A More Cost Effective Alternative

Even before he assumed office, US President Donald Trump vowed to bring back jobs to the coal sector. Shortly, after elections, he signed an executive order to overturn the Clean Power Plan to revive the coal industry.

However, it seems like his efforts did not stop US utilities from shutting down coal-fired plants. Last year, 27-coal-fired plants with a combined 22 gigawatts (GW) capacity were announced for closure and early this year, energy companies have said that that they will close down at least five coal plants with more than a 1000 GW total capacity.

These announcements of closure are not surprising. Coal generation in the US has declined by 28 percent from 2012 to 2015 as more energy companies realized that shifting to Renewable Energy (RE) is the most cost-effective solution in bringing down power rates. In fact, several US utility companies are set to retire their coal plants and replace them with RE ones.

For example, the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM), the largest energy company in New Mexico, which boasts of roughly half a million customers will start retiring coal by the year 2022. PNM, which generated approximately 56 percent of its power from coal in 2015 will begin shutting down coal plants as it plans to produce all its power from solar energy, natural gas and even wind power in a bid to improve their financials and lower rates.

PNM’s Integrated Resource plan for 2017-2023 released April last year concluded that phasing out coal completely was the best way for the firm to match the demand for power with the lowest cost in the coming years. According to PNM’s estimates, the company’s most cost-effective portfolio is to increase the use of renewables to 36 percent and 33 percent from natural gas by 2035 from 11% and 6% respectively in 2017.

Similarly, Wisconsin’s largest utility, We Energies decided to shut down its 1.2 GW Pleasant Prairie coal plant this year. The energy company with its 2.2 million customers, sourced 50.6 percent of its capacity from coal in 2015 and will replace a portion of the size with its 350 MW solar power plant by 2020.

Likewise, in Texas, Luminant, an energy firm that supplies some 18 GW of power has decided to close its 1.8 GW Monticello power plant in January as well as two other coal plants with a combined generation company of 2.3 GW and will replace the lost capacities from coal plants with wind power. So far, the firm can generate 21 GW of wind power and additional 14-27 GW solar power by the year 2030.

These are just some of the major utilities in the US that are now moving away from coal and shift to cleaner forms of energy, and there are more. After all, contrary to those opposed to RE, it is possible to go 100 percent renewables.

We do not have to look far to see such an example. Recently, the local government of Guimaras, the small island province in the Visayas announced its “Guimaras 100% Coal Free Declaration,” a ban on coal-fired plants in the province. In his speech, Guimaras Governor Samuel Gumarin said that “The people of Guimaras have embraced renewables over dirty, polluting energy. We want to show that a sustainable-development path, powered by renewable energy, is not only possible but more viable.”

guimaras

Windmills in Guimaras. The province declared a complete ban on coal power. Photo c/o http://www.evwind.es

 

Guimaras is not the only province in the country that favors RE. Last March, the Bohol local government through its Bohol Energy Development Advisory Group or BEDAG has decided to prevent the building of new coal plants in the province. In a statement, the BEDAG said: “the BEDAG and the entire Provincial Government of Bohol are fully intent on maintaining the sanctity and pristine condition of the environment.”

The development came after the provincial government via an SP ordinance has declared environmental impact as the most important consideration for the selection process for interested energy developers as part of the province’s energy development program. The provincial government will institutionalize its “No Coal” stand through an ordinance.

The above examples only show that it is possible to shift from coal power to cleaner energy. Unfortunately, while others are already shutting down coal-fired plants to lower energy costs, we in the Philippines are busy building them since 90 percent of the roughly 7300 MW capacity approved or already for construction by the Energy Department are coal-fired power plants. This despite calls from experts, world and business leaders to work extra hard to make the shift to greener forms of energy possible.

I wonder how long and what will it take to convince others that RE is the practical choice for all of us.

References:
https://www.forbes.com/sites/energyinnovation/2017/05/18/embracing-the-coal-closure-trend-economic-solutions-for-utilities-facing-a-crossroads/#1f05af1b1c99
http://www.iloilotoday.com/2018/02/guimaras-declares-coal-free-receives.html

http://www.boholchronicle.com.ph/2018/04/02/govt-blinks-no-to-coal-power-in-bohol/

Everyone Is Reaping The Benefits of Lower RE Prices, But What About Us?

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) says that all renewable energy technologies will be at par with fossil fuel costs by the year 2020.

In its report, Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2017, the organization noted the significant drop of prices from 2010 for both solar photovoltaic (PV) power, which dropped by 73 percent and onshore wind by 23 percent.

