Small Victories

 

eucommision

The EU agreed to increase RE share to 32% by 2030. Photo c/o https://www.finchannel.com

There are many small victories to celebrate among renewable energy advocates.

Last June, the European Commission, Parliament and Council agreed to increase renewable power use in the region to 32 percent by 2030, up from the previous goal of 27 percent.

Aside from setting this target, the agreement also included removal of barriers to entry of renewable energy small players as well as a review of the 32 percent goal in 2023.

The new goal was set so that the region can meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent, below 1990 levels by 2030 as part of its commitment to the Paris Agreement of keeping global warming below 2 degrees. “This deal is a hard-won victory in our efforts to unlock the true potential of Europe’s clean energy transition,” EU Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete was quoted.

And there is more good news from this region since Sweden is set to achieve its renewable energy targets 12 years ahead of the deadline.

The Nordic nation is likely to reach its 2030 renewable energy target of generating 18 terawatt-hours annually from renewables by the end of the year according to the Swedish Wind Energy Association (SWEA). This feat will be possible, thanks to the aggressive installation of wind turbines since some 3,681 wind turbines will be operational across the country by year-end.

Europe is not the only one that brought good news. Japan also recently announced its plans of boosting renewable energy use by 2030 by 22 to 24 percent. Currently, the country sources 15 percent of its energy demand from renewable sources.

Unfortunately, the Philippines did not make a similar announcement and instead opted to push down our goal of sourcing 35 percent of overall power needs from RE by 2030 to 2040.

But this is not to say that we lack good news in renewable energy front or that Filipinos entirely lack appreciation for renewable energy. After all, several local government units (LGUs) have declared their support for cleaner forms of power.

For example, last June, the city council of Ozamiz revoked an earlier resolution endorsing the proposal to build a 300-megawatt coal-fired plant and instead adopted a new one to look for prospective investors for renewable energy in the city.

The same case happened in Bohol last March where its local government prevented the building of new coal power plants since “the entire Provincial Government of Bohol are fully intent on maintaining the sanctity and pristine condition of the environment.”

Eventually, the LGU of Bohol passed an ordinance against the establishment of coal power plants in the province on April 6, joining the ranks of Guimaras and Ilocos Norte, which had already banned coal and shifted to renewable energy.

Yes, our national government may be slow in realizing the value of renewable power, unlike other nations like the European countries and Japan but at least our provinces know the worth of going renewables. Maybe soon, more Filipinos including government officials will realize what renewable power can do for our country and that, as Guimaras Governor Samuel Gumarin said in a speech, “a sustainable-development path, powered by renewable energy, is not only possible but more viable.”

References:

https://www.rappler.com/nation/203386-bohol-no-coal-ordinance-epira-greenpeace

https://climatereality.ph/climate-reality-ph-lauds-ozamiz-city-climate-action-819/

https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/japan-aims-for-24–renewable-energy-but-keeps-nuclear-central-10495024

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/jun/14/eu-raises-renewable-energy-targets-to-32-by-2030

Sweden to reach its 2030 renewable energy target this year

Survey Says

The majority of Filipinos are dissatisfied with current power prices according to a survey by Pulse Asia.

Last August, the research firm released its report revealing that around 60 percent of Filipinos are dissatisfied with the power rates. “With the exception of Mindanao, at least half of adults in the main geographic areas are dissatisfied with the price of their electricity,” Pulse Asia said.

The survey also showed that a significant majority of Filipinos or 82 percent are in favor of “having a new option for electric service provider or electric utility.” In the National Capital Region (NCR), 88 percent of adult Filipinos expressed openness to having new electric service providers. Plus, 89 percent of Filipinos also favor renewable energy.

The survey results are a testament to the growing dissatisfaction of Filipinos on our high power rates. They are also aware that there is a need for more competition in our energy sector even in the distribution segment to cut the cost of electricity. Competition, after all, will always drive down market prices. And it is not surprising that the vast majority of the survey participant for NCR is open for more distributors as the monopoly of a company in any business will never be beneficial for consumers.

Unfortunately, the passage of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) did little to invite competition in the markets in the distribution side as we focused more on having more players in the generation business.

