Tuesday October 16, 2012
Harnessing rooftops to generate solar power
By MENG YEW CHOONG
A company is installing solar cells on rooftops, then sharing proceeds from the electricity sale with the houseowners.
If Dr Nurul Muiz Murad has his way, every rooftop in Malaysia will be covered with solar photovoltaic (PV) panels to generate electricity. Why not, considering that Malaysia enjoys relatively long hours of daylight, and there are lots of rooftops with no conceivable use other than to keep the elements out.
His dream will be partly realised in baby steps, starting this month, when 10 houses in Taman Rembia Perkasa in Alor Gajah, Malacca, are fitted with PV panels. He hopes that these early adopters will help convince at least 400 homeowners in the residential area located some 20km away from the Malacca town centre, to do likewise.
Muiz is the principal of Green Earth Design Solution (GEDS), the company given the exclusive right to implement the project by the Malacca state government. If successful, as far as individually-owned roof-mounted PV systems are concerned, the endeavour at Rembia Perkasa will be a model for the rest of the country to follow.
The five-year-old township is a mix of 645 terrace, semi-detached and bungalow homes and houses predominantly middle to upper middle income residents. Currently, close to 100 households have expressed interest to be a part of what is known as Taman Rembia Perkasa “rent-a-roof” solar scheme. When these applications are approved by the Sustainable Energy Development Authority (Seda, which regulates all renewable energy installations), GEDS will start installing the PV systems, with the eventual aim of doing up 400 houses by August.
With each installation rated at 5kWp (kilowatt peak), the homes will collectively contribute nearly 2MWp (megawatt peak) of solar PV generation capacity to the national grid.
Under this unique scheme, developed jointly by GEDS and the Malacca state government through Yayasan Melaka, the homeowners need not fork out a single cent. They just need to offer the use of their roofs. GEDS will install the entire PV system at no expense on the homeowner’s part. It now costs between RM10,000 and RM15,000 to install a PV system with a capacity of 1kWp. So, a typical 5kWp system in each home will cost at least RM50,000, which is far beyond the reach of the average homeowner if financing is not provided.
All the electricity generated will be sold to Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) – none will be diverted for internal use – under the terms spelt out under the power purchase agreement, which each individual will have to sign with TNB. Naturally, this means the Rembia Perkasa plan is also contingent upon the utility’s power supply studies to ensure that the local grid can handle the surge in the amount of electricity generated by these rooftop installations.
Participating homes will have two electricity meters – the normal one which measures consumption, and the other which measures the amount of electricity generated by the PV system.
GEDS will not only finance the construction, but will also undertake to maintain the system before handing them over at no cost to the homeowner at the end of the 11-year contract period. During the maintenance period, the entire system and the house as well as its occupants, will be insured against any damage, whether from natural calamities like lightning damage or strong winds, as well as theft. Contractors appointed by GEDS will climb up to the rooftop at least twice a year to inspect the system during the period.
The PV panels will be under warranty for up to 21 years, and the inverter system (that converts the direct current from the solar cells to alternating current for export), for 10 years. It is also industry practice for PV manufacturers to guarantee that at least 90% of the generating capacity of the solar panels will remain after 10 years.
After the handover period, the homeowner can elect to either appoint GEDS as the maintenance contractor, or to find his or her own contractor to perform the required maintenance.
Earning from electricity
Based on calculations using 2012 feed-in tariff rates, a typical 5kWp system in that area can generate about RM700 worth of electricity each month. In terms of kilowatt hours generated, it is close to 6,250kWh a year. Just for comparison, an electric kettle is rated between 1.5kW and 2kW (or 2,000 watts).
As GEDS is essentially “renting” the roof space for the PV installation, the houseowners will not get the total payment of the electricity that is generated. For the duration of the 11-year contract period, each household will get a fixed payment of RM100 each month from GEDS, which will retain whatever excess after paying off the households. At the end of the 11-year period (and factoring in a 10% decline in output due to the aging of the panels), homeowners can expect to enjoy around RM600 a month of income from their PV installation.