At present, onshore wind power average cost is at $0.06 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) while solar is to $0.10. These amounts are close to the cost of electricity generation from fossil fuels, which is somewhere between $0.05 to $0.17 per kWh.

The study predicts that solar prices will trim down by as much as 50 percent by 2020 and that in the next couple of years, both RE technologies are likely to cost $0.30 per kWh.

For the director general of IRENA, these falling costs are an indication that significant changes are about to sweep the energy sector: “These cost declines across technologies are unprecedented and representative of the degree to which renewable energy is disrupting the global energy system,” he noted.

The report also stresses that soon the RE sector will flourish even without subsidies and will continue to do so with the proper government support: “Already today, and increasingly in the future, many renewable power generation projects can undercut fossil fuel-fired electricity generation, without financial support. With the right regulatory and institutional frameworks in place, their competitiveness should only further improve.”

 

solar prices

Solar prices will trim down by half by 2020. Photo c/o http://www.wsj.com

 

Fortunately for the Philippines, we have access to plenty of sunlight. In fact, one study showed that the country could generate as much as 16.17 watts per square meter of solar power. However, our regulatory framework and support for the RE sector are weak. This means we cannot hope to lower down the costs of our renewables unlike what is happening in other countries.

We have to keep in mind that traditional sources of energy continue to dominate our energy mix and will continue to do so in the next 10 years. A BMI Report said that the share of coal is likely to increase by 10 percent over the decade, “The share of coal [is]actually increasing over our 10-year forecast period—from just under 50 percent in 2017 to over 55 percent by 2027,” BMI noted.

The Fitch-owned BMI also sees that RE will contribute around 20 percent of the total power mix in 2020 and a decrease to 16 percent in 2027.

Now, those figures are alarming since the above numbers do not reflect our government’s commitment to shifting to greater use of renewables, to as much as a third of the power mix. This is a point stressed even by BMI: “However the country has released few details on how they intend to reach its target, particularly given the dominance of coal in the project pipeline,”

So, while other countries around the world are enjoying lower costs of power because of RE, the Philippines is not only being left behind but will also have to endure the complete opposite of lower costs of energy: the higher cost of power.

As I have been saying again and again in this blog, our dependence on traditional sources of power comes at a high cost because we import our raw materials, particularly coal from other countries.

The BMI estimates that the Philippines imports around 75 percent of its coal supply from Australia and Indonesia. We pay for these imports in dollars.

Let us not forget that experts predict that the Philippine Peso will be the worst performing currency in Asia this year. The head of trading for the Asia Pacific at Oanda Corp. in Singapore, Stephen Innes even described the Philippine peso as “ the local whipping boy in the region.” Just in the middle of February, the Philippine Peso hit an 11-year low as it fell to P52.12 against the United States dollar.

And as the peso falls against the dollar, we can expect higher power rates. Last February, the biggest power distributor in the country, Meralco has announced a rate hike of P1.08 per kilowatt hour (kWh). This means that the average household consuming 200 kWh per month will need to shell out additional P216 for their monthly bill for January partly because of the depreciation of the peso against the greenback.

That’s just the problem with relying heavily on coal power plants. The Filipino people end up paying more for their power consumption for things beyond their control such as the peso depreciation or increase of costs of imported coal because these two are passed on costs to consumers. We could help alleviate the plight of the Filipino consumers if we can tap our natural resources and rely heavily on them for our energy needs instead.

It is ironic and sad that the Philippines, a country that has natural resources available for more development and use of RE, has to rely on imported coal for our energy needs. Clearly, something must be done about it to help alleviate the suffering of Filipino consumers.

References:

Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2017, IRENA

http://www.manilatimes.net/coal-top-55-ph-power-mix-2027/377594/

https://www.rappler.com/business/196059-philippine-peso-weakest-p52-us-dollar

http://www.manilatimes.net/meralco-hike-rates-p1-08-kwh-feb/378957/

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-12-21/philippine-peso-seen-as-asia-s-laggard-for-2018-as-deficit-grows

 

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

 

 

Running Out of Time

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2017 was the second hottest year on record. Photo c/o http://www.tbo.com

We can no longer ignore the effects of climate change. We are often reminded by environmentalist and experts alike that our planet is already suffering due to our neglect of the environment

At the first week of this year, we were greeted with the news from the Copernicus Climate Change Service that another record was broken in 2017 is it was the second hottest year only next to 2016.  

The agency noted that 2017 was “cooler than the warmest year on record, 2016, and warmer than the previous second warmest year, 2015,” since temperatures of last year averaged 14.7 degrees Celsius at the at the Earth’s surface.

