What 2020 Taught Us

Image c/o https://www.sdmmag.com/


To say that the year 2020 was tough is an understatement. But the COVID-19 pandemic along with natural disasters we experienced in the Philippines in the last quarter of the year, have taught as many valuable lessons.

For one, the community quarantine imposed by the government exposed the vulnerabilities of the energy sector. 

The report by the Institute For Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEFAA) showed the downside of our inflexible coal baseload plants and long-term guaranteed contracts. 

The study entitled “Philippines Power Sector Can Reach Resilience by 2021” noted that the depressed demand for power due to the lockdown forced coal plants to turn to mid-merit load factor. This in turn increased the power cost per kilowatt-hour. The pass-on provisions of our Power Sales Agreements (PSA) that allow cost recovery for the independent power producers ensured that the higher costs are shouldered by consumers.

Our penchant for large volumes of baseload capacity running on imported fuel did not bode well for us given that 80% of baseload coal plants are inflexible. This means that fuel and other variable expenses in running power plants remained flat regardless of power demand. We may have experienced a depressed demand during the Enhanced Community Quarantine but plants had to run at their minimum operating levels.

The study, released in June, estimated that power consumers could be paying PHP9.679 billion more in power rates if energy sales volume decline by 10% in 2020. 

These illustrate what I have been pointing out as the downside of not having fixed-price contracts and our over-reliance on coal-fired plants. This pandemic served as a wake-up call to fix the problems of the sector for the benefit of consumers

On top of the prolonged lockdown and the ensuing community quarantines, the Filipinos unfortunately also had to deal with natural disasters in the last quarter of 2020. Typhoon Goni, referred to as Super Typhoon Rolly in the Philippines, caused heavy rainfall, landslides, and flooding in Luzon. The super typhoon, considered the strongest landfalling typhoon in the world for 2020 left massive destruction in Luzon especially in Albay, Catanduanes, Camarines Sur, and Quezon. 

Estimates showed that Super typhoon Rolly’s damage to infrastructure reached Php 11.3 billion, causing massive livelihood loss as battered areas rely heavily on the agriculture sector.

As if that wasn’t enough, less than two weeks after Rolly’s devastation, the Philippines was once again battered by Typhoon Vamco. Locally known as Ulysses, this typhoon triggered extensive flooding in many areas like Metro Manila, Rizal, Cagayan Valley and Isabella. Estimates show that its damages are around Php 20 billion, surpassing the damages caused by Typhoon Rolly.

These two typhoons are not the only ones to hit the country last quarter of the year. There were five in total in October and November, costing the Philippine economy Php90 billion in lost output. Plus, there was tropical depression Krovanh, or locally known as Vicky, which claimed lives and caused floods in some parts of CARAGA region just before Christmas.

These weather disturbances are due to the undeniable climate crisis. Our country, unfortunately, is among those most affected by natural disasters exacerbated by climate change, despite our meager contribution to the world’s carbon footprint.

Thus, it is imperative for us to also move fast in implementing effective mitigation. The wide adoption of renewable energy is one of the most effective climate change mitigation actions.

In the words of Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez, “Severe weather events inflict human, social, and economic costs on the Filipino people. We lose billions every year in damage to crops and infrastructure. These mounting losses dampen our overall economic progress. These costs will continue to accumulate unless we move fast on mitigation measures.”

The need for a swifter shift to more renewable energy use is more emphasized than ever. We may have been survivors of many weather disturbances and natural disasters but this pandemic should fuel action for faster mitigation measures. More so since experts have pointed out that climate change contributes to pandemics. 

We may have experienced some of the worst times, but there are still great lessons and developments to be thankful for.

For one, this pandemic has also accelerated the use of digital technologies locally. 

For example, more payment options now available allow customers to settle bills more conveniently, to avoid crowding in distribution utilities and coops’ offices and there will be more seamless and contactless payment options coming soon. Other technologies soon to be available are contactless meter application and remote reading, activation, and deactivation of power supply, to name a few.

There’s also the announcement of the Department of Energy of the moratorium on approval of new coal contracts. This announcement came as a surprise since the department had been insisting on its technology-neutral stand. 

For years, the Philippines has been lagging in its commitment to shift to renewable energy development. The country may have once been a leader in RE development having passed the RE law, but later failed to advance in renewable energy development.

Following DOE’s announcement is Yuchengco-led Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) surprising declaration that it will stop financing new coal coal-fired power projects in the Philippines. Now RCBC joins the ranks of Citigroup, Mizuho Financial Group, and Japan’s Sumitomo Banking Corporation banks that have already made the same move.

RCBC President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Eugene Acevedo made it clear that the bank will shift funding to renewables and gas-fired power facilities. “I’m going to say that moving forward, all our loans for energy projects will be non-coal, it will be 100 percent non-coal.”

It’s a statement that’s highly similar to the strategy of Finance Chief, Sonny Dominguez “Our rule should be simple: projects that are not green and sustainable should not see the light of day.” 

Shying away from financing coal-projects makes financial sense as renewable energy technology prices have been falling in recent years. According to Carbon Tracker, soon it will be cheaper for Southeast Asian countries to build renewable energy plants than continue using existing coal-fired plants. Coal plants run the risk of becoming stranded assets, which eventually will drain resources.

We may have limited control over the many unfortunate events that unfolded this year. But we do have the power to act by learning from them and ensuring that we do things better. Fortunately, recent developments give hope that indeed we are using crises as opportunities to make better policies and programs that are more responsive to modern times.

