Being in the Tropics, we should potentially be a great user of solar energy. What is holding us back is that the economics is still not favourable. It is not yet cheaper than energy produced from oil or gas.
But technology is on our side. As solar panels improve on their efficiency and their cost of production drops, the economics of solar energy is getting better every day.
We should not wait until the economics is fully proven. We should experiment, pilot and acquire the necessary experience while the scientists work hard in the research labs. Meanwhile, the Government is providing some financial incentives to help spawn more such pilots.
HDB has been piloting the use of solar energy in several towns, and more recently on a bigger scale in the new Punggol Town. Playing around with solar panels, we are learning a lot about how to use them in our local climate and how best to enable the private sector to play a meaningful role in our experiment.
Among the different systems and models of renewable energy, HDB has found that the solar photovoltaic or PV system (made up of solar panels converting sunlight to electricity) is the most feasible as it can generate the most energy within a limited rooftop space.
HDB first tested solar PV in 2008, through test-bedding in Serangoon North and Sembawang.
Since that early experiment, we were happy to note that the global prices of solar PV cells have fallen rapidly. When we started in 2008, the price of solar panel was $5.17/Wp. It has since dropped by 60%.
As a further innovation, HDB leases the solar PV systems from the private sector, selected through an open tender. As an incentive to the successful tenderer, HDB offsets a portion of the company’s start-up costs. The company takes care of the subsequent operational and maintenance costs.
This arrangement directly benefits the residents as the Town Councils (TCs) get to enjoy a lower electricity tariff. For example, in the recent solar leasing project, the Pasir Ris-Punggol TC gets up to five percent discount off the retail electricity tariff rate for the solar energy generated.
With this leasing arrangement, we are further stretching our pilot-project budget to benefit more HDB blocks. The original budget could allow us to implement 3 MWp of solar PV in HDB estates. Now, we should be able to do up to 95 MWp, 30 times more compared to the original target!
There are now more than 100 HDB blocks fitted with solar PV systems, supplying electricity to light up common areas of these blocks.
We will continue to bring such innovations to HDB towns and along the way enable our residents to enjoy cleaner and greener energy, which is also cheaper!
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