Meet the 21-year-old Yale student behind Solar Philippines

by Cathy Rose A. Garcia, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Nov 24 2014 08:10 PM | Updated as of Nov 25 2014 10:40 PM

Meet the 21-year-old Yale student behind Solar Philippines 1
Solar Philippines president Leandro Leviste and SM Prime Holdings president Hans Sy. Handout

MANILA - If Solar Philippines president and founder Leandro Leviste looked like a college student next to President Benigno Aquino and SM Prime Holdings president Hans Sy at the event activating SM City North EDSA's solar-powered rooftop on Monday, it's because he is still an undergraduate at Yale University.

Leviste, the son of Senator Loren Legarda with ex-husband, Tony, is on leave from his senior year at Yale where he is taking up political science.

"Last summer, I saw this opportunity. Companies in the US and Europe are doing the same thing, but no one was doing this in the Philippines where the electricity rates are so much higher. So I said, someone has to take this opportunity right now," he told ABS-CBNnews.com at the sidelines of the "Green Switch" event.

The 21-year-old is confident about the prospects of solar power in the Philippines, after Solar Philippines switched on its biggest project so far at SM North on Monday.

Solar Philippines partnered with SM for the solar-powered rooftop project, which turned SM North into the biggest solar-powered mall in the world. The project has 5,760 solar panels which can generate up to 1.5 megawatts (MW) of electricity, enough to power the mall's 16,000 light fixtures, 59 escalators and 20 elevators.

"We started planning this particular mall in October 2013, so it is months in the making. I think SM has been the most aggressive among our customers," Leviste said.

Solar Philippines is already putting up solar panels at SM Dasmarinas in Cavite and SM Mall of Asia. Leviste said SM is also planning to do more solar panel projects for its other malls, although he declined to give details.

"There's a number of other malls they will be doing soon after [SM] Dasma and [SM] MOA," he said.

MORE PROJECTS

Leviste said Solar Philippines is eyeing more solar panel projects for malls in the country, with two of its projects to start operating in December.

"CityMall (in Roxas, Capiz) is opening on December 12, and our panels will be powering the mall by then. Robinsons in Puerto Princesa, Palawan will be completed by Christmas," he said.

The solar panel project in Robinsons Puerto Princesa will generate up to 1.2 MW of electricity, while the solar panels at CityMall Roxas will generate up to 0.6 MW.

For 2015, Leviste said the company is targeting to complete projects which can generate a total of 100 MW of electricity.

"There's a potential for 100-MW projects, so that's more than two dozen establishments with 400,000 solar panels... It's the perfect storm of high electricity rates, low solar panel prices and a power crisis that's making people more aware of the need for renewable sources of energy," he said.

Solar Philippines is said to be the Philippines' top solar power provider and Southeast Asia’s largest developer of rooftop power plants. It offers solar financing, design and construction for commercial customers at zero cost and supplies electricity at below utility rates.

"Our model of fully financing the project at zero cost to the mall, actually puts all of the risks on our side. But someone has to take those risks to pioneer this new business model and I think one day, this is going to be as commonplace as installing a Meralco meter in businesses in the Philippines," Leviste said.

NO TO POLITICS?

Meet the 21-year-old Yale student behind Solar Philippines 2
Solar Philippines president Leandro Leviste during the SM City North EDSA's solar powered rooftop project, Monday. Photo by Jonathan Cellona for ABS-CBNnews.com

Leviste said he's been overwhelmed by the receptiveness of business enterprises to the idea of solar power.

"I think it's an idea whose time has come and it was really by a mistake of many big corporations not to organize to take this idea sooner," he said.

Asked if he will follow in his parents' footsteps into politics, Leviste said, "I used to want to go to law school, but now I feel entrepreneurship is the best way to make an impact."