As it is, many people look upon solar PV with fascination, and wonder how they can get one installed, either for their own use, or simply as a means of generating passive income. However, doing so requires a fair bit of research and dealing with bureaucracy, as well as securing financing as prices are not yet low enough for the majority to purchase the PV systems with cash. Also, local banks are not yet willing to give out loans for such ventures and even when they do, the terms might not really be that attractive.
“We would like to change the perception that solar PV is a luxury that only the rich can afford. It is doable even for those in the middle income group. We take care of all the complexities, including the negotiation with government authorities and insurers. We are assisting homeowners with a plan that can help them earn passive income,” said Muiz, who obtained his PhD in mechanical engineering from Swinburne University of Australia, and has more than 10 years working experience in Australia and Malaysia in the area of green technology.
The solar scheme at Rembia Perkasa is one of the five key activities that are meant to cement Malacca’s ambition to be a green technology city-state by 2020. The trump card is the Melaka World Solar Valley (MWSV), the state-owned 5MWp solar farm located at Rembia industrial park.
The RM46mil facility will be constructed in three phases by Kumpulan Melaka Bhd. The other components that jazz up Malacca’s claim of green living is the proposed construction of a “green mosque”, the use of hybrid solar lamps, solar-powered bus stops, and the development of 52ha of facilities for green technology research.
At Rembia Perkasa, GEDS has rented a semi-detached house and installed PV panels on the roof for use as its showhouse and office. But it has no data to share at the moment as the solar PV meter has yet to be installed by TNB. Most of the panels are oriented towards the southern direction in order to best tap the tropical sunlight.
For the PV installation, there will not be any drilling of roof tiles to erect the panel brackets, so incidences of leakages will be minimised. Instead, the brackets will be screwed directly to the rafters made of solid wood, and the existing tiles will then be placed back into their original positions.
No extra reinforcements are needed for the roof structure. The steel brackets are treated to resist corrosion, and the entire assembly has been tested in a wind tunnel that simulates storms of up to 30m per second (or 108kph).
The panels will have a 10° incline to facilitate drainage and to prevent the accumulation of dirt. A typical 5kWp system measures 32sqm, which is slightly more then 10% of the roof area of a single storey semi-detached house.
According to Muiz, residents have dropped by his site office to enquire about the project, which was first announced through community hall meetings and via brochures distributed door-to-door.
“We will continue to work on people’s acceptance. As an entrepreneur, I am not just here to make money, but to ensure that everyone is happy and understand the concept of renewable energy. We hope to be a catalyst that can make it happen.”
Not unexpectedly, some residents are rather cool towards the idea.
“I am still undecided on the matter,” said senior boilerman Kamarul Azam Md Noor, 31. “Having a PV installation does not prevent blackouts or brownouts, and the commitment period is rather long. You also need to provide regular access to contractors for maintenance.”
One of the pioneers in the scheme is Noorrizat Mamat, 46, who will have the PV system fixed to his house this Thursday. A lecturer in computer science at the Masjid Tanah Matriculation College, Noorrizat felt that he needed to take the lead in the matter as he is chairman of the Rembia Perkasa residents’ association.
“More information is still needed to assuage the fears of some residents, who may still harbour fears of hidden costs and possible compensation that they may have to pay in the long run. For myself, I think there should be some benefit for the household, especially if electricity costs rise over time. In theory, free electricity from the sun is something that should be good for everyone.”
He said it should not be a problem getting 100 houses to participate in the project, but many are still adopting a wait-and-see attitude in order to be convinced that things will go smoothly. “After all, it is a long-term investment that does not come cheap for many.”
For Muiz, staying patient is part of the plan.
“GEDS is here to stay, and we will continue to educate people and tell them the right story. Maybe by the next generation, people will come to accept PV as a normal part of their lives, and that will be our contribution towards pushing RE in the country. We have been here since 2009, and the state sees us as a long-term partner. Though we have yet to earn any income from this project, we are committed to this, and we will be here for the next 10 to 15 years, or however long it takes to make it a success.”
Muiz hopes that local banks can offer better rates for green investments like this.
“My venture is entirely financed by foreign venture capital, which gave much better rates. We would have loved to use local financing so that money can remain within the country.”