UTILITIES OF THE 21st CENTURY Introducing Competition in the Power Distribution Sector

Around the world, changes in the energy sector, particularly in the distribution segment are taking place given technological advancements as well as the world’s worry over climate change

For example, in the United States, utilities are beginning to take the threats of climate change more seriously. New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision, a plan to “rebuild, strengthen, and modernize New York’s energy system” was initiated in 2014 partly because of the devastation brought by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. This is the most comprehensive utility proceeding today with its main idea of changing the utility model so that third party service providers can come in to serve the utility’s customers by moving away from the traditional utility model and going towards a Distribution System Platform (DSP) provider

The DSP model transforms the traditional utility into something like an air traffic controller that coordinates and facilitates the deployment of distributed energy resources (DERs). This becomes the focus of the utility, which is a far cry from the traditional concept of a monopoly. The staff of the Public Service Commission (PSC) stressed that “Under the customer-oriented regulatory reform envisioned here, a wide range of distributed energy resources will be coordinated to manage load, optimize system operations, and enable clean distributed power generation.”  The primary goal of this model is to make the utility customer-centric as “Markets and tariffs will empower customers to optimize their energy usage and reduce electric bills, while stimulating innovation and new products that will further enhance customer opportunities.”

This bold move by the New York City should not surprise us since electricity experts point out that significant transformations are causing a revolution in the way electricity is produced, distributed, and marketed. They stress that technology is giving consumers more autonomy and choice. These experts argue that we “have entered an age in which the technology-powered push and the customer-driven pull have beneficially collided.

In fact, as early as 2000, the United Kingdom (UK), already started introducing competition in the power distribution business through the Independent Connection Providers (ICPs) and licensed Independent Network Operators (DNOs), thus allowing customers to use an alternative provider for some connections work known as “contestable work.” These include but are not limited to, designing, purchasing materials to form the connection, reinforcement of the connection, and even directly connecting to the network. These tasks can be done by an Independent Connections Provider (ICP).

Indeed, change in the energy sector has already arrived where the customer’s choice has become the paramount objective of industry players by making room for more competition in the power distribution trade. The services at the retail level become less integrated by letting the customers choose his/her source of power, battery storage, Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning (HVAC) energy efficiency systems, and other similar value services.

The innovation will come from the ability of technology to combine customer data to Smart grids, microgrids, local generation, and storage, among others. Experts assert that the primary distribution channel for services will be online and the energy retailing price will hinge on innovative digital platforms.  In their view, these are the developments and trends that are coming and they will be coming soon.

For David Cane, former CEO of NRG Energy, the confluence of green energy and computer technology, deregulation, cheaper natural gas, and political pressure, is threatening the existing utility system. His opinion is that the grid will increasingly become irrelevant as customers move towards decentralized homegrown energy. Home automation will become king. Crane further argues that “When we think of who our competitors or partners will be, it will be the Googles, Comcasts, AT&Ts who are already inside the meter.”

Given all these developments, it, therefore, no longer inconceivable to think of two, or even more distribution utilities in one geographical area in the Philippines. These utilities need not perform the same functions.  As distribution services have been unbundled, e.g., metering as separate business units, distribution utilities can compete on which among them can connect the fastest and cheapest to the distribution grid.

It is no longer impossible to have two, or even more distribution utilities in one geographical area in the Philippines

The utilities can also compete on how much each supports home automation or distributed generation like rooftop solars. As pointed out recently by Google’s Chief Technology Advocate, Michael T. Jones, companies like Google can develop the service where “all electronic devices (to) talk about their power needs to an aggregator, and you can have a power auction for each one.”

Technology is now available to connect reading and billing of meters to bills payment through the mobile phone.  All these services have developed because of technology.

Even in constructing power grids in the distribution sector, one can have overhead wires, or underground ones, depending on the requirements or needs of the customers. Smart transformers connected to a Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) platforms can fine tune the needs of customers.

Unfortunately, unless competition is introduced in the Philippines distribution sector, it will take a long time for the Filipino consumers to enjoy the benefits of the 21st Century.  The distribution sector has long been in the abyss of lethargy induced by a monopolistic structure, running counter to the cornerstone of Energy Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA), which was crafted to introduce competition within the power sector. In particular, a guiding principle of the Distribution Sector is that it is a business affected with public interest. This objective of competition and guided by the principle of public interest required the unbundling of business activities as provided in Rule 10 of the Implementing Rules and Regulation (IRR) of the EPIRA.

