Providing pro bono legal assistance to make solar energy more accessible and affordable

by Emmanuele Marie C. Parra, TrustLaw Programmes Officer, Asia
Tuesday, 16 May 2023 12:12 GMT

REUTERS/Laurence SiMeng Tan

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This impact story is part of a series to celebrate the extraordinary pro bono projects undertaken by legal teams to support NGOs and social enterprises with the support of TrustLaw. All projects mentioned in this series are nominated for this year’s TrustLaw Awards. Find out more.

Global warming is a pressing issue that poses significant threats to humans, ecosystems, and economies. According to NOAA which provides timely and authoritative information about climate, the Earth’s temperature has risen by about 1 degree Celsius since the pre-industrial era. This warming trend is projected to continue unless action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To address this issue, many people are adopting the use of solar panels, which generate electricity from the sun’s energy without producing any greenhouse gas emissions.  

One of the main providers of solar panels in Singapore is Solar Al Technologies, a social enterprise committed to scaling the deployment of distributed solar and the transition towards 100% renewable energy by using technology to modernise the way rooftop solar is sold. The company offers a zero upfront cost solar-as-a-service model for residential and small commercial property owners enabled by its technology platforms.  

To further their mission of bringing a zero upfront cost, solar-as-a-service model to residential and small commercial property owners in Singapore, Solar Al reached out to TrustLaw, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s global pro bono service, and was connected with four law firms Hogan Lovells, Reed Smith LLP, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, and Dechert LLP 

Hogan Lovells helped Solar Al Technologies launch a new programme that enables residential and small commercial solar system owners in Singapore to monetise renewable energy certificates from their systems. RECs are tradable assets that quantify the energy generated by renewable energy sources like solar panels and wind turbines from their systems. This programme aims to make solar more appealing to current and potential solar system owners. The lawyers who worked on this legal issue are Alex Wong and Kristen Lau, from their Infrastructure, Energy, Resources and Projects team in Singapore. Kristen Lau, Senior Associate, shared that, “Personally, this matter involved a fairly new type of product being traded and so understanding the ins and outs of the business, including the trading platform, was eye opening. Such business transactions are becoming more commonplace now so this was also an excellent opportunity, professionally, to get a more in-depth appreciation of the topic from the commercial aspect.” 

Reed Smith LLP led by Gerald Licnachan, Matthew Gorman and Miriam Bandera worked closely together to draft Solar AI's template ‘rent to own agreement’ for the residential sector. The agreement was designed based on a combination of Solar Al Technologies’ commercial experience in the solar power industry and Reed Smith’s legal experience of renewable energy in the region. Additionally, the team worked out on a new template of power purchase agreement for small and medium enterprises in Singapore, helping to design a customer-facing agreement to ensure the success of this new business line. 

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP’s lawyers in their Singapore office, Saptak Santra, Elaine Chao, and Eliza Teo reviewed the template collaboration agreement between Solar Al and ENGIE, a corporate renewable energy investor. Their input aimed to make it easier for Solar Al to contract with end-customers and promote wider solar energy adoption.  

Dechert LLP provided funding advice for Solar Al Technologies to grow its team and scale in developing markets in Southeast Asia. Timothy Goh, Partner at Dechert shared his insights about the impact of this project saying that “Studies have shown that each kilowatt-hour (kWh) of solar that is generated will substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions like CO2, as well as other dangerous pollutants such as sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.  Solar also reduces water consumption and withdrawal. By making it available and more importantly, affordable, to individual households, Solar AI plays an integral role in helping individuals be sustainable by managing their carbon footprint and fight climate change.” 

Solar Al Technologies’ founder, Bolong Chew, expressed his gratitude towards the law firms and TrustLaw that worked with his company, stating “Amazing. The support was extremely professional, and everyone involved from the firms in the engagements were just as impact focused in supporting our growth towards achieving our social mission. As a young startup with less than 10 employees, we do not have the legal resources or cash flow, and frankly without TrustLaw’s support, may have never been able to launch one of the region’s first Rent-to-own model for residential customers.” 

Solar Al Technologies’ partnership with TrustLaw and the law firms that supported them has been instrumental in promoting the adoption of solar power in Singapore. Through innovative technology and legal expertise, Solar Al Technologies is making solar power accessible and affordable to household and small businesses, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change. 

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