Cheaper, cleaner electricity for households on the cards

TAN WEIZHEN Today Online 25 Apr 17;

SINGAPORE — The largest renewable energy provider here plans to shake things up when the energy market becomes fully liberalised next year, by offering households prices that are 15 to 30 per cent cheaper than current rates.

Consumers can also buy clean energy with a touch of their fingertips using a mobile app, which will allow them to track their carbon footprint.

Sunseap, which has already snagged several big solar-leasing contracts — including with technology giant Apple and the Housing and Development Board (HDB) — is among a growing number of licensed electricity retailers that have entered the fray in recent years, in anticipation of the Government’s move to fully open up the market in the second half of 2018 — which will allow another 1.3 million consumers, mainly households, to have flexibility and choice in their electricity consumption. The market has been gradually liberalised over the years with the contestability threshold lowered in phases, but households have not been brought on board so far.

Sharing its plans with TODAY recently, Sunseap managing director Frank Phuan said the homegrown company will offer a variety of price plans to suit households of varying sizes and energy needs.

“Just like a telco plan with talktime minutes, we will offer ... for instance a two-year plan, with a set amount of energy units according to your needs. If households can’t finish these units, it could be rolled over to the following month,” said Mr Phuan.

Sunseap plans to start marketing its price plans at the end of the year. It is in talks with telecommunication firms and banks on possible tie-ups for consumers to pay for electricity through their telco or credit card bills.

Mr Phuan revealed that households may opt for hybrid plans, which will essentially be a mix of traditional and alternative energy. “They would be able to choose to, for instance, set 20 per cent of their energy needs to be served by alternative energy, with 80 per cent still met by traditional energy,” said Mr Phuan.

Sunseap’s mobile app, when available, will enable consumers to sign up for energy plans, and track their previous month’s usage. Not only will consumers get to see how much they save on their electricity bills as compared to their rival’s prices, they can also find out how much carbon they save by using alternative energy, said Mr Phuan.

Currently, there are 24 licensed electricity retailers — including Sunseap — in Singapore, based on the Energy Market Authority website. The number has jumped by almost double since 2015 when Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S Iswaran announced the timeline of the full liberalisation.

Sunseap, which was founded in 2011, can trace it roots back to the 1970s when Mr Phuan’s father started a solar systems manufacturing business. Six years ago, Mr Phuan and his friend, Mr Lawrence Wu, decided to branch out into solar leasing services.

The company has not looked back since: Sunseap says it has achieved 80 per cent market share of Singapore’s clean energy market. Apart from the Republic, the firm has offices in Cambodia, Thailand, Philippines, India, Malaysia and Australia.

In 2015, it landed a contract with Apple to supply clean energy for its operations in South-east Asia, including for its offices and the upcoming Apple Store in Singapore. The company has also been awarded a few tenders by the HDB to install solar panels on the rooftops of housing blocks.

Mr Phuan said Sunseap achieved grid parity at the retail level a few years ago, which means that it can offer alternative energy at a price equal to or cheaper than what is provided by the traditional electricity grid.

He noted that the demand for clean energy has been on the rise: In 2011, the company delivered just two megawatts of power to its customers. Within a year, this rose to 15 megawatts. This increased further to 50 megawatts in 2014, and 80 megawatts last year. An 80-megawatt system can power more than 21,100 four-room HDB flats for a year.

By the end of next year, Sunseap is set to deliver 200 megawatts to its customers, such as government agencies and companies, including small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

“There is a desire among the SMEs to contribute to reducing Singapore’s carbon footprint ... some companies are actually less driven by the discounts (that they can get by using clean energy) ... but rather, the motivation to do something sustainable,” he said.

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