It has traditionally been thought that because of the nature of the distribution business, this sector, and the Transmission Business, are natural monopolies. This was probably true in the past, but technologies have developed over the past few years thus making this view no longer true. As argued above, technological change has brought in innovation, creativity, and access to the masses. It has also brought down costs – the mobile business is a clear example. It is not, therefore, a theoretical argument that technology will bring down cost. That is a fact.

We cannot reach the goal of empowering the Filipino power consumer unless change comes in now. Distribution utilities’ vision should always be proactive and aligned with the varying needs and load profile of a dynamic consumer.  This may be reflected in the flexible design of a distribution system that instantaneously addresses the power demands and delivers the preferred sources of power to the customers. A sophisticated consumer-centric designed system encourages the proper management of electricity usage, which translates into savings on prices and resources.

To illustrate this point, let us take the case of a distribution utility and how it handles system loss. Currently, the task of managing systems loss at almost 20% seems like an insurmountable challenge. However, the introduction of smart meters and automated billing and payment systems can bring this down to a more manageable level at about 14% thus bringing down rates for the consumers, which translates into savings of about PHP 0.15/kWh. And this is just the initial and rough calculation.

The above is just an example how a much better equipped, and better-financed utility can bring down costs of the electricity consumer. In the medium term, replacement of aging wooden poles and overworked transformers will further push down systems loss and thus power rates. Finally, because of a strong balance sheet and excellent knowledge of the power market, the cost of generation can also be brought down.

Plus, competition is always beneficial for consumers because more players in the market will always result in cheaper goods and services.  Hence, consumers should be able to choose between service providers like distribution companies so that distribution companies can no longer just “pass on” any cost that they think they are traditionally entitled. While the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) will approve the rates, ultimately it will be the consumer who will choose.

Opening up our distribution system for more competition will also pave the way for more use of cleaner forms of energy. It would be ideal to have distribution companies who will have intelligent systems to accommodate renewable energy sources. Such a move will then give the consumers a choice to go for greener forms of power and help us in our goal of saving our environment. After all, making our power grids responsive to climate change will be another area of transformation and competition.  With typhoons becoming an even more frequent phenomenon in the country and elsewhere in the world, change has to come in designing, building and managing power distribution networks.

Making drastic changes in the way we distribute our energy locally is a win-win solution for all of us. We give consumers autonomy and more choices, we lower our electricity bills, and we help save our environment by paving the way for more RE use.

Indeed, significant changes are needed. And we need them soon.

References:

Institute for Local Self-Reliance, https://ilsr.org/u-s-power-grids-days-numbered/

https://www.utilitydive.com/news/are-recent-disasters-enough-to-spur-utilities-to-take-climate-change-seriou/517373/

https://www.utilitydive.com/news/rev-in-2016-the-year-that-could-transform-utility-business-models-in-new-y/412410/

Schwieter, N, and Flaherty T., “A Strategist’s Guide to Power Industry Transformation,” https://www.strategy-business.com/article/00355?gko=9fa18

 

 

Getting Closer to The Tipping Point

There have been various predictions on how and when renewable energy will soon displace coal as the most economical choice for the world’s power needs.

Just recently, Bloomberg New Energy Finance Michael Liebrich founder joined energy experts in saying that the time for renewables to take over will soon come. He estimated that renewable energy would gather roughly 86 percent of some $10.2 trillion investments in power generation by the year 2040.

His predictions do not end there. Liebrich further identified two tipping points that will push coal prices and natural gas to become unattractive.

 The first tipping point is “when new wind and solar become cheaper than anything else,” Liebreich said. And this may happen soon. He predicts that it will start by 2025 when it is cheaper to build a Solar PV plant than a coal-powered plant in Japan. Similarly, construction of wind power plants will be less expensive than building coal plants in India by the year 2030.

 The second tipping point, he says, is when operating the present coal and gas plants becomes more expensive than getting energy from wind and solar. This tipping point may take longer than the first and may happen first in Germany and China sometime between 2030 to 2040.

With all these forecasts or predictions, there is no denying that renewables will be the most economical source of energy all over the world.

 It is then crucial for us to seriously consider capitalizing on the price drops of these RE technologies and move fast in transitioning to heavy dependence on coal to renewable energy.

 Aside from being the cleaner form of energy, it is also essential for us to shift to RE because continued dependence on coal and other forms of fossil-fuel will hurt the pockets of our power consumers badly in the future.

 The above predictions only say that RE will be the cheapest option due to the declining cost of RE technology. However, there is another reason why coal will be more expensive for us Filipinos.

