POSTSCRIPT / June 14, 2022 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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We’ll have world’s biggest solar farm

Good ol’ Sol has always been up there helping sustain life, so it was just a matter of time that an Enrique K. Razon Jr. of varied interests and ample resources would join the trend of tapping the sun as an almost limitless source of community light, heat, and power.

Philippine billionaire, Enrique K. Razon Jr., to build world’s largest solar power facility. Photo: Shutterstock

Prime Infrastructure Holdings – controlled by Razon – plans to build in the Philippines what could be the world’s largest solar facility generating between 2,500 to 3,500 megawatts of clean electricity.

The other week, he acquired a majority interest in another power-related business – the Malampaya gas project off Palawan – from businessman Dennis Uy, an ally of President Duterte whose term ends on June 30.

Prime Infra has announced that aside from the 2,500 to 3,500 MW that its Terra Solar Philippines unit would generate, the giant solar farm would have 4,000 to 4,500 MW-hours of battery storage.

Storage is a crucial part of a solar farm’s operation since it cannot have 24/7 exposure to a bright sun that sets around 5 p.m. There is also the local climate factor which includes cloudy and hazy days, a long rainy season, and typhoons that could damage the glass panels.

The rated capacity of the Terra Solar farm dovetails into a contract signed last year with the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) to supply it with 850 MW of electricity. Starting power generation by 2026, it can begin delivery of 600 MW that year and the additional 250 MW the following year.

Industry estimates have it that Razon, who is reputed to be the country’s second-richest individual, will spend at least $3 billion to launch his solar project.

Guillaume Lucci, president/CEO of Prime Infra, said: “We find a sweet spot to pursue solar as we take advantage of the steep decline in installation costs over the past decade and the improved battery energy storage system technology that allows us to build an economically critical and socially relevant infrastructure at a scale the world has never seen before.”

He added that the 850 MW supply for Meralco will displace an annual consumption of around 1.4 million tons of coal or 930,000 liters of oil, resulting in a reduction in both greenhouse gas emissions and import dependency for the country from 2026 to 2046.

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The idea of converting sunlight into electricity has come a long way since the experiments in the 1800s on certain metals that were noticed to release free electrons, thereby producing an electrical flow or current, when exposed to sunlight.

Considerable research has gone to generating electricity in commercial quantities either directly by using photovoltaic (PV) cells and/or indirectly by using concentrated solar heat to drive a steam turbine.

The basic PV cell converts the energy of light directly into electricity. Most solar panels (consisting of groups of cells or modules) have conversion efficiencies of only 15-20 percent, although PVs of almost 50 percent efficiency have been developed.

Photovoltaics were first used to power small applications, such as the calculator using a solar cell. Rooftop solar panels are now used to provide cheaper electricity to houses and small buildings. This reduces dependence on the regular power grid.

A PV station (also known as a solar park, farm, or power plant) such as the Razon project is a large utility-scale grid-connected system supplying commercial power.

Improved technology has lowered the cost of solar electricity – encouraging the putting up of more utility-scale PV power stations. Some 4 percent of the world’s electricity is now solar, compared to 1 percent in 2015 when the Paris Agreement to limit climate change was signed.

Worldwide projections indicate that solar PV generation is likely to increase by 145 TWh (terawatt-hour) to some 1,000 TWh this year. The depletion of fossil fuels being used for power generation also helps push the trend to cleaner and more sustainable fuels.

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The peak demand in the Philippines is about 15,000 MW, roughly 45-50 percent of which is supplied by burning coal. Meralco distributes around half or slightly more than half of that supply, or 7,500 to 8,000 MW, in its franchise area.

In 2019, the power sector generated a modest 1,246 GW-hour of solar energy. Given the country’s location near the equator and other contributory factors, its generation capacity should go up with the launching of such projects as Terra Solar.

In other countries, it is not unusual to see the deck or roofs of buildings and houses covered with solar panels or arrays, installed with liberal incentives from the government. Panels are sometimes placed on posts to generate electricity for street lighting.

I remember watching in November 2014 from our small NHA condo in Quezon City at the back of SM City North the installation of solar panels and 60 inverters for a 1.3 MW facility on more than 12,000 square meters of the flat roof of the mall’s parking building.

Why the inverters? When sunlight is converted to electricity, it comes out as DC or direct current which is not what our electrical system uses. To convert the flow to AC or alternating current the system uses inverters.

SM Prime Holdings is one of the local pioneers in solar power use. In September that year, SM also launched a 700 KW solar project at its Central Mall Biñan in Laguna. The previous year, SM built a 1.1 MW solar power project in its Xiamen mall, its first on the Chinese mainland.

(References: Some of the data and technical information used here were culled from open sources, including the US Energy Information Administration website, Wikipedia and Google.)

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 14, 2022)

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