Here comes the sun: off-grid solar energy in Philippines

OVER dinner during the middle of last week, I learned two important things:  It still costs a fortune to move from on-grid power supply to renewable energy and that entrepreneurship can definitely improve lives.
Tired and looking very much haggard from all the meetings and the horrendous traffic that goes along with it, a dinner with the wife, along with her former boss, the husband and their daughter, was just what I needed to cap the day.
Now, in the essence of full disclosure, I will not go into much of the technical details of renewable energy and Republic Act 9513, otherwise known as the Renewable Energy Act of 2008, unless I want to sound like a complete idiot.
What I want to focus on, though, are the things that can be understood by everyone and, hopefully, place them in their right perspective.
Anyway, during that dinner, One Renewable Energy Enterprise Inc. President and CEO Erel Narida told me that if I wanted to move from being provided electricity by Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), the wife and I had to shell out P1.5 million for an off-grid system powered by solar energy.
That amount will fetch a 5-kilowatt system equipped with battery. It can provide a family that pays on the average P5,000 on monthly electricity bills with continuous power supply sans Meralco.
If you do the math, the return on investment (ROI) on the solar-energy system you just purchased will take 25 years. Yes, 25 years, the exact warranty for the system that you just purchased. 
So people, at the moment, there is really not that much incentive, yet, for households to shift and start using renewable energy or solar energy, in particular. It just puts a huge dent on your pocket.
Narida told me that those who have invested on a more complex solar-energy system are those living in exclusive villages, which have seen neighbors install those solar panels at some part of their homes. Basically, your bandwagon effect. But that also comes with a caveat that you have disposable cash that you just want to throw around.
In any case, I just do not see a transition yet, even if you count all those solar panels that are being sold in Raon, which Narida described as having way below standards, as compared to the tier-1 supplies they are using.
Look, I know everyone wants to reduce the carbon footprint and we all want to save the environment. But if that means also starving to death or doing away with some other basic necessities, I guess your average Juan de la Cruz will stick to being punished by the high electricity rates Meralco shoves at our throat, which, by the way to what is being told, remains the second highest in the region.
Here is a fun fact:  According to Narida, the World Bank sees electricity rate in the country increasing 6.3 percent annually.
Still, there might be some hope on the horizon, as Narida told me that there might be a change in pricing over the next three to five years, especially on those expensive batteries.
Note to self—tell wife to be patient and wait a bit. We will again be in touch with Narida’s company by then and, with fingers crossed, have our home converted to using solar energy.
I am already a believer in Narida’s company after the wife purchased their solar-lighting kit.  We have been using it for over a year now in our bedroom and in the kitchen. No glitch at all. They work perfectly well.
And this is coming from a company that started in 2008 as a sole proprietor business, after Narida left Shell Solar Philippines Corp. as its operations manager, when the company scaled down its operations.
In three years time, from being a sole proprietor, it became a company with a staff of 10. Currently, it has 25 people working with the company, with 16 of them being technicians.
It has the capacity to complete household projects in five days, buildings projects in 45 days, island projects in 60 days and those in barangays within 15 days.
Yup, it is working on islands, and the one particular project Narida is excited about is the Malalison Island in Antique, which he described as a mini Boracay, but without continuous power supply.
And if you think it is just a supplier of solar panels, you are very much mistaken.
It is a design and engineering company that is doing projects for the community, commercial establishments, and urban areas.
Aside from providing solar-lighting kits, it also do solar home system, solar pumps, on-grid residential and commercial, and even a mini grid.
Narida said its two biggest breaks, those that really opened doors for it, are the Zuellig Building project in Makati City and the Solar Philippines project in SM North Edsa.
According to Narida, the Zuellig project—a 28-kilowatt on-grid solar-photovoltaic project, a vertical installation—was the first of its kind in the Philippines.
Narida said he met the building architect in a forum and was asked to make a presentation. He patched old presentations they have been using in the past, which, to his surprise, he presented to the entire board.
Zuellig’s ROI on the project is at 15 years, but Narida explained the building, or some parts of it, is assured of a predictable cost of power.
Over the first three months of the year alone, it has done six projects with a combined capacity of 69 megawatts.
It has, indeed, come a long way.  And the secret to all of it?  Well, just like any sensible company out there, it offers packages, presents solutions and it scouts around to see who are interested.
But Narida also listed five keys to success, and they include having a heart, knowledge of the product or service, getting the right people, timing and readiness to sacrifice.
Narida said by owning a company, profit comes in for the continuity of the business. He believes that, if they work hard, they will see financial returns.
He also sees it as a survival game, where everyone in the company has to work together to hit their projected targets.
Now, if only the government can see the plight of companies, like One Renewable Energy Enterprise Inc., and the difference they are making in barangays across the country.
It is about time they get some financial benefits and incentives from the government.