 As renewables take over, we can expect that coal and other similar fossil-based technologies will find it hard to acquire financing for their projects. With the growing clamor for greener technologies, it is likely that financial institutions will institute policies that avoid fuel technologies. Plus, of course, the declining costs of RE will make coal less competitive thus, pushing banks to lend–assuming they will– at significantly shorter maturity. The natural consequence is higher annuities. So, it is safe to say that around the world the cost of coal and other fossil fuels would sky-rocket.

We have to keep in mind that the Philippines only produces low-quality coal and our coal-fired plants are constructed for imported coal. In fact, in 2016, the Philippines imported a total of 20.79 million tons of coal, which is 47.8 percent higher than the imported figure in 2015. And a nation that depends heavily on imported coal will surely suffer from expensive power rates in the years to come as coal becomes more expensive in the world market.

 It is indeed time for our regulators and policy-makers to see the writing on the wall. Coal will be more expensive in the future, and our power consumers will pay much higher if we don’t shift our allegiance to RE.

 Our regulars have to act now. Otherwise, we will be paying more for our energy consumption, when in fact, cheaper energy has been abundant and available for us for a long time.

 Reference:

 https://www.rappler.com/views/imho/172064-sun-setting-coal

 https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-19/tipping-point-seen-for-clean-energy-as-monster-turbines-arrive

A Gloomy Warning

What would you do if the temperature becomes too hot that you must stay every single day indoors?

Sounds like doom to me, right?

Unfortunately for us, this a possible scenario if we keep up with the business-as-usual in dealing with climate change. Or at least that’s what a climate change expert says.

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in the Vatican and the Director of Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)  warned us that the Philippines and its neighbors in Southeast Asia could suffer from extreme temperatures daily if countries continue with the present high emission levels.

The Nobel Prize Winner stressed that “All of the tropics will develop conditions that physiologically, humans cannot live outside anymore.”

Schellnhuber was in the country to present the study “A Region at Risk: The Human Dimensions of Climate Change in Asia and the Pacific.” He said that based on modeling and simulation studies from the report, temperatures would keep increasing by 1.7 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2030, and up to 2.7 degrees by 2050. By 2070, temperatures could be up to 4 degrees.

According to Schellnhuber, we could “see a complete shift in living conditions,” if people fail to address climate change. He further stressed that we would be facing extreme summer heat, an unusual weather condition, which the Philippines only experience once in every 740 years.

Nations must do everything they can to avoid such extremes, he warns. If not, Schellnhuber pointed out, that millions of people will be forced to flee their homes. “You would actually have to give up the Philippines altogether….Unless you put the entire population into a shopping mall, which would be a very big mall, and by the way, needs a lot of fossil energy to keep air-conditioned, and that would exacerbate global warming, so it is certainly not a solution.”

Gloomy, indeed.

Schellnhuber’s words reminded me of the Pope’s encyclical on climate change two years ago. Pope Francis made strong calls to act quickly on the issue of climate change. “We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth. The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes, such as those which even now periodically occur in different areas of the world. The effects of the present imbalance can only be reduced by our decisive action, here and now.”

Unfortunately, two years after the powerful message of the Pope, little has been done locally to work on reducing our carbon footprint if we are to talk about renewable energy development.

The BMI Research of the Fitch Group recently released its study noting that there will be more coal-fired power plants in the next 10 years. “Growth in the Philippines power infrastructure sector over the next 10 years will be driven by investment in coal-fired generating capacity as companies and the government build a slew of new power plants to support growing electricity demand.”

The report noted that 90 percent of roughly 7,300 megawatts (MW) power plant projects in the pipeline are coal-fired ones.

So, we are in the business-as-usual scenario, still relying heavily on coal for our energy needs.

We certainly have failed to heed the Pope’s call. I can only pray and hope that Schellnhuber’s warning below will not be ignored, too.

Reference:

http://www.interaksyon.com/expert-warns-with-no-cap-on-greenhouse-gas-emissions-going-outdoors-will-be-deadly-by-2100/

We Pay Higher With A Weaker Peso

pexels-photo-164560

The Philippine Peso has been falling against the greenback in the last few weeks. Tagged by Bloomberg as Asia’s worst performing currency, our currency has lost 1.6 percent this year. Bloomberg also noted that the Philippine peso is also the worst performer among emerging markets, only next to the Argentina Peso.

Both forecasts by DBS Bank and Bloomberg also predict that the exchange rate would be P52 to a dollar by year-end, In fact, according to DBS Bank, the weak peso could continue until middle of next year.

