Mosques, orphanages, schools – solar panels are popping up on roofs everywhere

Gleaming blue solar panels, more commonly seen on the roofs of factories and commercial buildings, can now be installed in schools, mosques and even orphanages.

Since July 2014, the Sustainable Energy Development Authority (SEDA) has made it possible for such places to install solar photovoltaic (PV) systems under the “community” sector. Under SEDA’s Feed-in-Tariff (FiT) scheme, whatever renewable electricity that is generated can be sold to Tenaga Nasional Berhad at a fixed rate for a period of 21 years.

Three categories are eligible for the FiT scheme: educational institutions (schools and kindergartens); places of worship (mosques, churches and temples); and care centres (orphanages, nursing homes and old folks homes, among others).

A SEDA spokesperson says the community solar scheme is a way of giving back to the public who have contributed to the renewable energy fund. (Consumers using more than 300kWh of electricity each month contribute to this fund, which is used to promote renewable energy in the country.)

Solar panel graphic. Photo: MARIOK123RF.COM

Solar panel graphic. Photo: MARIOK123RF.COM

“More than just being sustainable, you reduce your electricity cost and offset the operating cost of running the centre, through premiums received from electricity sold to the national grid. Many solar PVs today are low-maintenance. Only the cabling needs to be checked, and the panels cleaned annually,” adds the spokesperson.

A quota of 7MW has been released for the community category until next March. Last year, the quota was 5MW. Each project is capped at 48kW, from the previous limit of 24kW.

With the special quota, community centres need not compete with other industrial and commercial sectors for PV projects and more of them can be a part of the clean energy movement. Of the 120 applications received until April, SEDA has approved 91 to produce 1.714MW. Of these, 21 are already generating solar energy.

Kan's company intends to install solar panels on more community centres this year. Photo: The Star/Faihan Ghani

Kan’s company intends to install solar panels on more community centres this year. Photo: The Star/Faihan Ghani

Of the 50 educational institutions which applied, six have started producing solar power. Of the 47 applications from places of worship, 13 are completed.

Some 23 care centres also applied, of which two are completed.

Rumah K.I.D.S in Klang, Selangor, is benefitting from this scheme. Its 15kW system was installed in December and the total cost of RM200,000 was covered by PV company ERS Energy.

Company managing director Jonathan Kan says the home will receive 10% of the sale of the energy to TNB while ERS gets the remaining 90%. After 21 years, all revenue from the sale of solar power will go to the home.

“Our idea is to give back to society as part of our outreach programme. They benefit from the income generated. Hopefully, it will be an additional resource to offset the home’s operating cost or subsidise their electricity bill.”

Installing PV system in facilities such as orphanages has risks, says Kan. “The centre has to own the building that houses the PV system, or has at least a 21-year lease so that the system won’t get dismantled or run into conflict later.”

Based on an average 3.4 hours of daily irradiance in the vicinity, the system can generate 18,615kWh a year, and the potential return is RM22,500 annually (based on a tariff rate of RM1.209).

So far, the company has completed 10 community solar projects, including two other Rumah K.I.D.S, as well as religious sites and a school. All are based on the 90:10 model.

The photovoltaic system on the rooftop of Rumah K.I.D.S in Klang is projected to generate RM22,500 annually.

Meanwhile, a group of alumni students is sponsoring a solar project for their alma mater, the Malay College Kuala Kangsar. The 1975 fifth formers have pooled resources to install a 24kW PV system in their former school. Approvals have been obtained from the school management, Education Ministry and SEDA. The RM230,000 system will be integrated into the roof of a car park which can accommodate 12 vehicles. The project, to start in August, will be built by UT Generation.

“As our alumni celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, this initiative is a way of giving back to the school. Hopefully, students can learn more about carbon footprints, solar power and renewable energy.

“We project a revenue of RM47,000 a year, and we should recoup the capital in under five years. After 21 years, our gross revenue should be about RM982,800. These monies can be used by the parent-teacher association for its activities,” says Datuk Ahmad Sharifuddin Abdul Kadir, who chairs the project committee.

In Penang, generous funders paid for the solar panels installed in a children’s home. Preferring not to name the home, a board member says the 24kW system started operating in December and costs RM200,000. The estimated yearly returns is about RM40,000.

“Sale of the electricity helps to offset part of the home’s electricity costs, which can be quite high,” he says.

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