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Philippine tycoon plans world’s largest solar farm
But where in the country will he build it? And will it remain the biggest of its kind for long?
Patricia Chiu 10 Jun 2022
Enrique Razon
Enrique Razon

Enrique Razon, the chairman and CEO of the Philippines’ leading ports operator International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI), plans to put up what could be the world’s largest solar farm in the country.

The billionaire's infrastructure arm, Prime Infrastructure Holdings, announced this week that it will build the facility with a capacity of 2,500 to 3,500 megawatts, along with a massive 4,000 to 4,500 megawatt hour battery energy storage system. It’s an ambitious project which, if realized, would put the Philippines on the renewable energy map, and go a long way in easing the country’s looming energy crisis.

Terra Solar Philippines, a unit of Terra Renewables Holdings, which in turn is a Prime Infra subsidiary, will head the project in partnership with Solar Philippines Power Project Holdings, Inc., owned by millennial entrepreneur Leandro Leviste.

A statement from Prime Infra did not say where the planned facility will be built. A project of such magnitude would need thousands of acres of land, an area that may be hard to find in an archipelagic country.

Right now, what is considered the world’s largest solar farm is the 2,250MW Bhadla Solar Park in northern India. The facility is spread out across 14,000 acres of land. It may not hold the top spot for long, considering the rapid build-up of solar facilities around the world.

Singapore-based Sun Cable is envisioning a project that is far more audacious than Razon’s – a 10-gigawatt solar farm with a 30GWh battery storage facility in Australia’s Northern Territory, which will supply electricity to Darwin, and on to Singapore and Indonesia, through a 4,000-kilometre cable system.

Alternative option

One feasible option for Razon is a floating solar facility, which could be built off the coast of one of the country’s 7,600 islands. The project could also be built, although probably on a much lesser scale, as part of the country’s hydroelectric system, with the solar farm integrated into a hydropower plant’s transmission infrastructure. Many countries in Southeast Asia are developing such facilities, such as the 145MW Cirata floating photovoltaic power plant being built on 600 acres of a 15,000-acre reservoir in Indonesia’s West Java region. 

According to Prime Infra, Terra Solar plans to supply 850MW to Manila Electric Company (Meralco), the power distributor for the national capital region. That supply can potentially displace an annual consumption of approximately 1.4 million tonnes of coal or 930,000 litres of oil. The new solar farm can help reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions and import dependency from 2026 to 2046.

“We, at Prime Infra Group, are delighted to move forward with Meralco on this record-breaking project that highlights solar power’s important contribution to strengthening the country’s energy security,” says president and CEO Guillaume Lucci.

Under the power supply agreement with Meralco, 600MW will be available by 2026, and an additional 250MW will be delivered in 2027.

Meralco is covered by the Philippine Department of Energy’s Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), under which companies are required to source a minimum percentage of their energy portfolio from renewable energy sources.

Stable price

Lucci says Prime Infra is happy to help Meralco address both the need for additional capacity, as well as the company’s compliance with RPS. “Prime Infra finds a sweet spot to pursue solar as we take advantage of the steep decline in installation costs over the past decade and the improved battery energy storage system technology that allows us to build an economically critical and socially relevant infrastructure at a scale the world has never seen before,” he adds.

Prime Infra also notes that the Terra Solar project is “a model of dependable renewable energy” since it provides a stable price not subject to fuel imports volatility for the rest of its 20-year contract with Meralco.

Metro Manila, Meralco’s service area, regularly experiences blackouts during the summer months, even during the stringent lockdowns imposed last year, because of a strained energy system that is heavily reliant on fossil fuel.

The Malampaya natural gas field, which supplies 30% of the power needs of the country’s main island of Luzon, including Metro Manila, is expected to be depleted by 2024, although its lifespan could be extended by several more years. Incidentally, Razon is reportedly acquiring a majority stake in the Malampaya project.

Razon is one of the country's wealthiest individuals with a net worth of about US$6 billion, according to Forbes.

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