generate power but buy it from generating units running on diesel, coal, geothermal, hydro or any other form of energy.

Unfortunately, most of these generators are either diesel- or coal-fired. Since diesel and coal now command higher prices, DUs tend to look for cheaper but renewable alternatives.

These are the geothermal, wind and hydropower systems that are available but run short of filling the national demand.

Solar or energy from the sun is free. But harnessing that energy remains to be expensive still; therefore, a challenge to overcome.

For basic information on the matter, we interviewed two MORE Power officials on the radio program Tribuna sang Banwa” (Aksyon Radyo, 12:15 to 1:15 p.m. on Sundays), namely Bailey del Castillo (vice-president for development and network operation) and Louie Capospos (assistant manager, distribution network).

“Solar energy is already available here in Iloilo,” Del Castillo said, referring to PV (photovoltaic) solar panels on rooftops. “It is getting affordable.”

“The solar PV system,” this from Capospos, “may operate continuously alongside MORE Power.”

It is MORE Power as a DU that has the means to install interconnection with solar PV panels both as an alternative (in case of brownouts) and add-on energy source.

Solar panels are directly energized by the sun and work best under sunlight. Outside of the grid, however, they are capable of storing sun energy only through batteries which, unfortunately, tend to die down after long “sunless” hours.

“Under the net metering program,” Del Castillo enthused, “our customers may avail of 100-kilowatt rooftop solar PV energy. It will pass on energy to the grid.”

Heavy users requiring more than 100 kilowatts of solar energy are not qualified for net metering but may install their own rooftop solar panels in coordination with the DU.

Simply put, the cost of sun-sourced energy would be deducted from the customer’s electricity bill.

In the remote possibility of more solar power exported to the grid than used by the customer, the latter may even be paid a corresponding amount.  Cost saving, di ba?

“We may be able to bring down energy costs if the plan to buy land for an 80megawatt solar farm materializes, hopefully within two years,” he revealed.

That is not remote, since MORE Power is mainly owned by billionaire Enrique K. Razon. It is a subsidiary of the Razon-led Prime Infrastructure Holdings, Inc., which – according to a news report — has tied up with Solar Philippines New Energy Corp. (SPNEC) to secure 3,000 hectares of land bordering Nueva Ecija and Bulacan on which to build the “largest solar farm” that could generate 2,500 to 3,500 megawatts of clean electricity.

Solar energy is popular because it does not burn fossil fuels or emit greenhouse gasses that contribute to the climate-change crisis.

“Sir Roel is passionate about power sustainability,” Del Castillo said, referring to MORE Power President Roel Z. Castro, “in collaboration with the Iloilo City government.”

Mayor Jerry P. Treñas, incidentally, has received offers from other companies to build a biomass power plant. Biomass refers to living or once-living organisms which can be burned in a boiler to produce high-pressure steam that flows over a series of turbine blades, causing them to rotate and drive a generator, producing electricity