 In an interview with Reuters,  head of Copernicus Jean-Noel Thepaut stressed that scientific consensus point to man-made emission as the cause of the global warming trend: “ “It’s striking that 16 of the 17 warmest years have all been this century.”

Those who have been following news about climate change are no longer surprised by this piece of information from Copernicus.

 Late last year, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said that the earth’s temperature for 2017 was likely to be one of the hottest on record based on the first nine months of the year, just slightly cooler than in 2016 when El Nino made the temperature rise to record-breaking levels.

Petteri Taalas, secretary general of the WMO back then emphasized that “The past three years have all been in the top three years in terms of temperature records. This is part of a long-term warming trend. We have witnessed extraordinary weather, including temperatures topping 50C in Asia, record-breaking hurricanes in rapid succession in the Caribbean and Atlantic reaching as far as Ireland, devastating monsoon flooding affecting many millions of people and a relentless drought in East Africa.

Aside from the earth’s temperature, there is another indicator showing how neglectful we have been on our planet

According to the United Nation’s weather flagship annual report, The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, the increase of the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in 2017 was at record speed, hitting a level that has not been reached for more than three million years.

The global average concentration of CO2 hit 403.3 parts per million (ppm) in 2016, up by 3.3 ppm in 2015 “because of a combination of human activities and a strong El Niño event.”

 UN’s report emphasized that it was around three to five million years ago when the Earth last experienced the same CO2 concentration rates.

 And just like the world’s temperature, the global average concentration of CO2 in 2017 is likely lower than the 2016 levels, but will still break records.

 Indeed, our planet is suffering from our lack of care for it. And experts agree that the world has to speed up the countermeasures needed to mitigate the risks of global warming. The head of UN Environment Erik Solheim said it best: “The numbers don’t lie. We are still emitting far too much and this needs to be reversed.”

 We are indeed breaking records. The wrong ones at that. It is time to swiftly act if we are serious in our fight against climate change.

 We should be alarmed by the numbers being presented to us. Unfortunately, our own records show that we are far from taking action in helping the global fight against climate change.

Data from the DOE shows that coal still accounted for almost half of our energy needs in 2016.  We are still in our business- as usual scenario, as there will be more coal power plants in the next decade. Roughly 90 percent of 7,300 MW of the planned power projects are coal as noted by the BMI Research of the Fitch Group.

 It is time to act now and take drastic measures to mitigate the effects of climate change. We may not be one of the world’s top polluter, but we need to remember that developing countries especially those who are prone to disasters such as the Philippines are the ones who suffer most because of everyone’s neglect of the environment.  

 Senator Loren Legarda raised strong points in her speech delivered during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP23) last year where she urged nations to implement the needed but painful measures to help the environment. “We have all heard the saying that what is ‘difficult is done at once’ but that ‘the impossible takes a little longer.’ But we are running out of time. We have to do both the difficult and the impossible at once.”

 Yes, we need to do the almost impossible task of paving the way for the renewable energy sector to flourish for the survival of the planet. May our local energy government officials heed the words of the good senator as the Philippines– a country that’s rich in natural resources– has been slow in increasing the share of renewables in its power mix.

 We need a stronger political will and resolve to ensure that we achieve our goal of shifting to cleaner forms of energy to help save our environment. After all, we are running out of time.

 References:

 https://www.rappler.com/science-nature/environment/188779-legarda-speech-cop23-bonn-germany

 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/nov/06/2017-set-to-be-one-of-top-three-hottest-years-on-record

 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/30/global-atmospheric-co2-levels-hit-record-high

 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-climatechange-temperatures/2017-was-second-hottest-year-on-record-after-sizzling-2016-report-idUSKBN1ET1JF

Suspense Is Only Good For Movies

I’ve written so many posts about how our local policies have been far from friendly to renewable energy (RE) developers like myself. But these days, it seems that the regulatory environment has even gone worse.

There is uncertainty in the sector given that our Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) is caught in a messy situation after the Ombudsman suspended the four ERC commissioners last December.

Just this week, the Court of Appeals has issued a 60-day Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on the suspension.  But then again, as the order suggests, it is just temporary stay order. What happens after 60 days? Also, will the resolutions approved by the suspended commissioners during the 60-day TRO period be deemed legal?

But the complication does not end with the suspension order and the TRO. There is a bill filed in the Lower House seeking the abolition of the ERC. It was sponsored by no less than the Speaker of the House, Pantaleon Alvarez.