But there are steps our regulators can take to generate more players in the distribution of power. For one, we can break away from the current practice of disallowing a new distribution entity to enter the market where one DU is in place. Such practice fails to promote competition and instead allows for a monopoly to flourish.

Aside from allowing other power players to enter an already franchised service area, our regulators should also consider lifting the cap for the Retail Competition and Open Access (RCOA).

Currently, the rule says that only those with a monthly peak demand of 750 kilowatts or higher can be considered contestable customers and can choose their preferred service providers. In my opinion, this rule should be revised as anyone regardless of their power consumption should be given the option to decide where to source their power.

We have to keep in mind that contestable customers get to save on their energy bills than the captive customers or those who are required to source from their distribution utilities or electric cooperatives. In a column in BusinessWorld, President of Minimal Government Thinkers, Bienvenido S. Oplas, Jr. President of Minimal Government Thinkers notes that contestable customers on average only pay Php 9.61 per kilowatt hours (kWh) considerably lower than the captive customers who pay roughly Php 7.78 kWh.

Our government then should work on giving choices to the majority of the Filipinos by allowing them to choose their power generator or distributor rather than force them to stay with their current ones. Naturally, aside from lifting the restriction on RCOA, there is also a need to make the infrastructure and resources available to pave the way for this scenario where customers have the freedom to choose their energy type, generator, and even distributor.

DU competition

Technology will soon render the traditional distribution system obsolete according to experts. Photo c/o https://m.dailyhunt.in

We have to make these changes if we do not want to be left behind. Let us keep in mind that the technological advancements will soon render the traditional distribution system obsolete as asserted by many experts. For example, David Cane, former CEO of NRG Energy believes that the existing utility system will become irrelevant in the near future since many advanced countries are moving towards decentralized homegrown energy where home automation be of great importance. He 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.”

Indeed, we need to create an environment that can accommodate these technologies, so we can benefit from having more options as well as cheaper power prices to consumers.

Having choices is one of the best ways to promote competition and hence lower down the power costs in the country. However, major changes are needed that require a lot of willpower. It is time for our regulators to put the interest of the Filipino consumers above anything else.

References:

https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2018/08/21/1844441/filipinos-not-satisfied-high-power-rates-poll

https://www.bworldonline.com/electricity-competition-epira-and-wesm/

Moving Forward: Introducing Competition in Power Distribution

Around the globe, significant changes are taking place in the power sector, particularly in the distribution of energy given the advances in technology. Many countries are gearing up to take advantage of new technologies to help reduce the cost of power, among other reasons.

For example, the European Union (EU) is paving the way for its electricity system to be more efficient by encouraging consumers to use intermittent renewables at different times of the day to save on power and lower their electricity bills. At this time, the EU is working on policies to make it possible.

Those who use more power during off-peak demand or when renewable energy technologies are running on their peak will be given incentives also known as the dynamic pricing scheme.

Other European countries like Spain and Nordic states are already implementing the dynamic pricing. In the long run, EU envisions that customers’ appliances such as washing machines or dryers will run automatically during the day when the sun is shining at its brightest or during windy days. This dynamic pricing scheme is expected to save as much each household an estimated average of €400 annually with the help, of course, of smart meters and smart grids.

Some may be doubtful of EU’s vision and label it as too ambitious. But EU’s goal is achievable. After all, breaking away from the traditional model of the distribution of having power stations at one end with the customers on the other end of the supply chain is long overdue.

Consumers now should have the option of selecting their preferred kind of energy, source, and even meters. This is possible except our tolerance for monopoly has limited the choices available to us consumers, a point stressed by several experts.

For example, Nobel Prize awardee Vernon Smith, who as early in the 1980s, argued that deregulation of the electricity market is possible if there is competition for generation, transmission and even distribution.

In his paper, Currents of Competition in Electricity Markets, he stressed that “Competition is now evident on the fringes of power generation, and a foundation is in place for deregulating not only generation but possibly transmission and distribution as well.”

