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Published on September 9th, 2014 | by Jake Richardson


Rooftop Solar Panels Are Cheaper Than Coal In the Philippines

September 9th, 2014 by  

Carlos Jericho Petilla is the Secretary of Energy for the Philippines. He recently explained that rooftop solar panels are now cheaper than coal there. “As a simple example, the cost of electricity from a coal plant can run up to P5.50 per kilowatt hour, plus P6.50 for distribution and transmission, which amounts to P12.00. If you install solar panels on your rooftop, you will only spend P9.00 per kilowatt hour for generation and no cost for distribution or transmission. This already saves you up to P3 per kilowatt hour.” His statement appeared in a Department of Energy document titled, “DOE Sec. Petilla: Renewables Pave the Way to Energy Security in the Philippines.”


Solar Panels Have Other Benefits

He didn’t stop there, though. He also mentioned that there is a another advantage: “we must clarify that the equipment only entails one-time cost, not repeated costs. Also, private citizens can actually benefit more for own-use of RE such as solar, wind and biomass in self-generation of electricity for their own use.”

The Philippines passed a net-metering act in 2008, so solar panel users can sell excess power back to the grid and receive credits that lower their utility bills. Having solar panels installed on a home’s roof has another benefit. Homeowners can become more interested in their own energy consumption and monitor it more when they have technology that generates energy so close by. In other words, the experience of having solar panels can be educational and behavior changing.

Is it a big deal that such a prominent government official made a public remark that seems to be pro solar?

Yes, because currently his country imports most of its energy. The cost of doing so is a huge outlay that could be avoided, if the Philippines successfully transitions to energy independence. How that happens and in what time frame is not clear, but falling solar prices have definitely helped make rooftop solar more attractive to both homeowners and businesses.

Adding more solar power to the mix could help the country save money by reducing dependence on imported fossil fuels. Even small reductions can have significant savings. For example, last year it was calculated that adding coconut-based biodiesel to vehicle fuel might save about PHP15.5 billion.

Distributed Solar

There’s at least one more potential benefit to the Philippines from solar power. Distributed off-grid solar can be used as a backup during natural disasters or blackouts. The Philippines has over 7,000 islands, so distributed solar can be an effective solution when there is no grid power available.

Image Credit: DOE PH

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  • Marion Meads

    With over 7,000 islands, a supergrid is not the answer for the Philippines but local microgrids are. More than 40% of the rural outlying and remote communities are still not or only partially electrified with expensive diesel generators. Dado Banatao, a Philippine billionaire and philanthropist, developed an excellent gasifier technology that utilize agricultural waste biomass and a microgrid system to be deployed into various rural communites. This could serve as backup for solar because of the frequent intermittent clouds during the day and sometimes running into weeks of rain. The problem is that the local government up to the governor are all seeking bribes that it would quadruple the price of deploying the technology, something that you will not be able to financially recover by paying off the interests on the bribes alone. So the project was put on hold or abandoned. Here’s their technology:

  • Joseph Dubeau

    Off shore wind might make better sense because land is used for farming.
    Roof top solar will work but how do you get around the local corruption?

    • Jouni Valkonen

      Windmills have foot-print only few square meters. So they definitely have nothing but positive impact on farming, because the value of land is increased.

      • Ronald Brakels

        And in the Phillipines they are likely to go on the top of ridges anyway, so not much loss of farmland there.

      • Mint

        Windmills won’t solve the need for an expensive grid, though. P6.50 works out to $0.15c/kWh just for the grid, but I suppose it’s understandable given that the Philippines are a thousand islands and electricity use is low (making grid amortization more pricey).

        Solar plus battery could well be a good alternative, but I’m curious about weather there. Don’t they clouds/rains for weeks at a time in that part of the world?

      • Joseph Dubeau

        The wind blow stronger off shore.
        There no need to build roads, destroy the rain forest, or expensive power lines/towers

    • Ronald Brakels

      It is possible to buy Chinese, Malaysian, etc. goods in the Phillipines. People buy solar panels, inverters, etc. and then they pay someone to install them on their roofs. If no permits are required then there isn’t much opportunity to collect bribes. Of course if permits are required that’s likely to gum things up.

      • Marion Meads

        SunPower has a solar PV manufacturing plant in the Philippines.

        • Ronald Brakels

          That should be even better. Or not. Sometimes things get a bit weird. For example, manufacturing solar panels hasn’t turned out well for the Australian solar industry.

    • rkt9

      Here’s an excellent video on something that might be even better.

      • Jan Veselý

        Ok, you are offering a technology which is only in experimental stage, is very complicated, will rely on centralised grid, will take a lot of time to build.
        They are buying a technology which mass produced with falling price, is simple “stone under glass”, gives you your own electricity and you order it and next week you will have it running.

        • rkt9

          This technology is not complicated, the experimental stage was completed in the 60s, it does rely on a grid to some degree, and it won’t take long to build. But your points about are good on days the sun is shining.

          We need to get off fossil fuels NOW! This technology will get us there, it just a matter of who will hold IP on it. Looks like it’s going to be Chinese.

          • Jan Veselý

            Where is the catch? Why so cool, 50 years old tech is not everywhere? Why there are still built uranium burning nukes?