The weakening of the peso is a result of various factors. Unfortunately, a shrinking peso against the dollar is detrimental to normal Filipinos if we are talking about their power rates. The falling peso could spell doom for many Filipinos, mainly because the lower peso would increase power prices.

As I have pointed out in previous posts, our Power Sales Agreements or PSAs have the provision for the pass-on costs where the consumers pay for the foreign exchange and fossil fuel upward price adjustments. To put it simply, the consumers will pay for the weak peso in their electric bills.

Remember December last year where the biggest power distributor announced a P0.1011 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) increase because of the upward adjustment in the generation charge caused by the significant weakening of the peso against the dollar. A news report then noted that the peso slid down to P49.73 in November from P46.59 to a dollar from August of the same year. That’s almost a three peso difference in three months, which resulted in the increased electricity bill. We have to keep in mind that the largest DU in the country sources its electricity from independent power producers, which, unfortunately, have 90 percent of their billings in dollar denomination.

As I have discussed in detail, our energy planners have favored the ‘floating’ PSAs rather than fixed ones, thinking that it is cheaper. To simplify, these floating PSAs are not necessarily more inexpensive as there are unknowns specifically fossil fuel global price spikes and falling value of the peso against the dollar. These unknowns are, sadly, inevitable.

As with our experience last year in the above example, a weaker peso resulted in higher power prices. So, we cannot say that floating PSAs are cheaper because, in the end, the poor consumers will shell out more money when the inevitable happens.

This is why we need the fixed priced contracts. Under fixed priced contracts, consumers will pay the same amount for a specified period, let us say, 25 years, for their electricity. Fixed price contracts eliminate the need for users to pay for the pass-on costs or to simplify, pay for higher power charges when the peso falls against the dollar or when prices of coal or oil in the international market increases. I’m sure our consumers would appreciate knowing how much they would be paying for their energy consumption on a monthly basis rather than be surprised when their electric bills come.

Let us see the economic sense in having fixed price contracts for the sake of the end consumers. Rather than just fret on how a weak peso could hurt us, let us make the adjustments needed to ease the burden for the Filipinos who will shoulder the cost of the falling peso when they for pay their electricity. Surely, Filipinos have other uses for their hard-earned money.

REVIEWING CAPM: How to Truly Bring Down Power Rates in the Philippines

I recently came across and found the time to re-read a material written by renowned Energy scholar,the late Simon Awerbuch. I first encountered Awerbuch’s readings a few years ago. That article made me really reflect and understand why our consumer on the street, Juan de la Cruz, is probably getting a bad deal in his electricity prices.

In the material, Awerbuch discussed the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM), and the importance of reviewing the traditional methods used in estimating electricity costs.  He asserted that traditional energy planning fails to consider the risk of price volatility of fossil fuels, which, unfortunately, has a negative correlation with the economy.

We use CAPM in our tariff setting. In my view,  the concept is misused. The reading made me think that if only our energy planners and regulators take the time to understand the concept and make the changes needed, then we will surely have lower power rates

For a long time, we in the power sector have been using the “least cost” approach to analyze which sources of power are cheapest or the most economical to use in the system.  We do this by comparing technologies where we conclude that certain fuel sources are “cheaper” than others. To exacerbate this further, we then go on and regulate what can be passed on to consumers based on the returns we want to give to investors rather than what consumers want nor deserve.

And for the Nth time, I say, we got this all wrong.  This is the reason why we find it extremely difficult to bring down power rates.

We need to look at our Power Sales Agreement or PSAs to understand what we are doing wrong. Reduction of energy cost is simple: regardless of the technology, introducing fixed-price long-term contracts will REDUCE power rates.

To understand the need to introduce fixed-price-long term contract, we first need to review the use of what I call the ‘floating’ power sales agreement.

Generally, PSAs have provisions to “pass through” or “pass on” foreign exchange and fuel prices to the end consumers. It is my contention that once we minimize PSAs with “pass through” or “pass on” rates and replace them with fixed price long-term contracts, we can truly bring down power prices.  Otherwise, as my good friend says, these “pass on” contracts will have to be, in the Visayan language, “pas-an” (to be carried) by the consumers.

In my other articles, I have always asked the question: which is cheaper, a floating PSA that is currently priced at P5.00/kWh or a fixed price PSA that is fixed at P5.10/kWh for 25 years? The traditional analysis will say it is the floating P5.00/kWh.  In fact, the way “rate impact” studies are done, most utilities calculate only the first year tariff and weigh the implications of that tariff when added to the current average tariff of the entire energy mix. The traditional analysis will conclude that, indeed, a floating P5.00/kWh is cheaper than a fixed P5.10/kWh.