The economics professor pointed out that regulators have encouraged monopoly in electricity markets rather than implement rules that promote competition: “ An examination of the electric power industry as it exists today reveals a tremendous untapped potential for the development of competitive markets. Regulation has been applied far too broadly to the electric power industry. As a result, policies intended to restrain monopoly power have instead propagated that power.”

smart meters 2

Smart meters in Europe. Changes in the consumption and provision of electricity driven by emerging technologies are taking place and making way for more options in power consumption. Photo c/o http://www.nec-display-solutions.com

A recent paper, Utility of the Future by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), discusses how changes in the consumption and provision of electricity driven by emerging technologies are taking place and making way for more options in power consumption.

One of the goals of the research is to identify inefficient barriers to the integration of cost-effective new sources of electricity services to help create a level playing field for the provision and consumption of power services.

One of the recommendations of the study is that “the structure of the electricity industry should be carefully re-evaluated to minimize conflict. It is critical to establish a level playing field for the competitive provision of electricity services by traditional generators, network providers, and distributed energy resources.”

The study further stressed that it is essential to review how markets work to make way for new technologies and their integration into the electricity system: “Wholesale market design should be improved to better integrate distributed resources, reward greater flexibility, and create a level playing field for all technologies.”

And it seems that the researchers are addressing our local regulators with their recommendations. It is no secret that I have been calling out for revisions in our policies that would pave the way for new players so that Filipino consumers can enjoy lower power costs especially since new technologies are emerging.

Time and time again I have been calling the attention of the Department of Energy (DOE) to take drastic measures to promote competition rather than protect private interests as this is the essence of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA).

Unfortunately, despite the passage of this law, the welfare of the Filipino consumers takes a backseat while private interests in the distribution sector prevail as manifested in different ways.

For example, currently, our energy regulators are disallowing other franchise holders to enter the market where a Distribution Utility (DU) is already in place, which against runs counter to the essence of promoting competition.

This was the same point made by Smith in his paper when he stressed that “There are numerous ways to introduce competition into electric power distribution. Perhaps the most obvious is to eliminate state policies which grant distributors exclusive operating permits. Customers should have the right to bypass distributors and contract directly with generator owners.”

If one understands basic economics, then it is evident that having more players in the market would always push down prices and create a more efficient delivery of goods and services because this is what competition among businesses does. Preventing the encroachment of another player in an already franchised area will only result in a monopoly where consumers will have to endure higher prices and less efficient service delivery. There is no incentive for the lone provider to improve the services and lower down costs, anyway.

Our flawed power procurement rules should also be reviewed. At present the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) procurement rules do not require DUs or Electric Cooperatives (ECs) to differentiate between baseload, peaking and mid-merit, and fail to take account that some power sources are better used for baseload and others for peaking or mid-merit. The classic example is the use of coal-fired power plants during mid-merit, which when done, diminishes the cost advantages of the plant. Such practice results in inefficient deployment of energy sources.

Unfortunately, procurement rules do not differentiate the power requirements to the detriment of the consumers as they are not enjoying the cost advantages of a particular power source. Instead, our practice only benefits the DUs or ECs.

There is a remedy for this as the ERC can refuse to grant Power Sales Agreements (PSAs) that does not define the limits on the use of a particular power source. We can use each energy source more efficiently and at the same time help level the playing field for generators if the ERC puts such restrictions in the PSAs.

These are just some of the few issues that prevent competition to flourish within the power distribution sector. There are more that requires the attention of our regulators. Change is necessary if we want to move to where the EU is heading.

There are many reasons why countries and regions like EU are embracing technology such as the concept of dynamic pricing by changing and drafting new regulations. Lowering the cost of power rates is just one of them.

The Filipinos can enjoy lower power prices, too. They can even choose where or from whom to source their power as well as select their meters rather than merely accept the ones from the distributor. Consumers can also become generators and distributors themselves if they wish. All these are possible if major policy shifts take place and when our regulators finally prioritize the welfare of the public rather than those of the few.

