The Sunny Side
Solar energy is paving the way for a prosperous future
Issue: Jun 2009
Solar Energy paves the way to usher in a new ‘clean energy era’
Since the early ages, the sun has been regarded as the most powerful source of energy. Aside from nurturing life on this planet, its heat and light has also fuelled solar technologies. Today, it is seen as the fastest growing source of renewable energy, offering environmental benefits and cost-efficiency.
Solar power in Rizhao
The concept of solar technology itself is not new. Solar cookers and heaters have been adopted by communities world-wide. One of the most prominent examples is Rizhao in China. Appropriating its meaning in Chinese which translates as "the city to see the first light", Rizhao, which receives over 200 days of bright sunshine in a year, is almost entirely powered by solar energy. This includes household water-heaters, solar cookers, street and traffic lights and park illuminations.
Although the advantages of solar technology were commonly known, concerns of global warming and climate change, and more recently, the oil shock followed by the financial turmoil has given environmental consciousness a second boost. It became evident that demand for oil will not only lead to high prices but also rapidly deplete its remaining resources.
Aerial view of Masdar, the eco-city project in Abu Dhabi.
Countries around the world are waking up to this realisation and not surprisingly Abu Dhabi, a major oil producer and an OPEC member, has embarked on constructing Masdar - a US$ 22 billion eco-city project in which it will pursue sustainable technologies including the use of solar panels as a canopy to provide shade at the same time generate power.
Conergy Korea, one of the largest PV plant in the region.
Closer to home, Conergy Korea completed the largest solar power plant in the region. Located near Seoul, the Photo Voltaic (PV) plant in SinAn is spread over approximately 96 soccer fields that produce enough energy for 7,200 homes. China, in its efforts to tackle the pollution problem has recently pioneered the 'Solar-Powered Rooftops Plan' in which it aims to implement home-made solar panels in selected cities and villages, especially those that are outside the reach of the power grid. In doing so, not only does it aim to address the dire need for power domestically, but also turns around the export-reliant PV industry brilliantly.
A new day dawning
Singapore, despite being green has not ventured extensively into 'green' technology. Although debates have been going on from time to time, the reasons cited for the failure to adopt were its high cost of installation and maintenance. But today, solar technology is seeing a new shine. The tumbling cost of production in recent years together with heightened consumer awareness and ability to afford this technology is an encouraging sign. Adding to this, the 20-odd home-grown solar technology firms based in Singapore and a healthy dose of bountiful sunshine make the island nation an ideal laboratory for solar experiments.
Solar panels installed at the carpark rooftop of Sembawang Shopping Centre in Singapore, the first CapitaLand property to utilize solar energy for its electricity usage.
Some corporations are making a head start in adopting solar energy and bringing its many uses closer to the people. Sembawang Shopping Centre (SSC) for instance uses PV technology to harness electricity for use in its retail mall. "The Shopping Centre was recently revamped with a drive to be "green" and the PV panels were installed as a part of our sustainability efforts," says Mr Wong Yeap Wai, Operations Manager at SSC, CapitaLand Retail Limited, manager of the mall.The 51 pieces of solar panels installed on the rooftop of the carpark is able to generate a quantum of 12,600 kWh of electricity per annum or 34.52kWh per day, The average daily electricity generated is able to power a 32W fluorescent light for approximately 1.078 hours or 45 days.
With a payback period of 20 years, the installation of the panels is not entirely commercially advantageous. It is also a challenging prospect to install it in an already constructed building as opposed to one that is being designed as a new project. Yet, CapitaLand believes that it is the right way to go. "Environmental responsibility is an integral part of our Corporate Social Responsibility and we will continue to incorporate this philosophy in our business operations," Wong asserts. The retail mall is the very first CapitaLand property to have adopted the PV technology. But it will certainly not be the only one. The real estate company is closely monitoring the performance at SSC to consider its adoption for future developments.
Advancements in solar energy have come a long way from merely heating bathwater or warming up the swimming pool. So much so that Pacific Gas and Electric from the United States, has announced its plan to build orbiting solar panels through space to capture solar energy closer to its source.
As the world ushers in a new 'clean energy era' to offset its carbon footprint, the future powered by the sun looks bright.