Investment in and deployment of distributed solar photovoltaic (PV) energy-battery energy storage systems is soaring in the Philippines amid efforts to electrify the countryside, eradicate poverty, boost grass-roots socioeconomic development and realize the nation’s climate change and sustainable development goals.

Among those leading the charge is Solar Philippines, the nation’s first vertically integrated solar energy enterprise. Having recently completed the largest solar PV-battery energy storage microgrid project in Southeast Asia, Solar Philippines expects to flip the switch and turn on 24×7, solar PV-battery energy storage microgrids in the towns of Calayan, Cagayan and Claveria, Masbate this month.

“Our goal is to put solar panels on every single rooftop in the Philippines,” company president Leandro Leviste was quoted while attending the 2018 Asia Clean Energy Forum, which took place in Manila earlier this month. Solar Philippines intends to build solar-storage microgrids in rural towns across the country this year. “Under this plan, over the next few months, we will complete microgrids in over a dozen towns… benefiting 500,000 people, without a single dollar of grants, and perhaps an order of magnitude larger than the next largest microgrid portfolio in history,” Leviste reportedly said.

Solar Radiation Map: Global Horizontal Irradiation Map of the Philippines
Solar Radiation Map: Global Horizontal Irradiation Map of the Philippines, SolarGIS. | Source: Wikimedia Commons

Solar rises to the forefront of the political agenda in the Philippines

Solar energy-energy storage systems projects have captured the attention, and support, of rural residents across the Philippines. A growing roster of successful installations is providing cleaner, more reliable energy to rural communities, and far cheaper than local utilities have been able to. That’s helped drive solar power to the forefront of the national energy and socioeconomic development agenda.

Equipped with back-up diesel generation, Solar Philippines’ solar-storage microgrids in Calayan and Claveria will supply electricity 24×7, create jobs and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and environmental pollution, according to Solar Philippines Power Project Holdings. Moreover, the towns’ electricity bills will be cut in half.

Upon completion of the two projects, the 100,000 or so residents of the two rural towns will have access to electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the first time, according to Solar Philippines. All told, the company is working to complete similar solar-storage microgrid projects in 10 rural towns by the end of the third quarter.

A 2 MW-2 MWh (megawatt-hour) solar-storage microgrid with 2 MW of diesel back-up generation capacity Solar Philippines completed in Paluan, in the province of Occidental Mindoro this past March set the stage for similar projects in the company’s project pipeline. Notably, the project was the first to incorporate Tesla’s Powerpack lithium-ion battery-based energy storage system.

The project’s completion also marked the launch of what Leviste has dubbed “Solar Para Sa Bayan,” an initiative via which Solar Philippines intends to bring cheaper, more reliable and environmentally friendly energy and sustainable, socioeconomic development to rural areas throughout the Philippines.

“No more brownouts”

The estimated 16,000 or so residents of Paluan gathered and raised a banner saying “No more brownouts” at the project site upon its completion. Mindoro is known as the “brownout capital” of the Philippines.

The Paluan Solar-Battery Storage Microgrid - No More Brownouts
Credit: Philstar

In addition to delivering environmentally friendly power 24×7, the Paluan Solar-Battery Storage Microgrid is delivering electrical energy to the town at half the cost the local electric co-op Napocor had been charging, according to a news report. Furthermore, it will save the amount NEA subsidizes rural electric co-ops by more than Php30 million (USD 564,706) per year. That’s what Napocor has been receiving in subsidies to supply electricity to the town. The Paluan Solar-Energy Storage Microgrid reportedly operates subsidy-free.

It’s estimated that 10 percent of Filippinos lack access to modern sources of electricity. As many as 30 percent either live in areas without grid access or subject to daily brownouts, scheduled or unscheduled. Brownouts are a weekly occurrence for the 70 percent of Filippinos that live in areas served by electric co-ops.

Liberalization and decentralization of energy markets, along with much more in the way of local, emissions-free, renewable energy resources, are mainstays of Pres. Duterte and administration’s strategic sustainable energy, socioeconomic development and climate change mitigation and adaptation plans.

The Philippines’ National Electrification Administration (NEA) says it will likely complete a competitive, public tender this month that is to see 40,500 home solar energy systems installed in off-grid communities on the southern island of Mindanao, the second largest in the Philippines’ archipelago. The initiative is part and parcel of the Philippines’ PV Mainstreaming program. Initiated by the US Dept. of Energy and funded by the European Union (EU) Access to Sustainable Energy Program (EU-ASEP), NEA, which supervises Philippines’ electric co-operatives nationwide, is carrying out the program.

Solar-fueled rural electrification

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Local, off-grid solar and battery-based energy storage is a keystone of a growing number of national rural electrification programs across the developing world, a trend that Solar Magazine has been keen to follow. Globally, off-grid solar energy investment totaled USD98 million in 2015, according to Mercom Capital.

That rose to USD143 million of capital raised in 2016 and soared to USD238 million in 2017. As of the end of 2018’s first quarter off-grid solar companies had raised USD245 million, according to Mercom’s Global Solar Funding Tracker.

Marking Solar Philippines’ fourth anniversary, Leviste last September announced the company will devote half of its resources to deliver affordable, reliable and environmentally friendly energy systems in rural areas across the country in a bid to help realize President Rodrigo Duterte’s goal of eliminating energy poverty by 2022 and reducing national greenhouse gas emissions 70 percent by 2030. The company recently submitted proposals to electric utilities to replace aging coal power plants with 5,000 megawatts (MW) of solar power capacity at a cost as low as Php2.99 (USD0.056) per kilowatt-hour.

That’s the lowest rate for electricity from any new power plant in Philippines’ history. Solar Philippines estimates savings would total more than Php200 billion (USD3.76 billion) per year and lower electricity rates 30 percent, or an average of Php1,000 (USD18.82) per family per month, according to a news report.

Furthermore, the company is now capable of manufacturing 800 MW worth of silicon solar PV panels from its recently completed factory in Batangas, the first in the Philippines. Reportedly equipped with state-of-the-art German technology, the solar PV manufacturing plant is producing high-efficiency solar panels.

An emerging solar powerhouse

Leviste and Solar Philippine’s backers believe the Philippines can emerge as a solar manufacturing powerhouse. Leviste said that more than 6,000 direct and 20,000 indirect jobs will be created as Solar Philippines’ manufacturing plant expands to a planned 2 GW of capacity.

“Inspired by President Duterte’s mission to improve the lives of Filipinos, we will do our utmost to end energy poverty in the Philippines by 2022,” Leviste was quoted as saying during the manufacturing plant’s official opening. Pres. Duterte attended the opening ceremony and toured the facility.

Solar Panels in a Philippines’ Village
Credit: Solar Philippines

Solar Philippines isn’t alone. One of the Philippines’ largest power producers, AboitIzPower has been a large and active presence in the island nation’s power market for more than 80 years. Management in April announced it was entering the Philippines’ distributed, retail solar energy market.

Aboitiz entered the Philippines’ utility-scale solar market in 2016 upon completion of the 59 MW San Carlos Sun project in San Carlos City. All told, the company’s clean power capacity totals 1,272 MW and spans solar, geothermal, run-of-river hydroelectric and large hydroelectric power facilities.

Via Aboitiz Power Distributed Energy, the company now intends to install rooftop solar energy systems for residential, commercial and industrial businesses and municipalities across the Philippines. The company is in the midst of carrying out projects on the main island of Luzon and on Visayas that it expects to be completed this year, according to an industry news report. comment

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