Unfortunately, such analysis does not consider the possibility that the floating PSA can reach P10.00/kWh the following year should the value of the peso fall against foreign denominations or prices of fuel or coal significantly increase.

Choosing the ‘floating’ price is counter intuitive. Any businessman or even a housewife would rather pay a known fixed price because, from a budgeting perspective, it is far more convenient.  And more importantly, it is actually, conceptually cheaper. It is cheaper because the cost to hedge either the fuel or forex risk will have to be added on the P5.00/kWh if one is to adjust the cost of a floating PSA to reflect current prices of fuel or value of peso against a foreign denomination. And that is assuming there is such a hedge for 20 years.

But why is this penchant for choosing the floating PSAs embedded in our regulatory framework? For this, we can point to the calculation of the Weighted Average Cost of Capital (WACC) when computing for the Return on Equity (ROE) in the determination of the appropriate tariff for a particular PSA. Our regulators use the CAPM for tariff setting, but unfortunately, use an incorrect value for the beta in the computation. Our regulators assume that the beta has a positive value, which signifies that the return to the generator is positively correlated to the economy.

This indeed is a faulty assumption especially if used in the tariff setting for fossil-powered plants. On the contrary, studies have shown that oil price volatility has a negative relationship on macroeconomic activities. Awerbuch, simplified it best: financial betas of fossil prices must also be negative.

The above point leads me to the bigger, and more important question: why is the rate setting evaluated from the point of view of the generator? Since the consumer is taking the forex and fuel risks anyway, shouldn’t the consumer’s perspective be taken instead?  Shouldn’t we use the beta for consumers for a floating PSA instead of the beta of the generator?

First of all, we need to look at who bears the risk of having a volatile price.  How is Juan de la Cruz compensated for taking on this risk? This question is not even being asked right now.  This has to be asked because, in reality, Juan de la Cruz will end up subsidizing the generators if we insist on assuming a positive of the beta of the floating PSAs.

Given that we are calculating the required ROE in the WACC using a flawed “beta,” then the generators are getting a ROE far greater than they deserve. This leaves Juan de la Cruz in a sorry state.

BUT if we take on the perspective of the consumer, then the entire story changes.

If we want to compensate Juan de la Cruz for taking the volatility risk, then we must consider the financial evaluation of the floating PSAs. Otherwise, the traditional assessment will show that Juan de la Cruz is getting a “cheaper” floating PSA. However, this is a fallacy.  The proof of which can be seen from a mathematical calculation using the CAPM.

Comparison

Take a look at the table above.  Clearly, the floating PSA is riskier for the consumer than the fixed PSA because, again, the consumer bears the cost of the forex and fuel risk. Or to put it simply, the consumers pay more for the fuel and forex upward adjustments.

Now we have to ask: how much is Juan de la Cruz really paying for each type of contract?

A static price comparison obviously is wrong. One cannot compare one price alone, let us say a P5.0/kWh for a floating PSA versus P5.10 for a 20-year fixed-price contract.  We MUST take into consideration the WHOLE contract period.

It is however, IMPOSSIBLE to predict the future prices of fuel and the foreign exchange.  And one cannot possibly put the future prices inside the contract.  This is the reason why these volatile costs are “pass through” or “pass on.”  It is the consumers who will pay for the adjustments above the P5.0/kWh.

This begs the question of how to account for this uncertainty in the evaluation of cost for Juan de la Cruz.

The fixed PSA, on the other hand, is easy to figure out: it is fixed.

So, how can one evaluate what the real cost is for Juan de la Cruz? Common sense will tell you, the fixed price – as long as it is priced correctly – will be always be advantageous to Juan de la Cruz, all other things being equal.

Mathematically it can also be proven.  We still use the CAPM– the very same formula that is being used to determine the appropriateness of the tariff–except that this time, we use the CAPM from the point of view of Juan de la Cruz rather than the one of the generator.

CAPM

The formula above says the discount rate of any asset is equal to the risk-free rate plus a premium.  This premium is represented by the market return (MR) adjusted for the sensitivity of the asset to the return of the market.  Generally, in modern finance, the market return (MR) is defined as the return of the entire stock exchange, and the beta is the correlation coefficient of a particular stock against the return of the market.

If a stock’s price goes up or down with the market, then we say that stock is POSITIVELY correlated with the market.  The beta then will be a POSITIVE number.  If the stock’s price goes up when the market goes down and vice versa, then we say that stock is NEGATIVELY correlated with the market.  Then that beta will be a NEGATIVE NUMBER. If a stock price stays constant regardless of the behavior of the market, then we can say it has NO CORRELATION with the market. Then the beta will be ZERO.

