Sunday, February 22, 2009

HDB home owner installs solar panel

But he removes it six days later after HDB officials' visit and experiment fails

The Ngiam family of Serangoon North had a bright idea.

Why not fit a solar panel outside their Housing Board flat and get free electricity?

A few days later, HDB officials came a-knocking to ask about the structure. But they did not ask the Ngiams to remove the 1m by 0.5m panel fixed to a small roof extension outside the common corridor of the executive maisonette.

The unit is on the sixth storey of the 12-storey block.

Still, Mr Peter Ngiam, who installed the panel, decided last Friday to remove it, six days after he put it up.

He did it as an experiment but 'ultimately, it was not value for money as there were only a few hours in the mid-afternoon when the sunlight was optimal', his father, who wanted to be known only as Mr Ngiam, told The Sunday Times.

He said the energy generated could power only two lamps in his son's bedroom.

Mr Ngiam said it did not help that their flat faces a 12-storey block just 20m away. That block shields his in the morning. The Ngiams' panel is not connected to the main power grid, which supplies electricity to the rest of the home.

This is believed to be the first solar panel installed by an HDB household here. Many commercial buildings and some homes already have solar panels.

When contacted, the Energy Market Authority (EMA) said it is not necessary for flat owners to apply for a licence to install solar panels in their homes. It added that it has not received any such applications from flat owners.

The HDB, when contacted, said residents wishing to install solar panels for their homes should approach their town councils to ensure that such installations do not pose safety and maintenance problems for the common areas.

The HDB itself has installed solar panels at Serangoon North Avenue 3 and Wellington Circle in Sembawang, in partnership with the EMA and the National Environment Agency.

The 1.6m by 0.8m panels were installed on the rooftop of seven residential blocks and a multistorey carpark last August.

A total of 1,010 panels were installed in the two neighbourhoods.

So far, each neighbourhood is able to generate about 220kWh of energy per day, enough to meet the requirements for common services - such as lighting, lifts and water pumps for each block.

A check with solar panel distributors here found them sceptical about having such panels installed by HDB home owners.

'It is not feasible,' said Mr Eddie Lee, managing director of Renwer Powers. 'Because of their design, HDB flats do not get much direct sunshine except for the rooftops or corridors and carpark areas, which are owned by the HDB.

'Besides, you will need to install the panels on a sloping surface with a specific gradient and it may be quite dangerous for passers-by if they are not mounted properly.'

How they work
Solar thermal cells convert the sun's energy to heat energy. When the sun's rays reach the heating panel, the heat generated can be used to boil water.

Mr Abhay Kumar Agarwal, 52, owner of Pacific Sun Systems, said there are two types of solar thermal systems.

The older type is a flat panel system. The newer type has vacuum tubes which absorb the heat from the sun, transferring it to the water in the tubes.

What's the cost
The website of one company, Eco-Solar Technologies, indicated that a home with two bathrooms and a kitchen will need one solar thermal system costing $1,150.

What home is suitable
Mr Agarwal said: 'This system is more suited for landed property due to the space needed.
'It is difficult to install it in high-rise buildings as only water on the top floor gets heated.'

How they work
In photovoltaic cells, the sun's energy is converted into electrical energy. This can be connected to either a storage cell or an electricity grid.

What's the cost
Ms Angeli Medino, 26, business development officer from Eco-Solar, said the cost depends on the number of appliances at home and the amount of usage.

'For about $460, such a set-up will power three 11-watt fluorescent lights and one fan for about eight hours each day.'

What home is suitable
Again, landed property is suitable but it can also be installed in high-rise buildings because when it is connected to a storage cell, the electricity can be distributed.

Source: Straits Times, 22 Feb 2009

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