It may not be entirely powered by solar but is a step in the right direction. It is located in the Philippines. This is one of many projects just getting underway, and looks like start of a huge boom for the solar idustry.
The Philippines’ top solar provider marked another milestone by energizing SM North Edsa, now the world’s largest solar-powered shopping mall. Leandro Leviste, Solar Philippines Commercial Rooftop Projects Inc president, said the company, in partnership with SM Malls, will launched its first solar power facility at the company’s North Edsa mall on November 24.
Solar Philippines installed 5,760 solar panels and 60 inverters covering over 12,000 square meters at the mall’s North Edsa parking building.The 1.5-megawatt plant will be able to augment the mall’s power requirements, or the equivalent of 2,000 Filipino homes. It is expected to operate for over 25 years and offset an estimated 40,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), or the equivalent of planting 200,000 trees.
Leviste said the scale of the project makes it competitive with conventional power facilities.”Solar has gained the reputation of being expensive, not because of the technology, but because previous efforts were too small to benefit from economies of scale. By building the country’s largest projects, we’ve become the first local company to make solar cost-competitive with fossil fuel,” he said, without disclosing figures.
Besides the SM North Edsa solar farm, Solar Philippines will also put up similar facilities in other SM Malls.Last September, Solar Philippines installed a 700-kilowatt solar power facility in Central Mall Biñan of Premiumlink Development Corp.
Seven more Malls for 2014
Leviste’s company expects to complete at least seven more solar projects for shopping malls by end-2014.“I come from a family of environmentalists but for me, this is more about addressing one of the country’s greatest economic challenges—the high cost of electricity,” said Leviste, a son of Sen. Loren Legarda, a known advocate of climate change awareness.
“I also believe that only by making a solution commercially viable can it reach meaningful scale in mitigating climate change. Solar is a technology that’s long been tried and tested, but which has not reached wide adoption because no company had packaged this in a way marketable to consumers—zero up-front, as an operating and not a capital expense,” Levite said in reply to an Inquirer query.
Below Meralco rates
Leviste’s Solar Philippines financed, designed and constructed the entire system at no up-front cost to Central Mall Biñan. Under a power purchase agreement, solar electricity is supplied directly to the mall at below rates charged by Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), which guarantees savings from Day One—a first for renewable energy in the country.
Solar Farm vs Onsite
It is not difficult to see how this would be competitive. With electricity around 25c USD per KwH you could easily undercut that and make a reasonable return. However if you built a solar farm you would only receive half that amount as over 40% of the costs go to transmission charges and losses (the losses is for stolen electricity). At least another 50MW of solar installations are planned in the first quarter of 2015 by this start up company who’s founder is only 21 years old.
It all started a year and a half ago, when Leviste read about how a US company called Solar City pioneered the model of fully financing solar rooftop installations at zero up-front cost, supplying electricity at below utility rates.
“Despite the Philippines having the highest electricity rates in Asia and the decreasing cost of solar panels, no company had been able to replicate that model in the Philippines. So I dropped everything to pursue the opportunity. Once I started, I realized other things that made this the perfect niche for a start-up: huge potential, a low barrier to entry and entirely untapped because the model was very different from what traditional power companies were used to,” said Leviste.
Yale study on hold
Leviste was about to finish his senior year at Yale University, where he was majoring in political science with the hope of becoming a lawyer, when he heeded the call of entrepreneurship. “I tried to juggle this and my studies for a semester but then realized the importance of focus. So school is now on indefinite hold,” he said.
In the first few months, Leviste ran Solar Philippines from his bedroom, learning as much as he could from people in the industry here and abroad while sinking his teeth on a pilot project.
“I think that in this generation, the power to make a difference really is in the hands of entrepreneurs, not policymakers, and that the pace of innovation from Silicon Valley will open many opportunities for those who seek it. I grew up expecting to enter politics but realized that in the 21st century, it’s entrepreneurs who are changing the world,” he said.