As We Plan for Economic Recovery

The energy sector should also be overhauled to support government efforts to rebuild the economy. Image c/o http://www.benzinga.com

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a global recession. Here in the Philippines, the imposed months-long lockdown caused our economy to contract as much as 16.5 percent in the second quarter of 2020. Economists predict that the Philippine economy will likely experience an 8 percent negative growth for 2020.

Our government is banking on its flagship infrastructure program, “Build, Build, Build” to revive our battered economy. It has allocated P1.1 trillion, equivalent to 5.4 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP) to infrastructure projects in 2021.

For the power sector, this means higher demand for electricity as we as build more roads, bridges, ports, railways stations, and airports.

As we start planning for the Philippines’ economic recovery we should also overhaul our energy sector now so we can support our government’s effort to rebuild our economy. We need to address the short-term and long-term price stability so we can meet the demand for more power at cheaper prices.

The Philippine Peso has been touted as the best performing currency in Asia, strengthening 4% against the United States dollar. We can take advantage of the Peso’s strength by purchasing all imported fuel that’s oil-based or indexed to global prices while the Peso is strong. Let us remember that our fossil fuels are based on the U.S. dollar and indexed to global prices, and we have plenty of power plants that are importing coal and oil.

I have always talked about how a weak peso and increasing fuel costs hurt Filipino consumers because our Purchase Sales Agreements (PSAs) have pass-through provisions in previous posts. Consumers end up paying more for a weaker peso and more expensive imports. But a strong peso against the dollar can be used to our advantage as we can now use them to lower electricity prices for the next few years.

The government can order all power plants to buy all their fuel requirements in advance. Doing so will place a cap at fuel prices at today’s prevailing prices and foreign exchange rates. Power plants can buy years worth of their fossil fuel requirements so they can fix their prices at a rate that’s advantageous for their consumers.

This is a short-term solution. To ensure stable prices in the years ahead, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) should require a higher level of fixed-price contracts. I’ve been advocating for fixed-priced PSAs since the pass-on provisions always burden the consumers when the peso is weak and the global fossil fuel prices increase.

Likewise, the government can also order the off-takers of the Malampaya gas to purchase either part or all of the remaining gas so the prices of power will be pegged at current prices and present forex rates. The reasons are the same as my first suggestion for buying fuel requirements in advance. After all, the Malampaya gas is also based on prevailing forex and oil prices. 

One might argue that distribution utilities may not have enough funding to import fossil fuels and or purchase the Malampaya gas. However, we have our government banks, Land Bank and Development Bank of the Philippines that can lead a consortium of local banks to help purchase fossil fuels in advance.

Pegging fossil fuels at current global prices and forex rates will directly impact households and micro, small, medium enterprises (MSMEs) as they will be paying less for electricity. This is especially beneficial now as most Filipinos have less money to spend due to the economic recession. Taking away uncertainty is always a good option – it is valuable.

And to ensure long-term stable energy prices, our government should allow competition at the power distribution level. We have the Electric Power Industry Reform Act or EPIRA but there’s little competition still. In the past we thought that the wires business is a “natural” monopoly.  Latest developments in technology is showing that it ism not.  There are even non-wire alternatives (NWA) to power distribution.

 Currently, the the thinking is that two or more franchise holders for the same area is harmful. This policy, however, results in a monopoly, which does not benefit consumers. A monopoly doesn’t give the franchise holder any incentive to constantly innovate and improve its services.  Allowing more players will push utility companies to provide better services at cheaper rates to consumers. There are ways to improve the service to consumers through competition.

A clear definition of a load profile will also benefit us all in the long-run. Currently, our current procurement rules do not result in an efficient deployment of our energy resources because the ERC focuses on individual contracts. Consumers are paying more for power because we are not deploying power cost-effectively.

Coal-fired power, which is best used for baseload power is also being used for mid-merit power, thus whatever cost advantage of coal goes away. This happens because current procurement rules do not require ECs or DUS to differentiate the different power requirements. We need to define a load profile and regulate the appropriate levels of baseload, mid-merit, and peaking. The DOE and ERC can work on the limits and ensure that these are reflected in PSAs. The ERC should reject contracts that fall outside these limits. The recent announcement of DOE that there will be a moratorium in the issuance of permits for coal-firepower plants is a step in the right direction.

Reviving our economy requires the cooperation of all. For the power sector, this means ensuring sustainable and affordable electricity. More so since according to the Philippine Energy Plan 2018 to 2040 draft, local electricity demand is set to increase by an average of 6.7% annually. We can only meet this demand while making power rates cheaper by fixing the ills of our sector now.

Energy Transformation is What We Need

Sydney is powered by 100% renewable energy. Photo c/o https://www.energymatters.com

There’s been some good news on the renewable energy sector in recent months.

For one,  the City of Sydney, the biggest city in Australia, recently announced that is now powered by 100% renewable energy. This means that all public operations such as sports facilities, street lights, buildings, and the historic town hall in the city that’s home to 250,000 residents are running on clean energy starting July 1. The feat was made possible by a power purchase agreement (PPA) valued at $60 million, saving the city roughly half a million dollars annually over the next 10 years.

 Plus, there’s the United Kingdom (UK), which was able to generate almost half of its power needs from renewables in the first quarter of the year. The UK government data showed that renewable power made up 47% of the country’s electricity in the first three months of the year, breaking the previous set quarterly record of 39% in 2019. The substantial increase in the total renewable output of the UK was primarily driven by growth in power generated by wind farms and solar panels.

And RE sector’s record in the UK is likely to be broken in the coming years with the government’s plan for “a massive expansion of renewables as part of the UK’s green economic recovery” says Rebecca Williams, policy manager of RenwableUK, a non-profit renewable energy trade association.

Meanwhile, in the Philippines, the National Renewable Energy Board (NREB), recently reported that the renewable energy share in the power supply mix keeps on “dwindling.”

