In an exclusive interview with SolarQuarter ASEAN magazine, Mr. Samridh Goyal – Founder & CEO, Solar Horizon Pte. Ltd. gives us insights into the initiatives, policies and schemes driving the rooftop solar sector in South East Asia. He also talks about emerging financing options and his company’s latest technological advancements and rooftop projects.
What are some current initiatives, policies and schemes driving the rooftop solar sector in South East Asia?
The growth of SE Asia’s vibrant rooftop solar sector is largely driven by the Commercial & Industrial (C&I) sector. Campaigns such as “RE100” are enabling an increasing number of corporations to adopt 100% Renewable Energy goals with 70% of respondents citing cost savings among top three drivers. (RE100 Report 2020).
Governments, too, are recognizing the benefits of promoting rooftop solar as an important contribution to achieve national climate targets, and are working hand-in-hand with the private sector to streamline policies and implement solar friendly regulatory frameworks.
Singapore’s recently announced ‘Green Plan’ targeting 1.5 Gigawatt-Peak (GWp) of installed Solar PV by 2025- effectively a three-fold increase from 0.5 GWp today- has spurred a notable increase in C&I demand while attracting sizable foreign direct investment into this robust sector. Along with aggregating public buildings such as housing blocks and schools to create demand, the Government has also demarcated large swathes of it’s reservoirs for Floating PV farms, thus creating more space for solar generation in land-scarce Singapore.
Innovative Net-Metering schemes in the region have been designed to incentivise building owners to maximise rooftop space to install PV systems, without limiting the system size to be lower than their actual consumption. In Indonesia, under ‘PLN Regulation MEMR 50’, the national utility, PLN, offers rooftop solar generators a 65% bill offset on excess solar energy that is exported back to the grid (equivalent to its base electricity generation cost). In Malaysia,the recently launched ‘NOVA’ program, allows a ‘Virtual Offset” where non-domestic consumers with rooftop systems in one premise can utilise exported solar energy to virtually offset their bills at another location.
Are there any emerging financing options for solar projects in the region? Which ones would you like to highlight?
As the dynamic SE Asian rooftop solar industry continues to mature and grow exponentially, there are emerging new business models that offer creative new financing and avenues for both adopters and developers. Several banks have launched standardized Solar loan programs for C&I adopters across the region that provide up to 70% financing for PV systems ranging from $50,000 to $5,000,000+ at attractive rates, and that too, in local currency. For example, Singaporean bank UOB’s ‘U-Solar’ program was rolled out in Singapore in 2018, and has since expanded across Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.
Additionally, there has been a notable uptick in private placement and even crowdfunding platforms that are bridging the gap for relatively smaller scale debt financing on a non-recourse basis that is much needed for rooftop C&I Developers. While these structures may be relatively more expensive, they do offer flexibility in early-repayment terms, thus offering the Developer a stepping stone to a larger portfolio based refinancing from a bigger lender.
What have been some recent rooftop projects undertaken by your company Solar Horizon in the South East Asian region?
Solar Horizon (‘SH’) is an independent Solar Developer based in Singapore since 2013, with clients including major government linked and multinational companies. We are fully focused on C&I rooftop with a strong, local presence in Singapore and active development platforms in Malaysia & Indonesia. We’ve delivered over $15M of PPA projects to solar investors so far, and have recently signed a co-development and investment partnership with a major US Developer to expand our portfolio in SE Asia.
We completed one of our flagship projects last year just before the peak of the pandemic. We developed, financed & installed a multi-megawatt PV System under an onsite PPA for a datacenter owned by a leading Telco carrier in Singapore. This project covered almost two football fields on a single rooftop, powering the equivalent of 460 four-room apartments per year! A key challenge was resolving the issue on the relatively short remaining site lease (and therefore PPA) tenure. SH worked closely with the various stakeholders to find a ‘win-win-win’ tariff structure, while reducing project execution cost by over 10% from initial forecast to make the economic model work. Our signature consortium approach of uniting best-in-class local partners under a single development platform, was the key in overcoming this challenge, and the differentiating factor in SH being awarded this prestigious project.
Another interesting project we developed was for a water Theme Park in Bali, Indonesia. This was the island’s first Solar Rental project – essentially a third-party financed leasing model – and was developed under a consortium approach with a local EPC contractor and Investor. The system was spread across multiple buildings over the park and helped offset approximately 10% of its daily consumption. The project was featured on national television as part of the park’s sustainability efforts and helped enhance the overall campaign and impact.
Solar technology is constantly evolving with time. What have been some technology advancements made by your company recently?
Indeed, Solar technology is making consistent advances in both efficiency and cost. The phasing out of polysilicon PV panels over the last 3 years has created a level playing field for monocrystalline cells and panels. The emergence of bi-facial PV panels has been an interesting trend that has narrowed the price gap to less than 2-3% of traditional monofacial panels. Given that bifacial panels replace the traditional EVA module backsheets with a glass layer, there is added guaranteed lifespan of up to 30 years (vs 25 years of mono-facials) and lower annual degradation of 0.45% (vs 0.55%). By adopting the latest panel technology, our projects yield almost 5% higher generation over the lifecycle, thus creating better returns for our investors and increased savings for our customers.
Lastly, please tell us how you see Solar Horizon contributing to the renewable sector in South East Asia over the next few years?
Solar Horizon is committed to helping the C&I sector in SE Asia achieve their clean energy goals by harnessing the vast rooftop solar potential from assets across the region. Our vision is to help unlock and harness several hundred megawatts of rooftop Solar potential from the private sector over the next 5 years. We believe that knowledge is the key to helping C&I adopters make the right decisions on going solar and hence conduct regular ‘knowledge-sharing’ seminars (well, more webinars these days..) explaining the A to Z of rooftop solar mechanics and economics. We also help MNCs to develop their regional solar programs – from assessing commercial & technical feasibility across their portfolio to guiding them with best practises to maximise value from their procurement efforts – based on our considerable industry & market experience.
Finally, we’re also committed to helping global solar investors enter and expand in SE Asia through our independent development platform, by leveraging our regional partner network, project pipeline and industry experience. We believe that by combining global financing expertise with local market knowledge, we can create an innovative and effective ‘Glocal’ platform to help drive the rooftop solar revolution forward in SE Asia!