The House Bill 5020 not only seeks to abolish the commission but is also pushing for the creation of a new quasi-judicial regulatory body, the Board of Energy as ERC’s replacement.  The new board will be an attached unit of the Department of Energy (DOE)  and will be composed of a Chairperson and two members appointed by the President upon the recommendation of the Energy Secretary.

All these developments are worrying since the ERC while being far from being an ideal regulator even before the chaos brought by the suspension, at least provided some comfort to the sector that somehow issues will eventually get resolved. So, is it essential to abolish the commission and replace it with a new one? A new entity might not be the answer to problems already hounding the ERC, especially if it is attached to the Department of Energy (DOE). It is not implausible to think that the DOE can come up with policies which, contrary to its opinion, may not be good for consumers in the long-run. So, it is essential that ERC, or its equivalent, must remain independent of the Executive Branch.

The bigger issue here is REGULATORY CAPTURE. And here, I am not even implying covert attempt to control the ERC. Because the deregulation and privatization were not ideally done, there are pockets of monopolies and monopsonies that make it difficult for the ERC to make sound decisions that benefit the Filipino consumers. Because of all these, the ERC is sometimes constrained to follow “jurisprudence” and those with vested interests will not question the commission’s decisions. Creativity and innovation in rule-making for the benefit of the Filipino consumer are gone.

For example, as I have explained previously, the commission had the incorrect appreciation and application of the Capital Asset Pricing Model in the tariff setting for cost recovery in power contracts. From the very beginning I have always questioned the use of the CAPM – a classic situation of the emperor not having clothes. The CAPM is NOT appropriate for the Philippines. We do not have a well-developed equity market. Our economy is controlled by a few families, thus obliterating the classic economic model of “perfect competition.”

Since all the cases in the past have been decided on this economic model, how can the ERC reverse itself without putting in jeopardy its previous decisions? Can you imagine the amount of money that may have to be REFUNDED to the consumers if someone can prove in court that the CAPM was wrongly used in the past,? Billions!

Unfortunately, the suspense on the fate of the ERC will not only affect RE developers but everyone in the sector, and ultimately, the Filipinos. At this point,  power sector players are probably holding their breaths, waiting for the next scene in the ERC saga. In the meantime, local power producers will be having a hard time obtaining loans and getting their power sales agreements (PSAs) approved, which might result in massive rotating blackouts as new capacities are stalled.

Newly minted ERC chairperson Agnes Devanadera has warned that the suspension would paralyze the power sector, could result in massive blackouts as the commission cannot act on P1.59 billion worth of PSAs.

Similarly,  BDO Capital & Investment Corp. president Eduardo Francisco stressed that lending to the industry might be affected by the Ombudsman’s order. Banks are likely to postpone approval of loans given the absence of off-take contracts. “We can give conditional approval, but usually conditions to lend are based on the ERC approved contracts. There will be an impact on lending,” he was quoted by The Philippine Star.

We do like suspense, but only if we are watching films or TV series.The uncertainty on ERC’s operations has no place in the real world. Hopefully, the mess in the ERC gets resolved quickly.

Let us keep in mind that the current administration is pushing for sustainable economic development, including the building of more public infrastructure in the next couple of years.  Our goal of putting up more bridges, airports, and roads cannot be achieved if we have an almost paralyzed or inefficiently functioning regulator in the Energy sector.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Path to 100

Just recently, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) released a study titled “Accelerating the Deployment of Renewable Energy Mini-Grids for Off-Grid Electrification.” The research tackled how the Philippines can promote better access to basic electricity services as the government works on achieving total electrification in the country.

The study came up with five major recommendations ranging from defining roles and responsibilities, having a strategic and comprehensive planning for electrification, promoting the setting up of micro-grids, reviewing the regulatory frameworks for mini-grid projects and increasing support for project development and execution.

Of these recommendations, several caught my attention.

10891-cobardor-island-solar-panels-lines-wide-angle

Our government must now seriously consider using RE for off-grid islands. Photo c/o ADB

IRENA, in its conclusion, stressed that the country needs to prepare a definite plan for off-grid electrification, with the government revising the current Missionary Electrification Development Plan “to focus on reliable energy electricity access to small, remote and isolated areas.” Part of which is to aim for a 24-hour electricity service that can support both commercial and industrial needs to enhance livelihood opportunities to increase incomes.

The report noted that such goal could be achieved by “strategically using renewable energy technologies (RETs), selected based on a least-cost approach to lower generation costs, improve reliability, increase service hours and avoid the use of fossil fuels.”

