(UPDATED) “I've not yet seen a woman that is one of the biggest developers in the country, most of them are men,” quipped Emma Imperial, the president and CEO of mass housing developer Imperial Homes Corporation (IHC). “However, a woman's innovative idea can change the world, and you cannot take that away from her.”
For this seasoned real estate developer, that innovative idea now comes in the form of solar-powered housing made affordable to Filipinos.
This desire to provide affordable housing for every Filipino, even in the remotest parts of the country, is what actually drove Imperial to start IHC 33 years ago. “Maybe it's the activist in me, but I really want housing to be easily accessible to every Filipino—it's a basic human right,” said Imperial, a Business Economics graduate from the University of the Philippines.
Imperial, already wife to lawyer and former mayor of Legazpi City Gregorio Imperial Jr. and mother to two boys, founded IHC in 1983 using hectares of unused land she borrowed from her husband and about P200,000 ($4,304.78) she loaned from her mother as initial capital.
“I felt that my education and experience can be put to better use,” Imperial said, which led her to build her own Montessori school, teachers' housing projects, and even a poultry farm in Legazpi City. Then, she set her eyes on answering the mass housing needs in the Bicol region.
“I first concentrated in the remotest provinces, then I entered the Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon provinces) to join the fray,” Imperial recalled. Because of these projects, IHC has been known in the provinces for its affordable yet quality mass housing projects.
Powered by the sun
After 30 years in the industry, IHC hit another milestone: through its Via Verde subdivision in Santo Tomas, Batangas, IHC became the first real estate developer in the country to build a mass housing community run fully on solar energy. “I envision a Philippines where even mass housing communities can be powered by solar energy,” Imperial said.
She got inspired by her travels to Europe four years ago wherein she saw that, even in cold and winter-heavy countries, solar-powered housing was the norm. “The Philippines is a tropical country—we get a lot of sun all year round—why aren't we the ones using solar energy?” she wondered.
“For countries in Europe, you either put solar [panels] or you put an insulation for your walls, otherwise you don't get a building permit. In other countries, they’ll not even give you building permits if you don't include renewable [energy] solutions in your house,” Imperial explained.
To make solar-powered communities happen in the Philippines, IHC then partnered with Enfinity, a solar energy firm from Belgium, and started Enfinity Imperial Solar Solutions, Inc., which now also offers solar energy solutions even to other mass housing developers.
The picture of a solar-powered home
“It makes economic and environmental sense for homeowners to invest in a solar-powered home,” said Imperial. It lessens the energy consumption of the household, thereby cutting electricity costs in half monthly at the least. “Depending on the [energy] management of the homeowner, they can really use the [solar] system to its utmost potential,” added Imperial.
Each 2-story house in Via Verde is equipped with Enfinity Imperial's solar power solution package. The package comes with solar panels, to be installed in the housing unit's rooftop; a solar inverter with monitor, which converts the output of the solar panels into usable electricity for the household; and a battery storage with monitor, which informs the home owner how much energy has been generated and where the energy being used by the household is coming from.
“When the sun is off-peak or has gone down, the battery storage will power the house,” said Imperial. The battery is powerful enough to run different household appliances, like a 6 cubic feet refrigerator; a 19-inch television; six LED (light-emitting diode) lights; two electric fans; and two chargers, among others. In the day time, when the sun is at its peak, the energy being generated by the system can enable home owners to do their laundry, ironing, cooking, and to even open their air-conditioning on full blast, added Imperial.
On Monday, March 14, IHC, in partnership with the PAG-IBIG Fund (Pagtutulungan sa Kinabukasan: Ikaw, Bangko, Industriya, at Gobyerno, a housing development monetary fund), turned over to qualified homebuyers their solar-powered homes. This is a landmark for the industry as it serves as proof that the PAG-IBIG Fund and other leading banks and financial institutions are now recognizing and supporting this innovation in mass housing development.
“Solar capital of Asia”
But Imperial's vision goes beyond that of her own company.
“Our big goal is to make the Philippines the solar capital of Asia, and we cannot do that if everyone will not join in,” she added. Enfinity Imperial is also offering this solar energy solution package to other mass housing developers; the company will take care of installing the system and educating the homeowners about its use.
Clients like the Pontefino Hotel and Residences in Batangas City show that the system can work for both high-end and mass housing developments. “We can only make this possible if other real estate developers will adopt a solar-powered community in their projects,” said Imperial. “We can't do this alone, that's why we want to share this vision to other developers.”
Toni is the deputy associate editor of Entrepreneur.com.ph. Follow her on Twitter, @toni_antiporda.