In 2015, renewable’s contribution to the supply generation mix was around 25%. RE’s share was even lower for 2016, 2017, and 2018 at 24.21%, 24.57%, and 23.38%, respectively. According to NREB Chairman Monalisa Dimalanta, renewable power’s share in 2019 was even lower at 21%.

In contrast, coal dominated the power mix, recording its highest share in 2018 at 52.05%.

As for the total installed capacity, the Philippines still is far from its target. Dimalanta notes that in 2019, RE capacity was only 5,000 megawatts (MW), more than 10,000 MW short of the 15,304 MW target by 2030.

But perhaps renewables contribution to the Philippines ’ power mix would be better in the following years. Hopefully, the government and the energy planners so engrossed in the faulty appreciation of the least cost method in power planning will finally appreciate what renewable power has to offer.

The COVID-19 has, after all, exposed the vulnerability of our energy sector. For a while, I was worried that Indonesia, the Philippines’ largest source of coal, would close its borders, thus putting our energy source at risk. Even the Energy Secretary has acknowledged that the coronavirus pandemic highlighted the need to ensure energy security by developing our indigenous resources.

Thankfully, the Indonesian government did not close its borders and stop the export of coal. But this pandemic should teach us valuable lessons, pushing us closer to clean energy transition. There’s a strong case for doing so given that experts have been saying that now is the best time to ramp up renewable energy development both locally and around the world.

For example, a policy paper, titled “Can COVID-19 spark an energy transition in the Philippines?” noted that this pandemic has provided an opportunity for the Philippines to pursue the development of more RE source more aggressively given that the lower coal generation due to the drop in power demand. 

The paper penned by Ateneo de Manila University economics department Associate Professor Majah-Leah Ravago and The University of Hawaii, Manoa economics department Professor Emeritus James Roumasset noted that “the rather dramatic fall in coal-fired generation may afford an opportunity for the Philippines to meet their renewable targets without resorting to costly subsidies.” 

The study noted that power demand dropped by 30% nationwide with coal generation decreasing from 56 to 48 %. On the other hand, generated energy from renewables remained the same with biomass and solar power generation rising slightly during our enhanced community quarantine.

Now is the best time, too to invest more in renewable energy projects says the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in its report “The Post-COVID Recovery.” It noted that the renewable energy sector has proven to be more resilient than other parts of the energy sector given the high shares of renewables continue to operate effectively. “Renewables have proven to be the most resilient energy sources throughout the current crisis. This evidence should allow governments to take immediate investment decisions and policy responses to overcome the crisis,” said Francesco La Camera, Director-General of IRENA.

The IRENA report added that accelerating the energy transition will bring substantial socio-economic benefits, specifically job creation. Aligning immediate stimulus action for the next three years, particularly from 2021 to 2023 and scaling up public and private energy spending to USD 4.5 trillion annually would boost the world economy by an additional 1.3 percent. 

This level of investment would also create 19 million more energy transition-related employment by 2030. Jobs in renewables power would grow to almost 30 million in 2030 from about 12 million in 2017. The study stressed that every one million dollars invested in renewables can provide three times more jobs than in fossil fuels.

I, along with other experts, have been arguing that the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic recession should not deter us from pursuing our clean energy transition goals. Like the experts quoted above, there’s an opportunity and a greater need for us to accelerate our shift to renewable energy.

A fast clean energy transition would reap enormous benefits for all and help in the global economic recovery. It also means ensuring energy security in the Philippines. And in the words of the IRENA President, “Now is the time to invest in a better future. Government policies and investment choices can create the necessary momentum to enact systemic change and deliver the energy transformation away from fossil fuels.”

Ditching the Notion of Least Cost

In a previous post, I have raised the possibility of Indonesia, our biggest source of coal, closing its ports because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, this didn’t happen as we would have major problems given that we source 90 percent of our coal from Indonesia.

But this doesn’t mean that we should refrain from overhauling our energy sector. After all, this pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities in our energy sector especially since we are a fossil-reliant power country.

A study by the Institute For Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEFAA) discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the weaknesses of the power sector. 

The report entitled “Philippines Power Sector Can Reach Resilience by 2021” stressed that our energy market, which relies heavily on fossil fuels because our energy planners prefer the least cost method, has not delivered on its promise of being the cheapest cost of energy. On the contrary, our reliance on large scale fossil fuel plants with guaranteed contracts have resulted in grid inflexibility, and price instability.

The researchers noted that the sector for so long has focused almost exclusively on mobilizing capital for large volumes of baseload capacity that runs on imported fuel. Unfortunately, coal plants are inherently inflexible, and in the Philippines 80% of baseload coal plants are inflexible.

The lockdown, the IEFAA said, has exposed the downside of the guaranteed contracts with coal plants.

According to the authors, with the depressed demand for power, coal plants are turning to their mid-merit load factors, which have a higher per kilowatt-hour rate. This is all thanks to our power sales agreements (PSAs) that ensure capital recovery for coal plants. 

The study pointed out that our PSAs have provision for capacity payments, which is the payment to ensure that the coal investor can recover their capital “it is designed to ensure IPPs can recover their capital costs and repay their loans on a timely basis. This means that neither the financial sector nor the power sector is liable for the risk they take, as these are passed on to end-users who are ill-equipped to manage such risk.”

And with the depressed demand for power, coal plants are turning to their mid-merit load factors, which in turn increases the cost per kilowatt-hour. Thus, Filipino consumers have to pay more for every kilowatt-hour, thanks to the pass-on cost provisions of the PSAs.

