New plans serve cheaper power sunny side up

Audrey Tan, The Straits Times AsiaOne 23 Jan 17;

But few firms have switched from SP Services to other electricity retailers: EMA

Shopping for customised electricity plans has been an option for businesses for the past year or so, but not many have decided to make the switch away from SP Services.

As at the end of the third quarter of last year, only about a third of the 35,000 eligible commercial and industrial consumers have chosen to do so, latest figures from the Energy Market Authority show.

Businesses with an average monthly electricity usage of at least 2 megawatt-hour (MWh or 2,000 kWh) - a monthly power bill of about $450 - can choose an alternative to SP Services from July 2015.

Before that, only consumers which use more than 4MWh of electricity monthly were eligible.

On the low take-up rate, Mr Julius Tan, manager of energy retail at home-grown electricity retailer Sunseap, said some may worry that electricity supply may be less reliable with a different retailer.

But he said electricity supply will still come from the grid. "The only difference is that they are paying an electricity retailer that can offer them plans customised to their needs," he said. This is similar to how mobile phone users choose price plans from various telcos.

Customised price plans, for example, will allow consumers to power up their premises with a mix that includes solar energy without the need to install and maintain their own solar panels. This may appeal to eco-conscious consumers and those who want to save money as electricity generated in part by solar energy is cheaper than the regulated tariff.

Last month, Sunseap started offering eligible consumers a GoEco price plan which guarantees that a portion of electricity used will come from the sun. Its website says doing so can cut electricity bills by 20 per cent.

As a gauge, it costs about 20 cents for 1kWh of electricity from SP Services at the regulated tariff.

Sun Electric, another local solar electricity retailer, is also offering a variety of price plans that allows eligible consumers to tap varying amounts of solar energy, resulting in savings of between 15 and 20 per cent.

"You don't need a roof... to get solar electricity, and a lot of electricity consumers like to get clean electricity. All of our products are also cheaper than the tariff," said Dr Matt Peloso, Sun Electric chief executive.

Logistics firm Ninja Van has made the switch from the regulated tariff. It subscribed to Sunseap's GoEco plan for one of its two facilities last month. The other facility will also be on the same plan from next month.

Mr Pang Sing Yang, vice-president of strategy at Ninja Van, said of the switch: "We believe in supporting other local start-ups and want to play our part in environmental conservation by using a form of renewable energy. We also enjoy some cost savings."

Next year, 1.3 million households can also get to benefit from this flexibility when the electricity retail market is fully open to competition.

Ms Geraldine Tan, general manager for retail at electricity retailer PacificLight, which also offers renewable energy, said: "With the electricity market opening up next year, the price of solar continuing to fall and the availability of hybrid solutions, more customers in Singapore will be able to pledge their commitment to renewable energy at a competitive price point."

Government agencies are also looking to tap savings without having to install their own systems.

Under the Government's SolarNova scheme, which aggregates solar demand, agencies such as the HDB provide rooftop space for firms to install the panels. In return, town councils enjoy discounted electricity rates.

S'pore-made solar panel more efficient, works even if partially shaded

Local solar firm REC Solar believes it has found a possible solution to tackle Singapore's lack of space for solar panels. It said its new panel can convert more of the sun's energy into electricity, compared with a conventional panel of the same size. The REC TwinPeak solar panel can produce 280 watts, compared with the usual 260 watts generated by a conventional solar panel.

Professor Armin Aberle, chief executive of the National University of Singapore's Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore, said that considering Singapore's limited space, it is important to maximise the energy output from every square metre available for solar panels.

He worked with the REC team on developing the new solar panel, which is also able to work even if part of it is shaded, something conventional panels cannot do.

Dr Shankar Sridhara, the firm's vice-president of technology, said the differences may appear small, but are significant in the quest to make solar energy a more viable option here.

TwinPeak has higher efficiency because of a number of novel technologies, such as using smaller solar cells which reduce energy lost to heat, said Dr Shankar.

A solar panel is made up of many solar cells, and the REC panel uses cells about half the size of conventional ones. This halves the current running through the cell, and reduces heat loss.

The REC team also maximises the amount of sunlight absorbed by the panel. Besides capturing sunlight that hits its surface, the panel harnesses the infrared energy that passes through it, thanks to a reflective material at the rear of the solar cell. The infrared light is reflected back into the cell to be converted into electricity.

Mr Goh Chee Kiong, executive director for cleantech at the Economic Development Board, which supported TwinPeak's development, said: "Singapore is grooming clean energy as a growth area, which will address the opportunities from increasing urbanisation and environmental sustainability in Asia...

"Innovations such as REC's TwinPeak solar technology are one such example where companies have successfully tapped Singapore's position as Asia's clean energy hub to serve the regional markets."

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