Faster Than Expected

Some experts are expecting that solar will eventually take over as the king of the energy mix. And it may come sooner than anticipated. Soon,  solar power, as well as renewable energy (RE), will dominate the power basket according to a Bloomberg New Finance outlook released last June.

The solar photo voltaic panels cost for one is expected to drop by 66 percent by the year 2040 while onshore wind power will dip by 47 percent after 2040.

The report noted that solar costs are now already just one-fourth of its prices in 2009 while onshore wind has seen a 30 percent decrease in the last eight years. Off shore wind prices are also expected to drop by 71 percent, making this RE technology more attractive.

Presently, solar costs are already comparable to new coal power plants in the United States and Germany. By 2021, the same will happen to emerging markets like India and China. By 2020s, both countries are expected to have lower power prices with the countries’ aggressive investments in solar energy. The BNEF report noted that close to 39 percent or some $4 trillion of RE investments of the world are to be poured in China and India.

“These tipping points are all happening earlier, and we just can’t deny that this technology is getting cheaper than we previously thought,” said Seb Henbest, the lead author of the BNEF research.

Due to the falling costs of the two technologies, the BNEF outlook stressed that in 2040, solar and wind power combined will account for close to half of the world’s installed generation capacity, more than four times the current 12 percent share.

Naturally, the greater share of these renewable sources will displace coal and natural gas plants. The estimate showed that roughly 369 gigawatts (GW) of coal plants projects would likely be canceled, an amount that’s equivalent to the combined generation capacity of Brazil and Germany.

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At present, solar costs are already comparable to new coal power plants in the U.S. and Germany

Even the United States where President Trump signed an executive order to “start a new era of production and job creation” especially in the coal sector, will see coal capacity drop by half in 2040.

Europe’s coal capacity is also expected to slide by 71 percent given the region’s environmental laws that will make fuel burning cost more.

The new king of the renewable mix is indeed coming.

Unfortunately, for us Filipinos, we still yet have to see a dramatic increase in the renewables’ share in our power mix. While India, has already embraced technology and the benefits that a nation can reap from harnessing its resources properly, our country has remained in the same position for years. In the last two years, the share of renewables— solar and wind combined– only accounts for one percent.

As I have been saying, our energy planners remain fixed in their incorrect thinking about how expensive RE is. While the rest of the world have been sensitive to the development of the RE sector, we still insist on having our ‘quick fixes.’ We favor the least cost in terms of capital outlay for power plants but refuse to look at the additional cost that consumers will shoulder for our heavy dependence on fossil fuels.

We only need to look at the devastating impact on energy prices from history to see the risks of relying heavily on either coal or oil plants. In the 1990s, the Gulf War, for example, brought roughly 30 percent increase in the average spot price for crude oil.  According to the average unit price of crude oil increase in the country was approximately 56.1 percent.

We don’t even have to go as far as the 1990s. Just last year, our Energy Department officials warned of a possible disaster with the news that Indonesia has extended its imposed moratorium on coal exports to the Philippines due to the kidnapping of several Indonesian sailors in the Sulu sea by the Abu Sayaff.  We, after all, get 70 percent of our coal or 15 million tons for 2015 from Indonesia. A few years before that, Indonesia also changed its rules about coal exports which led to an even higher cost of generating power from coal.

A necessary consequence to all these is this: coal and other similar fossil fuel-based technologies will increasingly have difficulties in getting financing. Not only because financial institutions will institute policies to avoid fossil fuel technologies, but if at all, banks will have to shorten the tenors it will give to coal plants. Because of the expected decline in costs of RE technologies, the competitiveness of coal plants will increasingly decline.  Therefore, banks will have to lend, if at all, at much shorter maturities.  With shorter maturities come higher annuities.  This will make financing coal plants extremely difficult and uncompetitive.

All these points to one thing: Let us be like other countries, like our Asian neighbors India and China that have embraced and capitalized on developments of the RE. And part of it is welcoming fixed contracts in our energy mix to take advantage of the falling prices of RE technologies and having the maximum levels allowed in our Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), where power players are required to either source or produce a specified percentage from RE

Given that our Power Sales Agreements (PSAs) are ‘floating’ where risks such as price escalations of fossil fuel and foreign exchange rates are passed on to consumers, we need to have our fixed priced contracts to at the very least soften the blow on the negative impact of the ‘pass-on costs.’ Fortunately, renewables are in a good position to hand out those much needed fixed contracts.

While the rest of the world are embracing the lower costs of RE generation, we are still stuck in the old ways of thinking that fossil fuels and fixed price contracts are the correct formulae to our power rates woes.  Let us see the economic sense in investing and helping renewable energy flourish in our rich country.

If we want to maximize our abundance of RE sources in the country, which as many have said is the key to lower energy prices, then we must consider those fixed priced contracts for RE. And if we want to truly embrace and benefit from the falling costs of RE technologies such as what the recent BNFF report has noted, then we must be quick in adopting my above proposals. Otherwise, we will be left wondering years from now how and why we failed to find a solution to what seems to be never ending high electricity prices in the country, when in fact, the answer had been quite obvious.

References:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-06-15/solar-power-will-kill-coal-sooner-than-you-think

http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2016/06/27/1597092/philippine-power-supply-jeopardized-indonesian-ban

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