By just how much will consumers have to shoulder for these capacity payments? According to the study, if there is a 10% decline in energy sales volume for 2020 and if power comes from fossil plant with the usual PSA with the capacity payments clause, then end-users will have to fork out PHP9.679 billion (USD 193.573 million) in 2020. Now, that’s a lot.

All this could have been avoided if we had fixed-term contracts where our consumers will pay the same price regardless of the power demand. As I have been saying in the past, these pass-on provisions burden the consumers. I have been proposing for fixed-price contracts to protect consumers. This is the same recommendation of IEEFA of making fixed cost procurement.

Looking at our PSAs will help us understand what we are doing wrong in the energy sector. Having fixed-price long terms contracts will reduce our power rates regardless of technology. And as I have pointed out in previous blog posts, our PSAs are similar to asking Juan deal Cruz to shoulder the risks through the pass on costs, because our energy planners have a faulty appreciation of the least cost. But in reality and as IEEFA has stressed, big-scale fossil fuel plants have not delivered the least cost system but rather caused price instability.

Our least-cost approach has been faulty as we only base our decisions on the cheapest energy to generate by comparing technologies and choosing which sources are ‘cheaper’ than others. We exacerbate the problem by regulating the costs that can be passed on to Juan deal Cruz according to the returns we feel are owed to the investors rather than what consumers deserve.

The IEEFA study emphasized that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for the market to turn to more flexible dispatch strategies especially because of the dramatic drop in demand during the lockdown months. It is recommending for the Department of Energy to start pushing for grid flexibility, modular system, a moratorium on new inflexible power, and for the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to remove pass-through cost provisions and carve out curtailments for inflexible plants.

I would add further to these recommendations. As the government orders the immediate development of indigenous sources, our procurement rules should also change as the present rules for evaluating PSAs do not differentiate indigenous and imported energy. Thus, ERC should require distribution utilities to testify during procurement that there are no indigenous resources in the franchise area or that there are no offers from indigenous power producers.

It makes a lot of sense to recommend grid flexibility, modular dispatch, and grid upgrades via the inclusion of more renewable energy. This is nothing new. Renewable energy, after all, offers flexibility to a power system as they are capable of rapid start-up and dispatching adjustable capacity.

Plus, the prices of renewable technologies have been falling in the last few years. IEEFA noted that “The deflationary price trajectory of renewable electricity generation and storage triumphs over the cost of generating and moving electricity from a large fossil-fueled power plant.”  We can also have a fixed price for power sourced from indigenous materials. 

The IEEFA said it best when it noted that “Power sector planners assumed that a large system lock-in such as coal would lead to the least-cost system. Unfortunately, this lock-in for countries that import coal has led to inflexibility, price instability, and high prices.” And as we rebuild our economy, let us build better by addressing the ills in the energy sector. We can start by ditching the notion of least cost where we forget about the risks and only look at the upfront cost.

It bodes well for us to make a swifter transition to renewables. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has paralyzed most economic activities. By now we should be working double hard to revive our economy. We can start by addressing the high power rates in our country by replacing traditional sources of power with renewable energy to support businesses as they recover. The construction of renewable power plants will also provide more jobs for Filipinos, too.

When Private Sector Efforts Aren’t Enough

Recently, tech giant, Amazon announced three renewable energy projects totaling 265 megawatts (MW) that would provide power to its data centers. The tech giant said these new projects are all part of Amazon’s efforts to power 100% of its operations via renewable energy.

The three projects consist of a wind farm with a maximum capacity of 50 MW in Scotland, and two solar projects with 215 MW capacity in North Carolina and Virginia. All three projects are expected to start generating power by 2021.

Amazon’s new renewable energy is all part of the company’s commitment to helping the environment. “We are committed to minimizing our carbon emissions and reaching 80% renewable energy use across the company by 2024,” Amazon’s Director of Sustainability Kara Hurst said.

Amazon is not the lone global brand to make headlines recently for its commitment to renewable energy. Likewise, The Estée Lauder Group announced that it has already reached 100% in renewable power in the United States and Canada ahead of its target date. The brand also announced that it has signed a virtual power purchase agreement (VPPA) for wind energy. This makes the Estée Lauder Companies Inc the first prestige beauty firm to execute a VPPA.

Under the signed VPPA, the beauty company will purchase power 22 MW from the Ponderosa wind farm in Beaver County, Oklahoma owned by NextEra Energy Resource. The company says this new development is a great addition to its renewable portfolio “We’re so pleased to meet our 2020 RE100 commitment for North America early. Projects like the Ponderosa wind farm and others in our Net Zero portfolio are all significant achievements toward our commitments to address climate change,” said Nancy Mahon, Senior Vice President, Global Corporate Citizenship and Sustainability of The Estée Lauder Companies Inc.

Corporate renewable energy procurement has been aggressive in the last few years as private firms do their best to honor their commitments to zero emissions.

In 2018, corporate renewable energy deals were on a roll as clean energy contracts entered into by corporations more than doubled from 2017. There was a total of 13.4 gigawatts signed by 121 corporations across 21 nations last year.

Corporate renewable energy deals are impressive but are they enough to meet the world’s commitment of net-zero carbon by 2050?

The answer is no, since gas, oil and coal still dominate the energy mix according to Nick Butler, chairman of The Policy Institute at King’s College London and energy commentator for Financial Times. He stressed that in 2018, only $300 billion out to $1.8 trillion in investments in the energy sector went to renewables. The rest of the money went into fossil fuels, particularly gas and oil.

Butler says the established hydrocarbons for energy remain resilient since renewables only supply five percent of the global power demand. Within 10 years, renewable power is only likely to contribute 12 percent to global energy. Coal will continue to dominate in the next few decades.

