Factories 'suitable' to tap sun's rays

Feng Zengkun The Straits Times AsiaOne 1 Nov 14;
Manufacturing companies in Singapore, especially power-guzzling ones like semiconductor firms, are likely to benefit more from installing solar panels to save on electricity costs, a study here has found.

These companies operate throughout the week, even on weekends, and heavy-duty production companies are also likely to have large roofs which can accommodate more panels for economies of scale, according to the study by solar energy firm REC and the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (Seris).

In contrast, commerce and trade companies such as warehouses and distribution centres usually do not operate on weekends, which limits the size of their solar power systems, said the researchers.

"Making the system larger would reduce the consumption from the (power) grid during the week, but the excess electricity on the weekend would be wasted," they explained.

REC, with Seris' help, had looked at commerce and trade, manufacturing and heavy-duty production companies here to see whether and how they could profit from installing solar panels on-site and using the energy generated from the sun.

The study did not include condominiums, Housing Board flats and industrial estates where companies share a building, as the rooftop space in these places is smaller and shared.

The researchers said their projections showed the companies could recoup investments in such systems in eight to nine years.

The electricity generated for the rest of the systems' typical 25- to 30-year lifespan would be almost free.

This is even as Singapore's retail electricity prices rose by 9 cents for a kilowatt hour from 2005 to last year, while the average cost of a solar power system fell by almost 40 per cent between 2011 and this year, they noted.

For companies that cannot afford or baulk at the long recoupment period, REC senior vice-president of operations and technology Ter Soon Kim said they can make use of power-purchasing agreements, where companies such as REC pay for and operate solar panels on their roofs.

In return, the companies with the panels on their roofs buy electricity from the solar panel providers at an agreed rate that is usually lower than that charged by utilities.

But Mr Ter said more can be done to boost solar power adoption in Singapore.

For instance, "buildings should be designed to be able to accommodate multiple green features such as water tanks, gardens and solar panels on their roofs, as it is more costly to retrofit the buildings", he said.