HDB to test solar technology in 6 precincts

The Housing and Development Board (HDB) will be testing a more energy- and cost-efficient solar technology in six precincts islandwide next year.

Using Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS) thin-film technology, the project is expected to cost S$4 million.

The solar panels will be installed in 20 to 25 HDB blocks, and collectively generate 1 MWp (megawatt peak) of electricity, enough to provide for 200 four-room flats.

Without direct sunlight, many traditional solar panels are unable to generate electricity efficiently. CIGS technology, which is more sensitive to light, may be the solution to erratic sun patterns.

“This technology can make use of both direct as well as diffuse sunlight. So given our current weather conditions, which is cloudy at times, CIGS can potentially generate more electricity compared to conventional ones,” said Ng Bingrong, senior executive engineer, HDB.

The cost of CIGS technology has dropped over the years and is now comparable to conventional solar panels using crystalline silicon – at about $5 per wattpeak. A wattpeak is a measure of power output used in relation to photovoltaic solar energy devices.

Solar energy may also mean indirect savings for residents.

By using solar energy, HDB blocks are less reliant on the national grid to power common-area facilities such as corridor lifts, lights and water pumps.

The HDB previously said such cost savings mean town councils would then have “no need to raise service and conservancy charges”.

HDB residents pay the monthly charges to their town councils to maintain and upkeep common property.

Aside from funding the installation of solar panels from its own pocket, the HDB is also exploring other business models.

It recently launched a solar-leasing initiative, which allows a private company to install the solar panels and sell electricity to the town council.

But with solar energy costing more than the national grid due to high upfront costs of materials and installation, HDB has to help cover part of the initial bill to ensure the technology remains competitive.

Electricity generated from solar panels costs 30 to 35 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) – compared to prevailing tariffs of 27 cents.

The use of solar technology in housing estates is still in its early stages. To date, less than 2 per cent of the 9,000 blocks in Singapore have solar panels installed.

But with new technology coming up, promising higher efficiency and lower costs, HDB hopes to extend the power of the sun to more housing estates in the future.

HDB’s push for solar energy is part of its mission for sustainable living.

Source : Channel NewsAsia – 7 Nov 2011