This is not to say that renewables will never be the primary source of energy. Butler points out that renewables could dominate the world’s power mix but it will take more than 20 years.

The chairman says that the key to a faster energy transition is more involvement from the public sector. So far, return on investments for renewable energy is still far from the returns in oil and gas projects.

Butler proposes the adoption of a mixed economy model where the state will provide long-term capital to balance the low rate of with the value that renewable power brings to the public. He cites the cases of BP, and Equinor, formerly known as Statoil. The latter was put up by the Norwegian government as the state’s oil company and later became a major player in the gas market and the world’s largest oil and gas offshore operator. The company has rebranded into Equinor and now actively investing in solar energy and offshore wind.

For the Philippines, this will require a major shift in its energy policy.  The EPIRA clearly steered the Philippine power sector to more private investments rather than the government. Its intention was to make the power sector “market driven.”  Unfortunately the Philippine energy market is not efficient and still too young to be a reliable indicator of market prices.  Therefore relying on this current market structure will not bring in new renewable energy projects in the scale and speed at which we need to put in place in the country.

There are ways to make the shift possible even under the current EPIRA regime.  The Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) regulation is one way to go albeit its contribution will be very small. The issuance of a tariff policy requiring more stable power rates will help bring this surge in renewable energy investments.  There are other ways.  However, the government must first realize the need for more RE investments.  Otherwise, all its policies and directives will be palliative solutions to what is going to be a major challenge in the country’s energy security situation.

https://www.theclimategroup.org/news/est-e-lauder-companies-inc-achieves-100-renewable-electricity-us-and-canada-ahead-schedule-and

https://cleantechnica.com/2019/11/13/corporate-green-energy-adoption-flourishes/

https://www.cnbc.com/2019/10/24/amazon-announces-three-new-renewable-energy-projects.html

 

Getting Ready for IoT

The Speedtest Global Index ranked the Philippines 103rd out of 139 surveyed countries in terms of mobile internet speed. Our average internet mobile download speed is 15.06 megabits per seconds (Mbps), which is significantly lower than the global average of 26.12 Mbps Our average is even slower than war-torn Syria which has 19.48 Mbps and Zimbabwe’s 15.2 Mbps

For fixed-line internet, our country was again one of the slowest placing 101 out of 179 countries in the study. While the global average is 57.91, ours was much slower at 19.51. That’s not even half of the speed of the global average.

Just last September, 1-Pacman Rep. Mikee Romero filed a bill in Congress seeking to establish and create a comprehensive broadband control and management framework.

HB 185 or the National Broadband Development Act aims to create more efficient Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and broadband services in the country. The bill seeks to create an integrated policy environment that would lead to a broad market-led development of the ICT enabled services. The bill aims to expand and establish ICT infrastructure to enable the continuity of ICT-broadband based services that can help support the government’s economic objectives.

In the bill’s explanatory note, Rep. Romero says he hopes ” to ensure universal access to quality services, promote the development and widespread use of emerging new ICT technologies, and to ensure the availability and accessibility of services in all areas.”

Of course, it’s embarrassing that the Philippines has one of the slowest internet speeds in the world. We need a stable and reliable internet connection not only because we need to stream in high definition or so that we can enjoy internet-based games.

No, we need a faster and reliable internet connection for economic development. We need this reliable internet so our consumers can have better energy choices and control their consumption. The power sector, after all, is in the cusp if not already in a massive transformation phase with the emergence of renewable energy and storage technologies. Plus, of course, there’s the Internet of Things or IoT.

IoT, in its simplest explanation, is about the connectivity of one device with an on and off switch to the internet or a massive network of connected things. This means that “anything that can be connected, will be connected.”

And as the internet is widely becoming more available, there are more devices produced with Wifi capabilities and built-in sensors. Smartphone penetration is also high as more phone makers are making them affordable. In the energy sector, IoT is revolutionizing every aspect of the power industry including generation, transmission, and distribution.

Just how is IoT changing the energy industry?

For starters, sensors allow for the remote maintenance of the generation, transmission and distribution equipment. There’s the digital twin technology that creates an advanced digital model of an existing piece of equipment. When connected to the physical equipment the digital twin technology can collect data about the equipment’s performance remotely. This also means that such technology will allow virtual troubleshooting and support even in remote areas. Imagine, being able to monitor the performance of our energy equipment in remote and hard to reach areas by simply clicking on mobile phones.

IoT also allows for a more distributed grid. With the growth of home solar panels, both homeowners and businesses are now generating their own power. And generating your own power is not limited to solar technology as there are also some building their small wind turbines.

The smart grid powered by IoT is indeed enabling the distributed energy transformation. And with distributed energy, grid operators can handle the demand changes on their grids. Smart grids let grid operators detect and react to the supply and demand of power remotely. This is all thanks to the fact that they can obtain information in real-time without having to rely on their on-site equipment.

Speaking of grid management, IoT also helps in better grid management as sensors placed in distribution lines and substation generates real-time power consumption data, which helps grid managers make decisions about a variety of things like network configuration, voltage control, and load switching.

IoT

IoT gives empowers consumers. Photo c/o http://www.electricalindia.com

Indeed, there are many benefits that IoT brings in the world of power. But one of the best things about this technology is that it gives more options. Hence, more power at the hands of the consumers.

Running low on budget and need to cut down on household expenses? IoT can help you. This is because of smart devices and smart meters that help customers make informed choices on their power usage.  Imagine having smart devices that can measure the power consumption of each device and appliances that can be installed in homes. Consumers can then use such information to figure out which are power-hungry appliances and optimize their use to save on power costs. 

