We Lowered our Power Bill Despite Higher Consumption, Here’s How We Did It

Consumers are complaining of their energy bills these days after months of not receiving them. The mounting consumer complaints have compelled the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to order the biggest power distributor, Manila Electric Company (Meralco) to explain how it billed its close to seven million customers, 92 percent of which are residential accounts.

According to Meralco, the high power bills of its subscribers are because of the higher usage of electricity at homes during the community quarantine. The summer season didn’t help in lowering power consumption either, the energy distributor says.

There’s also a problem with the meter reading. During the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), Meralco did not send out its employees to conduct meter reading. Thus, the last three month’s average consumption was used as a basis for the billing during March and April.

There are various ways we could have avoided a bill shock.  The company says smart meters, which allows for remote meter reading, would have eliminated the need for meter readers to go door-to-door during the lockdown. Indeed, remote meter reading would have been beneficial for consumers. We are now developing a new technology that allows our personnel to read, connect, disconnect, and reconnect power remotely. We intend to roll-out this technology by year-end. 

While many consumers were shocked and left in dismay over their power bills, our household, on the other hand, has a different experience. I and other members of the family stayed at home like many Filipinos. Our power consumption is higher, too given multiple devices, gadgets, and appliances catering to our needs. But unlike most Meralco consumers, our power bill is lower despite our higher consumption. 

Fortunately, even before the lockdown, we have installed rooftop solar at our home. After all, as a renewable energy advocate, I knew that there are many benefits in investing in renewable power technologies. And indeed, our solar system installation came in very handy at a time when we all had to stay home and consume more energy for months.

Solar rooftop technology can cut electricity costs drastically. Many anti-renewables are always pointing out that the one-time investment in this technology is too expensive and might not be worth it. However, consumers have to consider that this system is a one-time investment. A household would only need to shell out money once, unlike getting electricity from a traditional distributor where they have to pay a monthly charge depending on their consumption and other pass-on costs. Consumers who don’t want to experience a bill shock would do well in installing a rooftop solar system. 

A rooftop solar system is also low maintenance since it merely requires proper cleaning from time to time, much like any appliance. There are no major maintenance costs involved in having rooftop solar at homes. Maintaining a car is way more expensive than the maintenance costs of using a solar rooftop technology.

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In the U.S., solar panels can increase the value of a home property anywhere between 3 to 9.9%. Photo c/o Greentech Media

Solar rooftops also increase a home’s resale value. A study by Zillow, a real estate information company in the United States revealed that adding solar power at home increases the property’s sale value, similar to the effects of renovating spaces such as kitchens and basement. According to Zillow, solar panels can increase the value of a home property anywhere between 3 to 9.9%, depending on the property’s location.

Our solar rooftops are of great help at a time when we are all staying at home. This technology allows me and my family to use even high-consuming appliances like airconditioners without much guilt, knowing that our investment in rooftop solar panels is working for us. It is unfortunate that some who would like to have this technology such as those living in high rise buildings won’t be able to take advantage of this technology, for now, to help with their power bills. But for those who can, solar rooftop system is indeed a worthy investment.

Floating nuclear power plants? Why not floating solar power plants?

Recently, our government signed-up with Rosatum Overseas, Russia’s state nuclear company to study the possibility of exploring the construction of nuclear power plants in the Philippines.

According to reports, our government is looking into the feasibility of buying into the newly launched floating nuclear power plant technology of Russia. Rosatom’s chief executive officer Alexei Likhachev was quoted to have said that Russia had already proposed building a floating nuclear power plant in the Philippines.

However, according to the palace spokesperson, the agreement on nuclear power is still uncertain.

This isn’t the first time proposals of building nuclear power plants are being brought up.

Last year, the local government unit of Sulu announced that it was studying the feasibility of putting up a modular nuclear power plant (NPP) in the province. This idea, however, was dismissed by Energy Department’s spokesperson and undersecretary Felix William as a “remote possibility”.

And he was correct in saying that there’s little chance of having a modular nuclear power plant in the country anytime soon.

During the power crisis of the 1990s we even considered tapping Russia’s nuclear submarines to help solve the power shortage. We just had a simple problem – the submarines had a frequency of 50 Hz.  We operate at 60 Hz.

Those pushing for nuclear plants fail to realize that the legislative and regulatory frameworks we have for nuclear power are already outdated as they were created some 50 years ago.

The Philippine Atomic Energy Commission or PAEC was created almost half a century ago to regulate nuclear power development and operations. PAEC also was handling the licensing of nuclear power engineers. The agency, however, was later downgraded to the Philippine National Research Institute (PNRI) during President Cory Aquino’s administration.

Before we talk about building nuclear power plants, let us ask ourselves, who would issue permits to build and operate a nuclear facility? And do we even have qualified people to build and operate them anyway?

Russia says that it is ready to assist the Philippines in exploring nuclear energy if it requests for such help. However, is it a good idea to rely solely on foreigners’ help given our lack of experts and experienced personnel to handle nuclear power?

It’s mind-boggling that a country that has so many natural resources are contemplating on building nuclear plants rather than turning to indigenous renewable energy. Have we forgotten that we are a tropical country or that we are a top producer of geothermal power?

We should instead start thinking about floating solar plants rather than floating or modular nuclear plants. Floating solar photovoltaic installations, after all, are a safer and more sensible option than nuclear ones.

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World’s largest floating solar plant in China. Photo c/o http://www.we.forum.org

What’s great about floating solar technology is that it is highly similar to land-based PV systems except that the PV arrays, as well as most inverters, are placed on a floating platform. Thus, floating photovoltaic (FPV) installations are great for us as we have the expertise to build and operate floating solar plants given that we have been building land-based ones. The floating power plants are beneficial for our country, too given our high population density and competing uses for our land.

Floating solar plants are nothing new as the first FPV system was built in 2007 in Japan. The first commercial installation involving a 175 kWp was in 2008 in California. This was then followed by a medium to large floating installations in Korea, Japan, China, Australia, and the United Kingdom, to name a few. As of December 2018, some 1.8 gigawatt-peak was the recorded cumulative installed capacity around the world. This is expected to increase rapidly as more countries add FPV installations.

It can be the solution for those hard to reach areas as ground-mounted PV are usually difficult to deploy in mountainous areas. FPV, on the other hand, can be placed on bodies of waters like lakes or dams.

So, again why are we discussing floating nuclear power plants when we can bank on floating solar power plants? We have the expertise to build FPV installations. Thus, we do not need to rely solely on the knowledge and experience of foreigners, unlike nuclear plants. We do not have to look for complicated and almost impossible to achieve solutions for our growing power needs. We simply need to be practical and turn to our indigenous renewable energy for our energy security.

References:

https://globalnation.inquirer.net/180821/from-russia-with-nuke-plant-plans

https://www.rappler.com/nation/241987-gatchalian-says-nuclear-energy-very-risky-philippines-signs-deal-russia

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