Let us now apply the concept in evaluating the floating PSA versus the fixed PSA.

Let’s start with the easy one – the fixed price.

Since the price of the PSA is fixed (in real terms), then we can say it has NO CORRELATION with the movements in the fuel price or forex.  Or to put it simply from a consumer’s perspective—the consumer will pay the same price regardless of the fuel prices or forex. So, the beta will be ZERO, which means the discount rate we should use will be the risk-free rate. Let me go back to this number later when we do the analysis.

How do we handle the case of the “pass on” or floating PSAs?

Volatile prices, in general, will be NEGATIVELY correlated to the market, so the beta is a negative number. A simpler analogy is this: if the price of fuel or the cost of forex goes up, the value of the PSA goes down (becomes more expensive.) On the other hand, if the cost of fuel or forex goes down, the value of the PSA goes up (becomes less expensive). Clearly, there is a NEGATIVE correlation between a volatile PSA and the market.

Applying this logic to the CAPM, one will see that the discount rate for the fixed PSA will always be higher than the discount rate for the volatile or floating PSA (mathematical proof available upon request.) The reason is simple. In the case of the fixed price contract, we discount the price at the risk-free rate.

On the other hand, in the case of the floating contract, we discount the price at a rate LOWER than the risk-free rate.  Discounting at this lower discount rate will result in a higher price than one that is discounted at the higher discount rate.  That the mathematical truth.

How do we translate this to Juan de la Cruz?

This simply means, ceteris paribus, a fixed price contract will ALWAYS be lower than a floating volatile contract. And any analysis that does not take this into consideration is doing a disservice to the consumers. This also means that putting a fixed price contract into a utility’s energy mix will lead to LOWER power rates.

There is no magic in the CAPM formula. After all, anyone with some basic knowledge of calculus and finance can calculate using that formula. The major shift here is this: we should use the discount rate relevant to Juan de la Cruz rather than to the generator. It is the consumer taking the fuel and forex risks.  Hence, he must be compensated for taking on that risk. Using the generator’s beta (most likely greater than 1) to evaluate the PSA is wrong because the one paying the tariff is Juan dela Cruz and not the generator.

I am not saying that we should totally ignore floating PSAs. Floating PSAs generally are associated with fossil fuel-based contracts. I think the late Prof Awerbuch hit the nail on the head with his article. As he pointed out, “The CAPM analysis highlights some important implications of the negative correlation between energy prices and the economy, suggesting a broader conceptualization of energy security that reflects the deleterious economic effects of fossil volatility. These effects can be measured and reduced by incorporating technologies such as wind, geothermal and PV, whose underlying costs are uncorrelated to fossil prices. Fossil price risk can be mitigated only through such diversification.”

Unless this shift is made, Juan de la Cruz will always be screwed. It will be the consumer who will “pas-an” the generator because of the “pass on” nature of the volatile PSA.

Time to change.

More Reasons to Believe and Reflections by DiCaprio

The report, Renewables Global Futures Report: Great Debates Towards 100 % Renewable Energy, showed that the majority of energy experts expect a continuous drop in the costs of RE technologies within the next decade. The revelations of the report shouldn’t surprise anyone anymore. This isn’t the first time we have heard of such expression of confidence in the ability of RE to take the place of conventional power sources in the energy mix.

In terms of pricing, various experts have already predicted that solar is likely to be the next king. The Bloomberg New Energy Finance, for one, has already said that the global average of solar cost might be lower than coal by the year 2025, as solar prices have already dropped by 62% since 2009. In my own personal experience the cost of panels went down by 35% in a span of less than one year.

Recent developments around the world have given energy experts more reasons to believe that an RE domination is indeed plausible. I share this view.

For example, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries or OPEC’s top producing nation, Saudi Arabia, is now investing heavily in renewable energy and its government intends to pour in $30 to $50 billion investments in renewables. The oil-rich kingdom is now in the planning stage of developing some 10 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy by 2023, starting off with solar and wind plants in the northwestern part of the country.  This move would replace some 80,000 barrels of oil daily used to supply its energy needs.

saudi-arabia-solar

Solar panels at King Abdulaziz City of Sciences and Technology, Saudi Arabia. Photo c/o Reuters

Aside from the falling cost of RE globally, the world is moving towards making a significant shift as evidenced by the closure of coal plants.

