The Sunshine Connection (NCCS: Jan 2015)

A first in Singapore, local start-up SolarPVExchange plays online matchmaker between property owners and solar panel providers.

Turning to solar energy for one’s electricity needs sounds like a good deal — you get to save on your utility bill and reduce your carbon footprint. But where do you get started to make your house or office solar-ready, and what about the cost? Instead of approaching several solar photovoltaic (PV) installation companies separately to find out the cost, and then figuring out on your own what the numbers mean, local website SolarPVExchange offers to help you out.

Launched in June 2014, SolarPVExchange links homeowners and corporations to credible solar PV installers in Singapore. Property owners who wish to install solar panels submit requests through the website and interested solar PV installers respond with quotations for owners to compare and decide on their preferred vendor. To date, SolarPVExchange has successfully done about 10 matches, and has more than 20 solar energy firms in the solar energy sector signed up as installers.

When asked about the main motivation behind SolarPVExchange, managing director Rob Khoo had a big vision in mind: “My friend introduced to me this concept of solar PV matching, which is available in other countries such as the US and Australia, so I decided to create it here to help people realise that solar PV is a feasible solution in saving energy.”

Many homeowners have the misconception that solar panel installations are just for buildings on landed property with large roofs. However, those living in condominiums can also tap on solar energy, particularly penthouse owners, as long as they get permission from their condominium’s management team.

As for those living in other types of condominium units, Khoo suggests that when a majority of homeowners in one condominium block agree to adopt solar energy, they could arrange to power common facilities such as corridor lighting with the generated solar energy. That helps to save utility cost for all homeowners!

“The premise is very simple: Any building that has a big roof exposed to the sun and uses a lot of electricity during the day is most suitable for solar. The price of electricity from the grid is getting higher while the prices of solar panels are coming down, so it makes sense for more people to consider solar energy. What’s more, excess energy produced by the solar PV system can be sold back to the grid,” said Khoo.

The Sunshine Connection

SolarPVExchange managing director Rob Khoo (right) showing the website, together with Lawrence Wu, director of solar leasing company Sunseap Leasing. Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission

According to Khoo, the cost of installing panels for homes can range from $10,000 to $40,000, depending on the size of the roof, the type of house, and how complex the installation is.

As the upfront costs of installing panels may be too high for some property owners, SolarPVExchange is currently working on a crowdsourcing model in which investors help finance the solar PV installations. The way Khoo sees it, crowdsourcing can take place in two forms: a “zero-return” model, or an investment model.

The “zero-return” model is a fund-raising exercise more suited for non-profit or charitable organisations, such as a church or temple. Here, donors contribute funds that will allow the organisation to install the solar panels.

In the investment model, investors defray the installation costs for homes and offices, with the future savings on the utility bill split between the property owner and the investors.

As tapping on clean renewable solar energy is gaining traction in Singapore, property owners now have more options when it comes to installing their own panels. That’s great news indeed, especially since the Government is encouraging more people to use solar energy, and taking similar green steps as well, such as installing solar panels on more government buildings and spaces. As we all look towards increasing our solar energy usage, the prospect of decreasing Singapore’s combined carbon footprint is brighter than before!

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