CatSU becomes 1st SUC to operate own solar microgrid

ENERGY FROM THE SUN is absorbed by 540 solar panels (top) and is stored in the batteries in the power house (bottom left), from where the power will be distributed via underground cables to 11 buildings inside the CatSU campus. Engr. Rudy Romero (in black) explains to CatSU Pres. Dr. Patrick Alain Azanza (extreme right) how the solar microgrid works. CatSU PRI photos

The Catanduanes State University became the first state university in the entire country to have its own solar farm and microgrid, with the switch-on of the P45.5 million facility last week.

President Patrick Alain T. Azanza said that CatSU is the first SUC and government agency in the Bicol region to operate its own solar microgrid, with potential savings of around P700,000 a month in power bills to be realized once the grid becomes fully operational on or before December 2022.

Right now, the president said, the College of Business Administration (CBA) and the Main Library are connected to the solar plant, pending completion of the laying of underground power cables to the College of Information and Communications Technology (CICT) and the gymnasium.

It will also supply clean electricity to the Administration Building, BSND, College of Arts and Sciences Laboratory Building, CIT B, Entrepreneurship. PG Tabuzo Building and the CatSU Auditorium.

What is impressive about the solar plant, Dr. Azanza disclosed, is that its performance, shown on a dashboard, can be monitored by the university via cellular phone or computer from anywhere in the world with a phone or internet signal.

In two years and three months, we would recover the university’s investment in the P18.4-million solar farm, he added.

“We will technically become independent from Ficelco but we will be a partner in supplying our excess power to the islanders,” Dr. Azanza said in his brief message during the launching ceremony last Oct. 19.

He expressed hope that that the CatSU solar farm will serve as a model for local government units in Catanduanes to install their own microgrids.

“We talked with Land Bank of the Philippines and our next step is to build a P55 million solar power plant in Panganiban Campus to cater to the Agri-Industrial Economic Zone locators, with the excess power to be sold to the First Catanduanes Electric Cooperative, Inc. (FICELCO),” the president said.

The government bank gave CatSU a standby loan of P55M with two years lead time it would start paying only after two years of operation in Panganiban, he added.

“The model being used is Hybrid On-Grid,” Dr. Azanza stated. “This means we use up first the solar power and in case it is not enough, we use the power collected in our battery, and if not enough, we shift to FICELCO.”

“Then if still not enough, we have a standby 750-KVA generator using diesel fuel,” he stressed. “Auto-shift siya.”

“But the unique feature of this solar plant are my own innovations to which the supplier agreed,” he added.

The president said he wanted the solar panels to be detachable and can be stored in a warehouse nearby 24 hours before a typhoon strikes the island, with the power lines to be laid underground as part of the university’s resiliency design.

General Manager Rodolfo M. Romero of contractor Gentromech Co. confirmed that all 560 photovoltaic modules should be removed 24 hours before a typhoon of at least 180 kph is expected to strike the island.

The solar panels are easy to install and remove, as they are secured by metal clamps, he said. The panels would be stored in a separate room in the powerhouse.

He told the Tribune that the solar panels, 28 lithium-ion batteries and inverters are covered by warranties of 12, 10 and seven years, respectively.

For now, the CatSU solar farm on a one-hectare area remains off-grid as it has yet to be connected to the three-phase distribution line of the electric cooperative.

But once it is on-grid, excess power can be sold to FICELCO during Saturdays, Sundays and holidays when there are no classes.

The 750-kVA diesel genset would only be used as a last resort as it would cost around P16 to P17 per kilowatt-hour to run, compared to the cheaper and subsidized rate of electricity produced by FICELCO.

A source told the Tribune that the microgrid setup costs a total of P45.5 million, with the university spending P31 million more for the diesel generator, transfer switches, genset house, powerhouse and perimeter fencing in separate contracts, one of them done by administration.

The source said the amount spent for the entire system would be recovered in about seven years.

Under existing law and guidelines of the Energy Regulatory Commission, no person may engage in the commercial generation of electricity as a generation company, qualified end-user or an entity with self-generation facilities (SGFs) unless it has complied with technical, financial and environmental standards as proven by a Certificate of Compliance (CoC).

Excluded from the definition of SGFs are generators for households, clinics, hospitals and other medical facilities that make electricity for their own consumption.

The CatSU will be required to apply for a CoC only when it decides to sell excess power to FICELCO, it was emphasized.

It will be the proposed 500kWp solar microgrid in the Panganiban campus that will be applied with ERC for a CoC as a renewable energy operator.

Last month, the university paid FICELCO a total bill of P971,508.08 in electricity consumption just for the main campus in Virac.

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