Clearly, internet connection is changing the way we do things including in the energy sector. As such, our government should find ways to make reliable internet affordable and accessible. Sustainable and affordable power in the Philippines is achievable if we do invest in our ICTs as well.

And its not just about improving internet connectivity in the country. As we move towards a more distributed and more connected electricity system, our Department of ICT and local energy players should start investing time, effort and resources in Critical Information (CIP) standards. CIP is what helps keeps safe smart grids from attacks. It sets out the minimum security requirements for power assets that are critical to a country’s bulk electric system. Naturally, the growth of internet-connected sensors and control systems come with some vulnerabilities.

In the United States, the National Institute of Standards and Technology is on the lookout for vendors that will help in developing solutions to secure the IoT. Our regulations and plans in the future must also figure in cyber protection.

The Department of ICT (DICT) should also go beyond just common towers. It should tap the country’s power transmission and distribution towers and poles for a common fiber optic policy. Today, each telco enters into a Pole Sharing Agreement with power utilities. So we can see not only one fiber optic in our poles, but three or even more. Not only does this make our telco or cable tv services expensive, it also messes up the wires and poles of the utility.

Our government should be rolling out their sleeves and getting ready for work as the world moves towards greater use of ICTs and broadband services. Let’s go beyond simply looking at internet speeds and accessibility and figure out how cutting edge technologies are transforming various sectors including the power sector. We are now moving away from the traditional models of power distribution, generation, and transmission and we need stable internet, increased information security and appropriate regulations so that we can enjoy the benefits of IoT.

References:

https://www.philstar.com/business/2019/09/08/1949856/bill-seeks-faster-internet-connection-philippines

https://www.renewableenergymagazine.com/emily-folk/how-iot-is-transforming-the-energy-industry-20190418

https://www.utilitydive.com/news/security-and-distributed-resources-an-attacker-will-eventually-get-in-s/565966/

Missed Targets Equal Expensive Power

The Department of Energy (DOE) says it’s now updating the country’s renewable energy targets.

The DOE admits that the country has failed in meeting its targets 10 years after the Renewable Energy Act was enacted. That’s not surprising given the constant increase of approved coal power plants in the last few years.

That’s not surprising given the constant increase of approved coal power plants in the last few years.

That’s the sorry state of the renewable energy development in the Philippines. Our slowness in adopting cleaner forms of power means that we are missing the benefits of renewables such as jobs generation, a cleaner environment, and cost savings.

Our reliance on traditional sources of energy is costing Filipinos a lot of money. And it is the reason why we have one of the highest electricity prices in the world.

The above points are not only my assertion. In fact, studies after studies have shown that we are paying a high price for our dependence on coal.

One of the recent studies with the same conclusion is the report entitled “Prospects Improve for Energy Transition in the Philippines” by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA). The finding of the report struck me as it echoes what I have been saying all this time.

According to IEEFA, fuel price pass-throughs have inflated power prices in the Philippines.

It is no secret that our country has the highest power prices among Southeast Asian countries. Our energy prices are also considered relatively high compared to global standards by roughly Php10 per kilowatt-hour. (KwH) The report points out that, this is due to our reliance on imported fossil fuel, high financing cost, and uncompetitive market structures.

The report cites one coal plant of 167.4 MW as an example, which was supposed to deliver Php3.96 per kilowatt based on a signed power sales agreement (PSA) price in 2016. Unfortunately, the coal plant, on an average delivered PHp2 per kWh more than the agreed price in the PSA and even reaching Php7.11 per kWh. As I have been pointing out, the difference of the price was passed on to consumers, all thanks to the “pass-through” provisions in the contracts. Sadly, it is the Filipinos who suffer from such instances as they are the ones who have to pay the cost of fluctuations in foreign exchange rates and coal or fuel prices.

By just how much did the Filipinos “suffer”? The report says that from May 2018 to May 2019, coal’s unpredictable prices has led to Filipino consumers paying more than Php788.7 million. Again this is all courtesy of the pass-through costs and our dependence on traditional power sources. That’s just for 2018 to 2019.

coal

Coal imports. IEEFA report says that from May 2018 to May 2019, coal’s unpredictable prices has led to Filipino consumers paying more than Php788.7 million. Photo c/o http://www.financialexpress.com

Unfortunately, the value of imports has climbed up significantly over the years. The report says that coal imports in 2005 was USD317 million and has tripled to over 1 billion by 2010. From 2017 of 1.9 billion it ballooned to 2.7 billion by 2018.

So, us Filipinos, have been paying billions for these pass on costs since our energy planners have favored what I have been referring to as “floating” PSAs, which as the IEEFA pointed out burden consumers with the pass-through costs.

We could have saved billions for Filipino consumers only if our planners have opted for what I call “fixed contracts”. And as my preferred term indicates such contracts peg the price at a fixed price for a specified number of years.

Unfortunately, our planners tagged fixed-price contracts as more expensive. At a glance, a PSA of Php5.10 per kWh for 25 years may look more expensive than a floating PSA of Php5 per kWh. And as the example of IEEFA, floating PSAs can reach beyond the agreed price due to global price spikes and foreign exchange. So, again, I ask which is more expensive? A floating PSA that has a lower agreed price at the start but could balloon up in the few years or a fixed price contract that will have consumers pay the exact amount until the PSA contract has ended?

Plus, of course, these floating PSAs do not provide incentives to power producers to minimize operating costs since these are passed on to consumers anyway.

There’s no denying that our energy planners’ preference for coal power despite experts’ assertions that renewable power is the way to move forward has been costing Filipino consumers a lot.

