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Gadgets & Home Improvement

More S'poreans using solar power to trim bills

Interest spikes as installation cost falls; solar firms enjoy exponential growth
The Straits Times - May 12, 2014
By: David Ee
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More S'poreans using solar power to trim bills Bar owner Jeanne Phua on the roof terrace of her family's four-storey home, where photovoltaic panels were installed last year. Since the family started using the 2.2 kilowatt-peak system, their monthly electricity bills have fallen from $1,000 to $850.

THE air-conditioning bill of Ms Jeanne Phua's family was burning a hole in their pocket as they tried to stave off the heat.

That is until they turned to an unlikely remedy: the sun.

The 28-year-old bar owner, who lives in a four-storey house in Pasir Panjang with her husband and her parents-in-law, is one of a growing handful of Singaporeans who are tapping solar energy these days to cut their bills.

Since they installed photovoltaic (PV) panels on their roof terrace last year, the family's monthly electricity bills have fallen from $1,000 to $850.

"We thought the savings would add up to a lot in the long term," said Ms Phua, adding that they use air-conditioning for almost the entire day.

They forked out $7,500 for a 2.2 kilowatt-peak (kWp) system after a friend who did the same raved to them about his savings. And neighbours have been clamouring to find out more, she said.

In total, between 15 and 20 megawatts (MW) of solar power is installed in Singapore today - about five times that in 2010 - according to industry estimates.

Industry observers whom The Straits Times spoke to expect the figure to double by the year end.

The spike in interest, as more people are aware of the falling cost of using energy from the sun, has led to some solar energy companies here reporting exponential growth in the past two years.

Last year, Phoenix Solar connected to the power grid here more than triple the amount of solar power capacity that it did in 2012. And although it is just midway through the year, it has already exceeded the 1,800 kWp that it installed last year.

Over at Sunseap, which has installed the bulk of the nation's solar power, the 18 megawatt peak (MWp) it has so far installed this year easily dwarfs the 10MWp it did last year and the 3MWp in 2012. Singapore gets more than 80 per cent of its electricity from natural gas and about 18 per cent from fuel oil.

In March, the Government said that it plans to install 350 MWp of solar energy by 2020, about 5 per cent of electricity demand.

Despite the growing interest in solar power, commercial and industrial properties still form the vast majority of orders for PV panels. And the overall use of solar energy makes up only a tiny fraction of Singapore's electricity demand.

Phoenix Solar's managing director Christophe Inglin expects that to change in the years ahead.

"Cost is no longer a significant barrier," he said, adding that solar energy became commercially viable here last year, making electricity produced from the sun as cheap - or even cheaper than - conventional sources.

He believes that is why more clients are installing "as much as their roofs can take". They can typically recoup their investment cost in six to 10 years at current electricity prices, said Mr Inglin.

Despite the potential savings they could enjoy, many private home owners still think that prices are high. A typical system for a landed home now costs less than $30,000 - much more affordable than the $90,000 it would have cost in 2007, he added.

A Sunseap spokesman said that despite receiving many inquiries, many home owners are still put off by the upfront cost involved and are waiting for solar leasing schemes to become available.

Educating the public about solar power is one aim of the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (Seris). Next year, it will release an online map revealing the solar potential of every rooftop in Singapore, and the cost of installing panels on them.

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