The reason for prioritizing RE for small and remote off-grid areas was underscored: “These technologies can reduce generation costs and increase service reliability and service hours, while simultaneously mitigating climate change and improving climate resiliency.”

Now, don’t these conclusions and recommendations of advocating the use of RE Technologies for off-grid islands by the IRENA sound familiar? I have been in fact, advocating almost the same recommendations and conclusions above.
For one, as I have been saying, renewables are the cheaper option as generation costs from them are not subject to global price changes and foreign exchange adjustments. On the other hand, traditional sources of power cause consumers to pay higher when the peso falls against the greenback or when prices of coal or oil surge in the world market.

Plus, of course, RE is obviously the better option to use to mitigate the effects of climate change.

But I’m not the only one who echo the calls made by the IRENA report. There are other reputable organization, too that are calling out our government to transition to RE for our energy needs.

For example, The Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) and Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC) earlier this year released a study emphasizing the need for RETs in off-grid islands. The research, “Electricity-Sector Opportunities in the Philippines: The Case for Wind- and Solar-Powered Small Island Grids” noted that “Small island grids powered by solar, wind, and other renewable energy could reduce dependence on expensive imported fossil fuel generation without compromising the availability of power and grid reliability.” In fact, the country can save up to Php10 billion if off-grid islands use RE rather than traditional power sources.

The report stressed that off-grid islands in the country could transition away from fossil-fuels to RE except for the country’s policies and regulations, which are already outdated: “Barriers to small island grid uptake of modern renewable energy power include outdated regulations that have not kept up with technology.”

Time and time again, we have heard experts urge our government to invest in RETs for stable and secure supply both for those in the main grid supply as well as for off-grid islands especially since our government aims to achieve 90% household electrification by the end of this year.

As of July 2016, household electrification rate is at 89.6%, which means some 2.36 million homes are either without power or with limited electricity services of four to six hours daily. Such is still far from our government’s goal “that every Filipino family shall have an equal opportunity to access basic electricity service.”

There is no doubt, as many experts suggest, that the path to complete electrification is RE. But I will have to stress that RE can do more than just help us achieve our goal of 100 percent electrification. In fact, renewables are the long-term solution needed for our country’s energy security. And the sooner we learn how to implement RE systems, the more secure our future will be.

References:

Electricity-Sector Opportunities in the Philippines: The Case for Wind- and Solar-Powered Small Island Grids

“Accelerating the Deployment of Renewable Energy Mini-Grids for Off-Grid Electrification.” IRENA

 

 

 

 

 

My New Year Wishes

This holiday is the time to reflect on the past year as well hope and pray for a better one. So, while wearing my renewable energy developer hat, let me share my new year wish list.

Top on my agenda for 2018 is the resolution of the ERC issue. Just last month four commissioners were suspended, which left the energy sector in limbo. This means that the sector is left paralyzed and this does not augur well for the New Year. 

Legal experts tell me that the basis for their suspension is skating on a very thin ice. And many are concluding that the move reeks of political vendetta. If these are true, then it is a development that does not bode well for our country. This undermines the very integrity of the regulatory framework and will bring about uncertainties on the security of investments in the sector. And this, obviously, will spell disaster for the entire economy. 

Equally important is for the players in the sector to realize important role of renewable energy (RE) on the economy. Yes, environmental sustainability is a crucial aspect, but using RE has a more significant benefit for households and businesses: the minimization of risk and lowering of power cost. This approach goes beyond the “least-cost” traditional view of energy planning. With the state of geopolitics, energy security and lowering of prices should be on the top agenda of the regulators today. Renewable energy has to be a priority. 

Related to risk minimization is the diversification of energy supply. Coal cannot and should not be relied upon solely for our energy needs. Natural gas has an important role to play in the country. Today, we source over 2,500 MW of our power needs from natural gas.  We cannot expect coal to replace that capacity when Malampaya runs out in seven years; Coal just does not have the physical characteristics intrinsic to natural gas. It is time to seriously consider how to develop Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). Unfortunately, a monopsony like MERALCO is not easily swayed to buy such a massive capacity of LNG. It is imperative for our government to be more creative in finding ways to introduce LNG into the country.

The proposal to have an Independent Market Operator (IMO) is long overdue. However, aside from the IMO, we should also have an Independent System Operator (ISO) to ensure complete independence in the dispatch and operations of the power network.

 Finally, the world will be going towards a phase of distributed generation and smart grids. The government must prepare for this by providing robust telecommunication and internet infrastructure since the current internet speed in the country is just unacceptable. Our telecom and internet should be vastly improved.

 Happy New Year, everyone!