By Noelle Babauta
Solar energy has been touted as a marvelous solution to the island’s energy crisis and constantly rising power rates.
Are solar panels worth your investment and will they hold up after a typhoon? Typhoon Mawar, which brought damaging winds, put the solar system on Guam to test, leaving people with different experiences. Some people were left with no damage at all to their solar panels, only having to wash off their solar panels after the storm.
Others were not as fortunate and lost panels to the typhoon. “We lost 10 panels and we didn’t have power for 10 days and it was torture with the heat,” said Faith Guerrero.
But even those who didn’t see damage to their solar panels suffered from the power being out.
“When the internet went out, we were no longer able to communicate with our battery box. So we didn’t know the status, so we drained our battery too far down,” said Peter Houk from Mangilao. “Our system was completely drained and we had to wait at least two weeks to jumpstart our systems. So we were two weeks without power despite the fact that we had a perfectly functioning solar system all because we lost communication with our solar system.”
The solar system requires a battery that needs to be fully charged. Even if your battery is charged, once it runs out of power then you’re out of luck. When the Guam Power Authority’s system is down, a solar panel system cannot charge a battery, so you’re left with whatever is left in your battery.
At the height of the power outage crisis after the May storm, GPA relied on the Mangilao and Dandan solar PV facilities to contribute to the total energy production during daylight hours, prior to the evening peak demand.
While Guam generally gets a lot of sunlight, GPA’s solar systems didn’t generate a generous amount of power during the rainy weeks after Mawar. Overcast days reduced the amount of solar energy the system produces for the power grid. Cloud cover has an impact on how much solar energy the system generates, according to GPA.
After the typhoon, Sunnova, a local solar company, sent out an email to its clients advising them how to deal with their solar panels safely.
It’s not easy to learn the ins-and-outs of a solar system, although it is something worth your time when you invest in a solar system. Right now, there is no easy way to do so, especially on Guam. Solar panel users turn to manuals, articles, YouTube tutorials, and asking other solar panel owners.
“Our solar panels and battery system is amazing and perfect for GPA outages that last, you know, four hours, five hours, but when it goes deeper than that you kind of have to manage your solar system by yourself,” Houk said. “You have to learn how to do it based upon your house, and the size of your battery, there’s no formula for that.”
Most solar panel subscribers agreed that solar panels are a great investment on Guam since there’s a lot of sunlight to go around. The cost of solar panels is less than what a GPA ratepayer would usually pay for power. For some people, paying for a solar system is around half the amount they would pay to GPA, as low as $300 a month.
The solar companies own and maintain the panels installed on residential subscribers. “I’m basically renting my roof. But I get to use the solar power and they charge me a set fee every month for using the power, and the excess power goes to GPA,” said Ernie Matson of Talofofo. “The monthly fee for the solar power is about half of what I would be paying to GPA.”