The future of power is so bright that it’s literally the sun.
The benefits of solar energy are obvious in a near-equatorial archipelago like the Philippines, where exposure to the sun is a national selling point that countless beaches and related tourist spots bank on. Whereas in many other countries some amount of adjustment is required to maximize the amount and angle of sunlight they get, here the solar radiance is so good that all you need to do is tilt solar panel installations to offset rooftops that aren’t flat enough to begin with. We straight up have way too much sun.
Given all that, why hasn’t everyone gone solar yet?
We didn’t start the fire
“The biggest reason for the relatively slow takeoff of solar in the Philippines is the ‘unknown’ factor,” explains James Buskowitz, the CEO of the Buskowitz Group: one of the most established solar energy solution providers in the country. Because of a lack of accurate knowledge, he says, significant portions of the public don’t fully understand the merits and nuances of a solar power setup, and that keeps them from pursuing it with the same enthusiasm and commitment that can be found in countries like Germany, the US, and Japan.
That’s a shame, because if more businesses and homeowners understood not just how beneficial solar installations can be for them but how comparatively affordable the investment is, they’d likely jump in straightaway. “The Philippines has very expensive electricity costs, so payback is much quicker when going solar,” Buskowitz explains. “It’s actually cheaper to install here than in developed nations for several reasons, like lower import costs. Around 95% of all solar panels being marketed around the world are made in China, and the technology is good and reliable. And we can get them cheaper than, say, European nations would.”
That knowledge barrier is something that Buskowitz wants to break, so that everyone can see the light on the other side. You can save money and help save the planet at the same time.
Wait, save the planet? Let’s go back to basics. Why go solar, anyway?
The power is yours
“The most crucial thing to know before going with anything sustainable or solar is the current situation of climate change,” Buskowitz points out. “That’s just general awareness, and I think it’s known to most. The total energy mix in the Philippines, over 70% is fossil-fuel based, 30% is renewable. That honestly isn’t bad. The problem here is that we rely too much on coal, one of the dirtiest sources of energy and a significant contributor to climate change.” Apparently, a big reason why our electricity bills can get so high is because of the volatile pricing of all that fossil fuel, more than half of which we have to import.
If we were to get our energy from elsewhere, like, oh, some random source up in the sky that isn’t affected by import/export taxes, we’d be cutting out a significant expense.
And it doesn’t have to be confusing or difficult to understand, either. “What people most need to realize is that using solar is so much simpler than it seems. People tend to think it’s too complicated and don’t want to do it right now, and that’s something we’re looking to change,” Buskowitz maintains.
“We want to simplify the model. We just want to say okay, we build solar homes, this is how much you’ll save. That’s all you need to know. We can look after all the technical specs and all the details,” Buskowitz emphasizes. “The job of a solar company to make it easy for people to understand: this is how much it costs, how much you’ll save, and how much you can contribute to fighting climate change.”
Speaking of costs and savings, how would those work, anyway?
I’m sorry, did you say free?
“Nowadays it’s cheaper, especially if you’re a business,” Buskowitz underscores, and he hits me with a compelling argument, one I wasn’t expecting: “Say you tell me, hey, we want to do solar but we don’t want to invest anything. I would say, okay, whatever you’re paying for in your usual electricity bill, we can make you pay 20% less. And we’ll build the solar installation for you for free. You’d be saving immediately, we’ll be taking the investment risk, and you’ll be paying less to your supplier. What else is holding you back?”
It may sound a little too good to be true but see for yourself at the Buskowitz Group’s website.
“Finance is not an excuse to not go solar,” Buskowitz reasserts. “Now that technology is cheaper, we pass on those savings to customers.” The exact parameters would depend on the specific option a business or home chooses, and some options do involve things to pay if you want more aggressive savings and ROI over a shorter timeframe, but the common denominator across everything is that yes, it all really can be shockingly cheap. And a responsible, capable solar company would be well-equipped to make it possible with no risk for either them or you.
At this point I’m tempted to straight up ask them to visit my house and bring the tools already. But say I do decide to praise the sun. Is the installation safe? Is it durable? Isn’t that a whole lot of glass just sitting on my roof?
As it turns out, solar panels are extremely durable, and probably tougher than your actual roof. They can withstand the heaviest of rains (which would actually help keep them clean), they’re scratchproof, and are mounted on racks secure enough to let you walk all over them if you wanted. Just, maybe, don’t let anyone throw rocks at your house.
“Of the 25 to 35 thousand panels we’ve got installed around the Philippines, only 3 or 4 have ever had issues, and only because someone threw stones at them,” Buskowitz says with some amusement.
Solar panels typically have a warranty of 25 years, Buskowitz also states, and that’s a conservative estimate. Many panels would actually last close to 40 years and still be able to output around 60% of the energy they could provide at day one. While also still being tough enough to walk around on, yes.
Just how tough are these panels? A client in Zamboanga once asked Buskowitz if the panels would be strong enough to stop bullets that were fired upwards and then coming down. His answer? Depends on the bullet.
The root word of enlightenment
The Buskowitz Group has over 50 installations across the country, but the ones they’re happiest about are the ones on schools. They have installations in multiple campuses of the University of Zamboanga, Saint Therese Colleges, the John B. Lacson Foundation, Arellano University, and a host of others. It’s part of Buskowitz’s dream to broaden youth education into solar energy awareness as well.
“We want to offer lessons to kids, especially in the engineering field. People nowadays, kids nowadays, they should grow up with knowledge of that technology already embedded. It should be a standard to them, and not something that’s a luxury to have.”
Looking ahead, Buskowitz isn’t just optimistic: he’s happy. “I think the entire way we produce energy across the world will change eventually. I do think someday it’s going to be, maybe not completely grid-independent, but on a serious path towards that. One of the new building rules in California, for example, is that every house that’s built starting after a certain date must start with solar. That’s something that should be done everywhere, especially here.
“If you think about where the world is going, everything is going to electricity consumption. Being able to create your energy wherever you are, if you have your own energy supply and battery pack at home, you can be completely independent. In 20, 30, 50 years, I think the world would really be most reliant on solar as a primary energy source.”
Praise the sun, indeed.
Dante is a communications consultant with Puzzled Owl. He also produces a quirky little pub quiz called GeekFight Trivia Night.