There was a time when building coal-fired power plants was an economical and practical choice. I have built some of them myself many years back. But times are changing, and what once used to work for us no is longer is the best option

Our best bet is to put our money and resources on renewable power. The IEEFA report stresses that we can lower the wholesale power prices by 30 percent if we allow renewables to flourish. I have been saying time and time again that if we want stable power prices, then we must develop and have more renewable energy in our power mix. The DOE can review our renewable energy targets all they want, but the bottom line is, our government should  pave the way for renewables to penetrate the market easily and consistently.

References:

https://www.philstar.com/business/2019/09/02/1948208/doe-updates-renewable-energy-targets

Prospects Improve for Energy Transition in the Philippines. IEEFA

The Biggest Loser

Around half of the world’s energy needs will come from renewable energy by 2050. That’s according to the latest Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) report.

The study stressed that renewable’s domination in the next three decades will occur along with the expected 62 percent demand increase for power and an additional $13.3 trillion worth of renewable energy projects.

All these scenarios are feasible as the cost of renewables has been plummeting in the last few years, the report stresses.  Since 2010, solar and wind costs have dropped by 85  and 49 percent, respectively. Battery storage costs have also declined by 85 percent.

The BNEF says solar and wind power will supply half of the world’s electricity while other renewable energy sources such as geothermal, fuel cells and devices will contribute around 21 percent.

Coal, on the other hand, will be the biggest loser in the power sector as its share in the global generation will decline to 12 percent by 2050 from around 37 percent today.

Europe is leading the shift to cleaner and sustainable energy. The region is expected to source around 92 percent of its power needs from renewable energy. China and India are also expected to source roughly two-thirds of its power from wind and solar by 2050 while the United States will get around 43 percent of its power needs from renewables.

In contrast, the Philippines is expected to increase the share of coal-fired generators in the next 30 years according to the Asia Pacific Energy Research Center (Aperc).

In its latest Energy Demand and Supply outlook report, Aperc stressed that coal is likely to contribute 39 percent of the country’s power needs by 2050 or three percent more than its current 36 percent share. On the other hand, renewable energy is seen to account for 20 percent of the Philippines power supply in 2050, which is lesser than its present 24 percent contribution.

Aperc’s projections are based on business as usual (BAU) scenario where existing policies and current trends stay the same. “Large increases in fossil fuel generation, particularly coal which triples, overshadow a more than doubling of renewable generation in the BAU,” the report says.

Aperc notes that allowing coal power to dominate our energy mix will make the country more vulnerable as the Philippines’ net energy imports will have to double. Promoting renewables and diversifying trade will be important for maintaining energy security,” Aperc said.

Our country’s dependence on fossil fuel imports also come at a high cost according to the international research group, Climate Analytics. Its report shared during recent climate talks in Germany showed that the Philippines fuel imports in 2017 are equivalent to 3.5 percent of its gross domestic product or around $11 billion.

The report also stresses that the country will benefit from shifting to renewable energy since doing so will decrease the external cost from air pollution. Climate Analytics pegged the annual average air pollution cost savings around $1.1 billion by 2025.

Adding more renewable energy in the country’s power mix is feasible, the international research group says. The report cites several studies revealing that covering merely 1.5 percent of the Philippines land area with solar installation can generate around 792 terawatt hours of power, a figure that’s 10 times the country’s total power generated in 2016.

Clearly, a shift to renewable energy is possible for nations including the Philippines. And around the world, coal is expected to be the biggest loser by 2050. Meanwhile, our country may also end up as one of the sorriest fools should we allow coal to continue to dominate our power mix.

Juan de la Cruz becomes the biggest loser.

References:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-06-18/the-world-will-get-half-its-power-from-wind-and-solar-by-2050

https://news.mb.com.ph/2019/06/22/climate-analytics-report-cites-potentials-of-renewable-in-the-philippines

/https://business.inquirer.net/272280/as-ph-economy-grows-coal-remains-king-says-think-tank#ixzz5s1l138er

They’re Diversifying And We’re Not

Recently, Petronas, the Malaysian oil and gas company has announced that it will be dabbling in the renewable energy sector. The firm recently announced that it inked a deal with Singapore-based renewable energy firm specializing in solar panels, Amplus Energy Solutions.

Petronas said that its deal with Amplus is part of the firm’s strategy to develop solar power plants and rooftop project. This deal says Petronas CEO Tan Sri Wan Zulkiflee Wan Ariffin is the first step into the firm’s diversification.  “This acquisition reflects Petronas’ strategic intent to grow in the renewable energy space as part of our strategy to step out beyond oil and gas into the new energy business. This also represents our first international solar venture and we look forward to providing energy solutions to our customers in these high-growth energy markets.”

Petronas is not alone in turning to renewable power to serve their customers well and maximize their profits. In fact, many Southeast Asian energy companies that are highly dependent on fossil fuels are also entering the renewable energy market in order to meet the region’s demand for electricity.

For example, Thailand-based energy firm, Banpu sources 90 percent of its revenue from its coal plant, but recently entered the renewable energy market. “We will integrate coal with renewable energy with the aim of maximizing profit and meeting social needs,” Banpu’s CEO Somruedee Chaimongkol says.

Banpu, which operates in several Asian countries as well as the United States has installed some 150,000 Kilowatt hour worth of solar generators. The firm also plans to build 80,000-kilowatts wind farm in Vietnam by 2021.

Likewise, State-backed energy companies in Southeast Asia are adopting the same diversification strategy. For example, Tenaga Nasional, a Malaysia energy firm started the commercial operations of its 50,000 kWh solar power plant near Kuala Lumpur, which is one of the largest solar plants in the country. 

Similarly, Indonesia’s state-run utility PLN is tapping on the country’s geothermal potential by purchasing renewable energy generated by independent geothermal power producers.

