The cost of living in Brunei has been steadily rising and there is constant pressure for homeowners to make savings where they can. This is especially important when it comes to electricity usage in our homes, with pre-paid meters making us more aware of how much we spend monthly on power.
As such, tapping into renewable energy seems like a logical choice, however, many homeowners don't know the first thing about getting started, or if it is even financially feasible. Photovoltaics is an especially murky subject to get into with the high set up costs and a lack of accessible research available to the average joe.
Thankfully we have Brunei's only PhD candidate in Photovoltaics available to answer our questions about how and why photovoltaics are beneficial for homeowners. Hamidah Ismail, of Quaezar Energy Solutions, sits down with The Measure to discuss the realities homeowners face when opting for this technology and the great benefits it can potentially bring.
1) Thanks for taking the time to chat with The Measure again Hamidah! Firstly, is there a benefit to using photovoltaics over other renewable energy systems?
For residential purposes, there are not many choices of renewable energy system to choose from. The two most popular renewable energy system for homes are photovoltaics (PVs) and wind energy systems, and in some situation, micro-hydro.
I must say that PVs are the most reliable, convenient and beneficial to homeowners, especially for our region as we have abundant sunlight and climate is constant throughout the year. PVs also require minimal to no maintenance cost and have a very long lifespan (about 20 years).
Wind energy systems are popular in regions where wind blows at around 5 m/s and above. Even that, many home owners still prefers solar energy systems as wind turbines are unsightly and a bit noisy. In addition, the mechanical component of a wind turbine will require some sort of maintenance work which adds to the operating cost.
With the current wind turbines available in the market, this type of energy systems is not feasible for Brunei as our wind speed is only about 2-3 m/s on land and definitely much lower in residential areas due to obstructions like other buildings and trees.
Meanwhile, for micro-hydro, you will need to have a steady stream of water flow strong enough to drive a turbine. This is possible only for people living in hilly areas with waterfalls.
2) Is the technology affordable or efficient enough for home owners to rely on as an investment?
With a Feed in Tariff (FiT), investment is definitely justified and technical efficiency will not be of concern as our region is one of the best places for solar PV installation. As mentioned in the previous article, you can potentially earn about B$3,000 to B$8,000 per year, depending on the tariff set by the government and the size of your PV system.
Without the FiT scheme and with our current electricity tariff, I'm afraid there will be no return on investment. For instance, a small PV system (4 kWp) which cost about B$16,000 will only save you a total of approximately B$14,000 over 20 years, and this is calculated based on Brunei's highest tariff rate! For the average consumer, your accumulated saving will amount to only about B$9,000.
Its technical efficiency is not really a major concern for Brunei due to our sunny weather. However, we cannot rely on it for constant supply of electricity as generation is highly dependant on weather changes. Rain and cloudiness will reduce or even cut off its electrical production and there will be no production at all during night time. But you can work your way around this either by scheduling your electricity usage or by connecting to other sources like batteries, generators or the grid.
3) What should home owners consider before investing in photovoltaics? Are they only feasible for certain types of houses or certain areas of Brunei?
Location will not be a problem as solar radiance is about the same everywhere in Brunei. Home owners only need to consider their rooftop structure, angle and orientation to mount the PV systems as well as shadings such as trees and other buildings in the surrounding area.
4) Can you recommend some good photovoltaic systems and their providers here in Brunei?
Some of the top solar panels used within our region (Southeast Asia) comes from big giants like Panasonic and Sanyo to name a few. Their products have been tested in Brunei at the Tenaga Suria Brunei solar farm and they are doing very well. Currently there is no dedicated supplier here in Brunei for such products as there is no demand for it yet. However, our company can make arrangements upon request.
A local company, MW Solar Solutions is dedicated to supplying and installing PV systems from Taiwan. They have tested their products and they're also doing well under our weather condition.
5) Aside from the financial benefits they can bring through the Feed In Tariff system, how can we measure their environmental effects to ensure that home owners are truly making a positive impact?
Aside from financial benefits, generating power from PV systems can help reduce our carbon footprint. By installing PV systems at home, a home owner have the potential of saving 1,000 to 3,500 litres of crude oil each year, equivalent to a reduction of 7,000 to 20,000 kg of carbon dioxide emission.