by Roberto Verzola

Today, basically the same set of rules apply to small-scale renewable projects below 100 kW as well as to 100 MW projects. This is a huge disincentive for small-scale RE.

The experience of the Romblon Electric Cooperative (Romelco) is a case in point. Their 20-kW hybrid facility in Cobrador Island, which involves a mixture of solar power, battery storage and diesel generator back-up, also had to go through essentially the same bureaucratic maze at the Department of Energy and the Energy Regulatory Commission as 100 MW solar farm projects.

To make the point even starker: a 300-watt solar panel and inverter system, which might cost below P15,000 to set up, needs to go through the same bureaucratic hurdles of the electric utilities as a 90-kW system costing around P6 million pesos.

It will even require the same ERC “Certificate of Commerciality” (fee: P1,500). Why should households be required to undergo such certification for setting up a 300-watt solar gadget, when it simply saves on electricity and involves no commercial activity whatsoever? Cannot the ERC at least use its common sense and exempt from such requirement small solar projects with no commercial purpose?

The government’s move to expand net metering beyond 100 kW will make matters worse for solar-deprived households, who will be eclipsed by huge building owners that want to take full advantage of cheap solar electricity and have the means to pay for the various fees and charges imposed on net metering customers. These huge projects will provide even more justification for strict rule enforcement.

Households install electric appliances all the time, such as 3,000-watt cooking ranges, 1,200-watt electric irons, 750-watt air conditioners and 560-watt refrigerators, without the need to apply to city halls, electric utilities, or the ERC. Why should they need to do so for a 300-watt (or for that matter, a 3,000-watt) solar set-up?

Today, a 300-watt solar panel with a microinverter acts as an “AC panel” and is as much a plug-and-play affair as a 700-watt desktop computer or a 1,200-watt electric kettle. The former can later be expanded one solar panel at a time, just like one adds one or more desktops or electric kettles to a household or small office. A 300-watt picohydro unit is not yet plug-and-play, but its tiny capacity puts it in the same category as a 300-watt solar panel, and below 700-watt desktops or 1,200-watt heaters.

At this level, no utility permission or government permits should be necessary, except for safety issues which should be tackled through the strict implementation of safety standards at the supplier rather than the user level.

We are facing a climate emergency. We should do everything to make solar adoption as painless as possible. All the bureaucratic rules that hamper the installation of small-scale renewables like solar panels should be done away with.