Darajat_geothermal_plant_Chevron_Indonesia-1024x682

PLN’s Darajat Unit Geothermal Power Plant. PLN is buying renewable energy from independent power producers. Photo c/o http://www.thinkgeoenergy.com

These companies, which once only had coal in their portfolio are probably now seeing the value of energy diversification. 

In energy systems planning, there are three basic properties of diversifications, namely, balance, variety, and disparity as pointed out by Andy Stirling,  a professor of Science and Technology Policy at the University of Sussex.

Variety pertains to the number of energy supply options available. This is what these companies are aiming for as having varied energy types means more diversity in their portfolio.

On the other hand, balance refers to the reliance on each available energy source option available. This means an energy system is also considered more diverse if there are proportionate dependence on each energy source. Disparity pertains to the differences in each power option.

It’s not only companies that will benefit from having a diversified energy mix. As I keep repeating, nations too will be in an advantageous position if there is diversity in their energy system.

For example, the Philippines relies heavily on coal to meet energy demands. This means our power costs go up when prices of coal in the global market increase. It also does not help when the peso falls against the dollar as we import coal. Whether power consumers will pay higher electricity bills highly depends on world prices and the strength of the peso. And this is all because we source most of our energy needs from coal plants.

We also have to remember that fossil fuels are finite resources. What happens then when these resources are depleted?

This is why we need to diversify our the power mix. This means we should be able to source a majority of our power from sources that are not vulnerable to external factors such as exchange rate and global prices. And again, as I have been saying, renewable energy prices can be fixed for many years. Of course, we also have to prepare for the scenario when finite power sources are low in supply or worse, already gone.

On a side note, many see the Supreme Court decision as challenging the supply of power in the future. I think we should take a step back and think of this as an opportunity to re-think about the energy mix of the country.  We have an opportunity to inject more indigenous and renewable energy in the system. We should grab this chance.

Energy diversification indeed has many virtues. Energy companies with mostly coal power plants in their portfolios are now seeing the value of diversifying their energy sources. Sadly, the same cannot be said about our energy system, our planners and regulators in the country.

References:

https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Environment/Southeast-Asia-s-energy-majors-pivot-sharply-to-green-power2

https://www.power-technology.com/news/petronas-renewable-energy/

Diversity and Sustainable Energy Transitions: Multicriteria Diversity Analysis of Electricity Portfolios By Andy Stirling

Isn’t It Ironic?

ocean

Record-breaking year for ocean temperatures in 2018. Photo c/o Business Insider

Germany recently made an announcement that it will end its dependence on coal power plants by 2038 in an effort to meet its commitment to the Paris climate change goals. Reports noted that the country intends to reduce its coal energy capacity from 42.6 gigawatts (GW) to around 30 GW in 2020 and to 17 GW by 2030.

Germany at present still sources 40 percent of its power needs from coal. Last year was a first for the country as renewable energy dominated the power mix.

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber a member German coal exit commission hailed the decision as a move that’s very much needed in this day and age “ This is an important step on the road to the post-fossil age – a step that also opens up new perspectives for the affected regions through innovation-driven structural change.”

And I agree that the move is a step in the right direction. Each country needs to make drastic actions to help keep the world’s temperature at the desired levels. After all, the United Nations recently warned us that we only have 12 years to keep the world’s temperature to a maximum of 1.5 °C. Otherwise, we will suffer from worsening of risks of floods, extreme heat, droughts, and poverty.

We are already, of course, seeing the effects of climate change.

For example, as early as November last year, experts have warned that 2018 was likely to be the fourth hottest year on record. There is no confirmation of this record as of now. But what has been confirmed is that 2018 is that ocean’s had their warmest year on record.

The study that was published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences noted that the hot record indicates the enormous amount of heat is being absorbed by the sea due to rising of greenhouse gas emission. Rising ocean temperatures are not to be ignored says, experts, since they contribute to intense hurricanes and destruction of coral reefs.

Plus, the world is likely to suffer from El Nino this year, which will make 2019 as most likely to be the hottest year on record according to the Climate Prediction Center.

These warnings, of course, are pushing many countries, like Germany to step up their fight against dirty sources of power and honor their commitment to the Paris agreement in 2015.

The Philippines, unlike Germany and other countries, are far from making waves when it comes to greater use of renewable. This is a pity since we Filipinos have more reasons to shift to renewable power.

For starters, we are a country that is endowed with plenty of natural resources. We are just the third biggest geothermal power producer in the world. The Philippines used to be second, but sadly was overtaken by Indonesia (which merits a separate article). We are also a tropical country as well. Yet here, we are a nation that has coal plants as the major source of energy.

It also makes sense for us to do our share to help the earth limit its global warming. The Philippines, after all, has been tagged as one of the most vulnerable nations to climate change. But we are a country that has pushed back its target of sourcing 35 percent of overall energy needs by 2030 to 2040.

Plus, there’s a clamor renewable power among Filipinos. A survey by Pulse Asia last year showed that 89 percent of Filipinos are in favor of renewable energy. But alas, the country will be adding some. 10,423 MW of coal power.

We have every reason to shift to renewable energy. We have the natural resources. We are a country that suffers greatly from the effects of climate change. Our citizens want cleaner forms of energy. But no, we remain a nation dependent on coal. How ironic. And sad.

References:

https://www.philstar.com/business/2018/12/26/1879827/iemop-proposes-nationwide-system-renewable-energy-development

https://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/2019-may-be-the-warmest-year-on-record-as-a-result-of-an-el-nino-event-exacerbated-by-global-warming/70006943

https://edition.cnn.com/2019/01/16/world/climate-2018-hottest-year-for-ocean/index.html