When Leandro Leviste studied at Yale University, he heard about Elon Musk’s designs for Solarcity. Leviste had bought stocks in Tesla, Musk’s electric car brand, when they were cheap and sold them for $200 apiece at just the right time. Now he wants to cash in again: follow Musk’s mission by building the Philippine equivalent of Solarcity, which is an American company that installs solar panel systems on buildings and owns capacity to make the panels.
The 23-year-old founder of Solar Philippines has spent half a billion dollars in bank loans arranged through family connections as well as his Tesla profits to build solar “farms” and rooftop panel systems. The company provides solar power in Leviste’s homeland the Philippines, a Southeast Asian archipelago of 102 million people.
Leviste says he got into it because Filipinos pay some ofAsia’s highest electricity rates but shouldn’t. Existing power providers have rigged it that way, the founder believes. The high rates contribute to poverty, an issue for 22% of the Philippine population, and deter foreign companies from investing in a country that’s otherwise on the move economically, he adds. He suspects that foreign manufacturers such as Intel INTC +1.06% and Ford Motor F +1.73% Co. left the Philippines in part because electricity rates were raising production costs.
“Solar has gone down so far in cost it’s even cheaper than coal,” Leviste said on the sidelines of the Forbes Under 30Summit in Singapore last week. Rates for solar energy can go lower than the mainstream source coal by at least $0.02 in part because of the country’s regular sunny weather, he says. “Solar is cheaper than coal in the Philippines,” he gripes. “Why no one else is talking about that is beyond me.”
It’s not really beyond him. The government had offered solar energy subsidies with a deadline of March, creating what he describes as a “gold rush” that became a “ghost town” after subsidy-driven projects were done and the money disbursed. Solar Philippines is aggressively pursuing solar power now as most other wait for another round of subsidies that might not come, Leviste says.