          • rkt9

            Jan, I am pro solar, wind and geothermal. But, I feel we need to keep an open mind to other possible technologies. Please watch the video I supplied the link to, it answers the question why they are still building solid fuel reactors, and explains the liquid fluoride thorium reactors being proposed here, and already being developed in China and India.

          • Jan Veselý

            Sorry, but liquid hot thorium flourid and safety? But OK, it is “just” the technical issue. May I have some more questions:
            1) Is it dispatchable?
            2) Does it have modular design? (1 MW?, 5 MW?, 10 MW?)
            3) How about costs? Investment, O&M, deployment time, % of failures, fuel costs

          • rkt9

            I am not sure what you m yes it can be located in remote areas. I think they can be designed to about any size. It doesn’t require a containment building or water cooling, so the costs are significantly lower. It operates at atmospheric pressure. If it losses power and overheats the liquid melts a freeze plug and drains into a ta

          • Bob_Wallace

            The general rule with reactors (and wind turbines) is that the smaller you make them, the more expensive they are per MWh produced.

            You’re starting with a very expensive generation source when build large/efficiently and making it more expensive.

          • rkt9

            The proponents of this technology claim it will be much cheaper than coal, with other added benefits. Hyperbole? Perhaps, but I feel it is at least worth the time to listen to their proposals. From their presentations, it looks like they might be on to something.
            Many areas there’s no wind and not so much solar. Like the southeast US. Something like this might be a good alternative.
            It was you who enlightened me to the Harvard study on coal, which was an eye opener. Where I live coal is still the main source of energy. Albeit we are slowly, very slowly switching to natural gas, which may be worse than coal according to new research.

          • Bob_Wallace

            New nuclear would likely be somewhat cheaper than new coal. And considerably cheaper were we to make coal pay for its health damages. But “cheaper” does not mean competitive. New nuclear at 11+ cents is more than new solar (~8 cents and rapidly dropping) or wind (4 cents and dropping).

            Look, we’ve known about thorium reactors for years. We’ve built a couple. The fact that when there have been calls for bids for new reactors (Ontario Canada, San Antonio, UK, Turkey, etc.) not a single company has stepped up and offered to build an affordable thorium reactor.

            What we seem to have is a small group of “true believers”, many of whom have as their knowledge base a video on YouTube. What we don’t have are any large corporations building any of these reactors. That, to me, is a giant hint.

            The SE has good wind resources, both on- and offshore.

            For onshore the towers need to be higher than in some other places, in the 96 to 110 meter range rather than 80 meters.

            Coal is worse in terms of health. Coal is worse in terms of GHG emissions (assuming NG leaks are controlled). It’s hard to say which is worse mountain top removal/open pit mines/ash mountains or fracking.

            Where NG is clearly better is in terms of dispatch-ability. Gas plants can be turned on and off quickly, coal plants cannot.

            This means that if the wind is blowing or Sun shining and demand is low NG can be turned off. That means less fuel burned and less GHG emission. Coal, on the other hand, will drop their price even below zero if necessary to force wind/solar to curtail. No GHG savings.

            NG gives us the ability to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. As we add capacity and storage we can cut back on NG until NG becomes nothing more than very deep backup for the grid.

          • Joseph Dubeau

            Gas is cheaper and cleaner then coal. Wind is cheaper than Gas. 30% renewable more likely within the next 10 years in the US. California can get there in 5 years.

            We will have gas and nuclear around for some time to come.
            New Nuclear Power Plants are expensive to build.
            The French plan their energy needs and public transportation much more smarter than we did in the US.

          • Bob_Wallace

            France found itself in a tight spot in the 1970s. They burned a lot of OPEC oil and OPEC started messing with supply. France quickly built a lot of nuclear reactors.

            Now France has a lot of aging out reactors and a high production cost running the reactors it has. France is watching other countries installing renewables that cost less than power from paid off reactors.

            France has planned a route that closes reactors and installs renewables. What was a good idea 40 years ago isn’t necessarily a good idea today.

          • Joseph Dubeau

            True. And we are still in the tight spot.
            The Drone War has begun.

      • one.second

        Oh no, not that bullshit again. You have to cool it with molten salt und high pressure, that is extremely expensive, corrosive and technically difficult, and a whole lot of very poisonous elements and chemicals are produced and it can still blow up. That’s just expensive bullshit with no advantages whatsoever like every other nuclear energy idiocy.

        • rkt9

          Okay… Thanks for your input.

          • Wayne Williamson

            rkt9, this is not the site to post questions/suggestions about nuclear. Myself, I hope the thorium thingy works out, although mostly for real space travel, not the crap we have now.

  • Jouni Valkonen

    And with that remaining P3, it is possible to buy small battery system for storage to give more solar hours.

  • Marion Meads

    Philippine’s electricity rates are between 2-5 times more than the US, so the payback period should be quicker. However, if you build large projects, all the members of the government will ask for a bribe, from their local community called Baranggay, the Baranggay Captain will ask for a bribe, the Police, the Mayor and his counsel, then the governor, up to the congressman of their district and to the President, depending on how large the scope of the project is. Sometimes, if you tally all the bribes, it would cost more than the price of the project. That’s the cost of doing business.

    • sault

      That’s the beauty of small-scale solar power! Less complexity and local or even household control eliminate most of the roadblocks that rent seekers and bribe-takers can insert into the process.

      • spec9

        Yeah, if you do small-scale solar PV with Li-Ion batteries for night then you can completely avoid the grid and lots of corruption.

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