References:

Currents of Competition in Electricity Markets by Vernon L. Smith

Utility of the Future by Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Run Your Dishwasher When the Sun Shines; Dynamic Power Pricing Grows

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-europe-electricity-prices-insight/run-your-dishwasher-when-the-sun-shines-dynamic-power-pricing-grows-idUSKBN1KN0L7

For European utilities, demand for dynamic pricing on the rise
https://www.accenture.com/us-en/blogs/blogs-european-utilities-demand-dynamic-pricing

Shared Business View

Addressing climate change is the responsibility of all. Luckily, big global brands are doing their share and choosing to make the shift to cleaner forms of energy.

 For example, last April, tech giants Apple and Google announced that their operations are already running on 100 percent renewable energy. Fortunately, other firms are also stepping up and working double time to source their power needs from greener sources of energy.

 In fact, there are more than 100 influential global companies who have publicly committed to 100% renewable energy through the RE100 initiative. This collaboration of the world’s biggest brands, mostly tech companies was launched in 2014 and have ever since been working on achieving their goals of powering up their operations with renewables.

Last year, other influential non-tech companies have also joined the drive to use greater RE  such as General Motors, Kimberly Clark, General Mills, Starbucks and Target. In total, some 2.78 gigawatts worth of renewables were bought by the RE100’s members in 2017.

These large global brands remain relentless in their pursuit of achieving their targets. This year, members of RE100 are set to break their record by purchasing 1.96GW of renewables. If sustained, corporate RE buying could surpass the peak of 3.12GW recorded in 2015 as reported by the Business Renewable Center.

 One of RE100’s members, Microsoft also made the headlines this April by announcing the largest solar power deal in the US corporate history after buying some 315 megawatts from sPower. The purchase will power the tech firm’s datacenter and cloud business operation in Virginia. To date, Microsoft has already invested a total of 1.2 GW of RE, an amount that can light up roughly 100 million bubs

The declining costs of renewables and companies’ desire for a sustainable energy solution are what drive big business to commit and purchase cleaner forms of energy according to  Kevin Haley, marketing manager at the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Business Renewable Center. “The corporate renewables market is now seeing deals from all industry sectors…… they believe they need to be part of the sustainability solution.”

Addressing climate change is just one of the reasons why large global brands are signing up for more RE purchases. There’s another reason: cost-effectiveness.

These brands’ leadership recognize that sustainable sources of energy will save them money in the long run.  Business leaders understand that choosing to invest in RE will save them money as it eliminates the risk of price volatility of fossil fuels.

 For example,  Urs Hölzle, Senior Vice President, Technical Infrastructure of Google stressed that  “Electricity costs are one of the largest components of our operating expenses at our data centers, and having a long-term stable cost of renewable power provides protection against price swings in energy.”

Autodesk’s President and CEO, Lynelle Cameron echoes the view of Hölzle when she said: “By powering our business with 100% renewable electricity we will not only reduce our carbon footprint but give ourselves a competitive advantage as we protect ourselves against future rises in energy costs.”

For years, I have been trying to convince a great number of people that RE is not necessarily the more expensive energy option. It is refreshing to know that big businesses around the world share my views.

Sadly, many in the Philippines fail to recognize the benefits of renewable energy and still subscribe to the notion of the least cost option, which only considers the upfront costs. We are still caught in the belief of many energy planners and even our regulators that RE will cost us more, and refuse to realize that price spikes and depletion of fossil fuels will set us back.

Lowering energy costs while saving the environment are the two benefits of choosing greener power. Global companies and governments around the world are already seeing the potential of renewable energy and making big bets on cleaner forms of power as RE technology prices drop fast. What else can we do to convince many Filipinos that RE is the key to sustainable and cheap energy?

References:

 https://www.cnet.com/news/renewable-energy-solar-wind-lures-us-big-businesses/

 https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/04/microsoft-just-signed-the-largest-corporate-solar-agreement-in-us-history/

 ACCELERATING CHANGE: how corporate users are transforming the renewable energy market. RE 100 Annual Report 2017

 

 

More Reasons to Believe and Reflections by DiCaprio

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

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

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

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

saudi-arabia-solar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

REN21 Renewables Global Futures Report

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

Boom and Bust 2017: Tracking the global coal plant pipeline

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