Sustainability in Singapore: Anyone can go Solar with Solar AI

In 2021, Singapore launched the Green Plan 2030, a whole-of-nation movement to advance Singapore’s national agenda on sustainable development. However, only a third of businesses here say they are “strongly aligned”, while less than half are currently operating sustainably, a study shows.

Hurdles to greening their operations include funding – especially in a pandemic-induced financial crunch – and changing the culture of the company, business leaders said.

This is where Solar AI steps in. This illuminates the long journey to a greener Singapore by allowing property owners to gain access to solar energy as easily as possible. We spoke to CEO Bolong Chew on his ideas and vision of a sustainable future.

First things first. What does Solar AI do?

Solar AI is a tech startup that works to modernise the way solar rooftops are sold, allowing property owners to gain access to solar energy as easily as possible.

Combining data analytics and software to identify rooftop solar potential and enable property owners to get solar at lower cost, our mission is to unlock and hyperscale capital deployment into distributed solar using technology.

On your website, you advertise that you use big data and machine learning to estimate savings virtually. Could you walk us through this process?

We’ve built computer vision models to be able to detect rooftops and make predictions on their roof material, roof type, then layer on solar irradiance data in order to estimate the solar potential of properties.

Then we created the tools for property owners to select and draw out their roofs, tell us how much electricity they use, and run simulations to calculate their savings and help them understand how solar can benefit them.

As a reader or small business owner, I would want to know how these new technologies and services can help me (apart from living more sustainably). Would I get savings, or earn money?

The best thing about solar is that at this point, it’s not just a sustainable choice, the majority of our customers are switching because it’s a great investment. The typical homeowner in Singapore can get back their investment in solar with electricity savings in 7 years, while commercial projects take an even shorter amount of time – 3 – 4 years. All this compared to a 25-year warranty on panels! If you think about this purely financially, solar even outperforms most investment asset classes with an average 15-20% ROI annually.

Those are some great savings! But I’m sure not every business is on board immediately. How do you convince companies and homeowners to switch to solar energy?

In order to overcome this consumer mindset, we’ve made it as simple as possible for them to get started, removing obstacles along the way in their journey to get solar. For instance, we’re launching a zero upfront cost model, which charges property owners on a monthly basis the same way they’re used to paying for electricity, allowing them to start saving with solar instantly and providing them with a 100% carefree option to get solar.

Ok, let’s talk about the big picture. What does a “Sustainable Singapore” mean to you?

A sustainable Singapore for me is one where we maximise our renewable energy generation, encourage businesses and residents to use energy efficiently, and thereafter try to import the difference with clean energy where possible.

What would you say to convince someone that they should adopt a more sustainable lifestyle?

Climate change is already here, and extreme weather events have been impacting people across the world. Even if Singapore hasn’t gotten the worst of it, it’s only a matter of time at this rate.

Individual action is the first step we can all influence and take, and we don’t have to be too ambitious, just get started. Every bit counts.

Finally, give us a tip on how to live more sustainably!

Did you know in Singapore, more than half of a typical household’s energy consumption comes from just three appliances? Our AC, heater and fridges?

As a first step, if you can’t live within air-conditioning, consider switching to a fan after one or two hours of cooling the room, making use of the ‘residual air-con’ to keep your room cool.

Often it’s easy to feel like individual action isn’t impactful enough in the grand scheme of things, but we’ve all to start somewhere, and ultimately even tiny steps will compound in impact!