The report Boom and Bust 2017: Tracking the Global Coal Plant Pipeline made by environmental groups, Greenpeace, Sierra Club and CoalSwarm showed that closure or retirement of coal plants is at an unprecedented pace as total capacity of closed coal plants totaled to 64 GW in the last two years.

The study also showed a slowdown in construction of new power plants as there has been a 48% drop in the preconstruction activity and 62% decrease in construction of new coal plants from January last year up to January 2017.  India and China combined, have frozen some 100 coal projects totaling to 68 GW.

Such developments only show that the world is moving towards greener forms of energy. But while there has been much progress in shifting to more renewable sources for the world’s energy needs, the report stressed that there are still challenges in developing renewable energy.

Social awareness on the benefits of RE sources is considered as a major hurdle, according to the report.  “The lack of awareness that renewables are already economically competitive was also considered problematic.”

Additionally, the study also stressed the need to address energy policies if we are to move towards greater use of RE.  “The absence of long-term thinking in energy policy and the lack of specific policies for the high penetration of renewable energy systems were also seen as huge challenges,” the report stressed.

Such thoughts of the authors only echo what I have been saying for quite some time now.  Our energy planners had failed to look at the long-terms effects of choosing traditional sources of energy over renewable ones without looking at how such a choice hurts our environment. For a long-time, many energy planners refusing to believe in the potential of RE sources of being a clean and inexpensive option. “Costs” as defined by current energy planners do not factor in risk. As a result, we can make seriously flawed options in our choice for energy source.

This penchant for only considering the short-term profits in energy planning is one of the topics tackled in the documentary, Before the Flood, produced by National Geographic and Oscar awardee, Leonardo DiCaprio. One of the interviewees in the documentary, environmental scientist, and director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center, Michael Mann noted how leaders and large global corporations have pushed the world into ignoring the effects of traditional sources of energy: “These people are engaged in an effort to lead us astray in the name of short-term, fossil fuel profits, so we end up in a degraded planet.”

Unfortunately, we are now suffering the consequences of our short-sightedness, refusing to believe in the potential of RE sources of being a clean and inexpensive option. DiCaprio, in the documentary, offered a reflection, which energy planners should be asking themselves: “Imagine the world right now if we’d taken the science of climate change seriously back then. Since then our population has grown by five billion people and counting. The problem has become more difficult to solve.”

There is, however, some glimmer of hope as some energy planners are now seeing the need to replace traditional sources of power with renewables as evidenced by the growth in investments in the sector. In 2015 alone, global investments in RE reached some $256.8 billion; double the amount poured in fossil power for the same year. The rise of renewables is undeniable, as even developing nations that suffer most from the effects of climate change are investing more in renewables compared to the rich countries. It seems like a great number of energy planners is seeing the value of choosing cleaner energy options.

Many planners still reject the idea of renewables dominating the energy mix, despite the recent development on RE, particularly, the falling costs of both wind and solar power prices. But perhaps the predictions by energy experts about the falling prices of RE, recent developments such as the one in Saudi Arabia, coupled with a strong campaign for renewables, will do the trick. Convincing energy planners and policy makers that the best way to move forward with our energy needs is to develop more renewable sources is a tedious task but must be done nevertheless.

References:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-02-14/saudis-warm-to-solar-as-opec-s-top-producer-aims-to-help-exports

REN21 Renewables Global Futures Report

http://www.ren21.net/future-of-renewables/global-futures-report/

Boom and Bust 2017: Tracking the global coal plant pipeline

http://www.greenpeace.org/india/en/publications/Boom-and-Bust-2017/

Ignoring the Numbers

Just recently, United States President, Donald Trump signed an executive order, which mainly seeks to overturn his predecessor, Barrack Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

To recall, then President Obama announced the Clean Power Plan in August 2015 in response to the growing clamor to address climate change. The Plan’s primary objective is to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) subsequently issued the Carbon Pollution Standards, the first U.S. national standard on pollution.

Trump’s EO will trigger the review of the US Clean Power Plan and carbon standards for new coal plants. News reports, however, note, that it is unclear if the US will keep its commitment to made in COP 21 agreement to keep the world’s average temperature below two centigrade above pre-industrial levels.

Reports also quoted Trump as saying that his order is about “ending the theft of prosperity” as the signing of the EO will “start a new era of production and job creation,” particularly in the coal and mining sector.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that the new US President is ignoring the actions and calls of the global community to work double time to mitigate the effects of climate change. After all, he has promised to bring coal mining jobs back while dismissing climate change as “a hoax created by the Chinese” during his presidential bid.

More details are yet to be released on the full impact of this new executive order. But as early as now, environmental activists are already criticizing Trump for going backward on the progress already made by the US in fighting climate change. The U.S, once considered as the leading country in the world’s quest for a cleaner and greener world is now seemingly going backward.

I also join the many others who question Trump’s move in signing such an E.O. as Trump seemed to have ignored that cleaner forms of energy, do generate jobs. Many jobs in fact.

Weeks before Trump signed his controversial order, the US Department of Energy (DOE) released a report showing the contribution of the renewable energy (DOE) sector in jobs creation in the country.

The US, Energy and Employment Report revealed that solar power employs the most workers in the US Electric Power generation industry with wind energy is the third biggest. Solar alone provided work for 43 percent of the sector’s employees with 374,000 individuals from 2015 to 2016. In contrast, traditional fossil fuels all together just hired 22 percent of the workforce at 187, 117 for the same period. Coal’s job figures have been on the decline for the past decade the report stressed.

And renewables’ contribution to the additional employment in the power sector is not to be ignored either. The Energy Sector’s contribution to the overall job generation is significant as it accounts for some additional 300,000 jobs, which is 14 percent of the US job growth in 2016.

Plus, RE’s job growth is significant as it increased by 25 percent, creating a total of 73,000 new jobs last year.  Wind power employment alone grew by 32 percent.

The growth of the renewables has been significant in the past decade as more energy are generated from these sources the report stressed: “The electric generation mix in the United States is changing, driven by the transition of coal-fired power plants to natural gas and the increase in low-carbon sources of energy.”

The study pointed out that generation from coal sources has dropped by 53 percent from 2006 to September 2016 while solar power alone has increased by 5000 percent in the same period.

And with the stellar growth of cleaner energy, jobs are still created.

“These shifts in electric generation source are mirrored in the sector’s changing employment profile, as the share of natural gas, solar, and wind workers increases, while coal mining and other related employment is declining.”

china-solar-energy

Solar alone provided work for 43 percent of the sector’s employees with 374,000 from 2015-2016.  Photo c/o http://www.zmescience.com

Trump stressed during the signing of the report that the main thrust of the EO was to protect American jobs. But apparently, the above numbers released by the U.S. DOE shows that adding cleaner forms of energy in the mix does not necessarily translate into the loss of jobs. Renewable power generation also requires manpower.

The US DOE study isn’t the only one that talks about job generation in the RE sector. Earlier studies have already established that increasing investments in renewables will generate employment.

Research by the University of California, Berkeley has shown that “photovoltaic technology produces more jobs per unit of electricity than any other energy source. Most of the jobs are in construction and installation of solar facilities and can’t be outsourced to other countries.”

Similarly, the report of the University of Massachusetts, “The Economic Benefits of Investing in Clean Energy in the US” stressed that a total of $150 billion of investments in clean energy would produce some 2.5 new million jobs.

Inevitably, these numbers point to one thing: Clean energy generates jobs. Choosing cleaner forms of energy does not come at the expense of the workers. On the contrary, more employment opportunities are available as we grow the RE sector.

Industry experts are bewildered on how Trump will deliver his promise of bringing more jobs to the coal industry.  Jason Bordoff, founding director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, says that it is impossible to bring back coal jobs. “There isn’t a lot of investment activity because in some cases it looks more economically attractive for firms to invest in cleaner technologies.”

Additionally, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis or IEEFA, in its 2017 U.S. Coal Outlook stressed that job losses would continue for coal industry as companies will continue to use fewer workers in the future: Promises to create more coal jobs will not be kept — indeed the industry will continue to cut payrolls.”

Plus, the IEEFA sees that natural gas will soon replace coal, which makes it almost impossible to for Trump to achieve his goal: “Trump’s false promise that he can bring back coal is really exposed as so much coal dust and mirrors by this executive order, since utilities will continue to use natural gas instead of coal.”

Sadly, the US President didn’t look at these numbers nor listened to industry experts.

References:

http://edition.cnn.com/2017/03/27/politics/trump-climate-change-executive-order/

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-solar-power-employs-more-people-more-oil-coal-gas-combined-donald-trump-green-energy-fossil-fuels-a7541971.html

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-energy-idUSKBN16Z1L6

https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2017/01/f34/2017%20US%20Energy%20and%20Jobs%20Report_0.pdf

https://www.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan/fact-sheet-overview-clean-power-plan

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/donald-trump-coal-mining-jobs-promise-experts-disagree-executive-order-a7656486.html

Green is Gold: How renewable energy can save us money and generate jobs”. Greenpeace

Note: UCLA Berkeley & University of Massachusetts studies are cited from the Greenpeace report.