We Need More Funding and Competition


The Senate recently approved a bill amending the Public Service Act to allow full foreign ownership in key industries like transport and telecommunication.

With 19 votes, the Upper House voted to pass Senate Bill No. 2094 which will pave the pay for 100% foreign ownership of railways, airlines, shipping firms, subways, and telecommunications. The 1987 Constitution puts a 40% foreign ownership on public utilities. The new bill is making a distinction between public utilities and public services and frees up the latter for 100% foreign ownership

Senator Grace Poe, one of the bill’s principal authors said that “The main purpose of this measure is to provide consumers with choices and I believe that, by opening our economy to a diverse set of investors, we could provide our fellow Filipinos with more and better choices,” 

The new bill still treats three main industries as public utilities as they are believed to be “natural monopolies.” These industries include Water Works and Sewerage, Transmission of Electricity, and Distribution of Electricity, and will remain subject to the 60-40 rule on foreign ownership.

I have written about this bill in the past where I have questioned why the Senate is treating electricity distribution as a natural monopoly. I have argued that natural monopoly cannot and should not be regulated as it is a market condition. Natural monopolies, after all, exist due to either high start-up costs or powerful economies of scale. Natural monopolies only exist when a single firm can serve the entire market at a lower cost instead of having multiple firms competing for the same market.

Again should the Philippines still classify power distribution classified as a natural monopoly despite the advancements in technology and global trends?

All we need to do is look at other countries. Take the United States for example where several companies heavily investing in non-wire alternatives (NWAs), which are pushing both start-up and fixed costs down. Several complines like Duke Energy and Con Edison can avoid spending billions on transmission infrastructure by investing heavily in NWAs combined with distributed energy resources (DERs) and mini-grids.

New technologies, after all, are removing barriers to entry in the distribution of electricity, which means more players can enter the market more easily given the lower upfront costs of distributing power.

What we are seeing here is not a case of a natural monopoly actually driven by the market but rather a legal monopoly created by lawmakers and regulators. This is a classic example of what Nobel Prize winner Vermon Sith pointed out in this paper “Currents of Competition in Electricity Markets” where he said that “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.”

In a separate development, President Duterte has also signed an executive order (EO) 156, an electrification EO to enable electric cooperatives to pursue rural electrification. In the EO, the president stresses that underperforming electric cooperatives (ECs) and distribution utilities (DUs) are hampering the electrification efforts of the government. 

Aside from transferring the powers to take over the DU’s and EC’s operations from the National Electrification Administration to the Office of the President, the EO also ordered all DUs to submit a comprehensive masterplan for the total electrification of their respective franchise areas including a detailed inventory of all inadequately served areas and action plans to achieve complete electrification.

The EO also directs the Department of Energy (DOE) to craft procedures for the participation of local government and communities in determining whether their areas are inadequately served.

But perhaps an alternative route is to open up competition for the same franchise area. Currently, the government is only allowing a single firm for a franchise area, which means that the franchise holder does not have incentives to improve its services or to innovate. Again, our regulations are what’s creating legal monopolies as we can, in fact, have healthy competition in franchise areas only if the government allows it.

It’s great that the EO is asking the DOE to promulgate regulation for the entry and integration of DERs, microgrids, and other alternative service providers in the electric power industry, but we need as well to consider allowing more competition in the same franchise area. Otherwise, consumers will have to wait for DUs to be deemed as inadequate before they can get alternative DUs, and even then they only get served by a single company, which still will have the monopoly in the franchise area.

Plus, we can actually help solve the problem of lack of access to electricity if we do not create legal monopolies as what the Senate bill is doing to the electricity distribution. We need the technology and expertise of foreign companies in developing DERs, microgrids, NWAs, and other new tools that can easily provide power to off-grid areas.

A reactor in our energy forum sponsored by UPVI last October, Bill Lenihan, CEO of ZOLA Electric, a company that offers power solutions in Africa stressed that centralized grid systems won’t solve emerging markets’ problems. He added that countries like the Philippines must make DERs and microgrids as the main source of power in many underserved areas in the country.

However, developing these technologies will again, as I have mentioned, require funding and technologies that foreign companies can provide. To classify power distribution as a natural monopoly when it is not is like taking away the chance from Juan Dela Cruz from far-flung areas to have access to electricity and lessen his chance of improving his economic condition and that of his community at the soonest time possible. 

Energy Security Series Part 3: Infrastructure Issue

Recently, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a grim global report on climate change. The report, dubbed by the United Nations as “code red for humanity” revealed that the extreme weather is now being felt around the world and average global temperature increases that could have devastating effects will likely come sooner than expected.

The report said that human-caused climate change is already affecting every region across the world. Extreme weather has become more intense and frequent. And climate change’s effects will get worse over time. The report found that humans have increased the chances of extreme compound weather events like frequency of concurrent fire weather, droughts, and flooding.

Climate change has also brought big changes in the Philippines’ climate patterns. We are seeing massive flooding in recent years.

This December, we experienced the wrath of Typhoon Odette, which left hundreds dead and billions of iin damaged infrastructure. Some three million families are affected by power outages as the typhoon toppled electrical poles, and damaged transmission lines. Of course, it would take a while before power is fully restored in affected areas as the transmission company and electric cooperatives need to wait for floods to subside and to ensure that local conditions are safe enough for linemen and engineers.

Typhoon Odette toppled power lines and damaged transmission facilities. Photo c/o Rappler

The Philippines also experienced deadly and destructive weather disturbances last 2020.

In May of last year, the country had to deal with Typhoon Ambo. It was the first typhoon to hit the Philippines in 2020 and caused Php 2 billion damage to agriculture and infrastructure. It also left around 92,000 families homeless. Power restoration in the affected areas took weeks, months even. Sadly, some electric cooperatives lost their men to power restoration efforts.

There was also Typhoon Ulysses that unleashed torrential rain and powerful winds. This typhoon destroyed thousands of homes, killed dozens of people, and left swathes of Luzon heavily flooded. It was the deadliest tropical cyclone to hit the country in 2020.

Aside from Ulysses, the Philippines was also hit by Typhoons Quinta and Rolly in the last quarter of 2020. The National Electrification Administration (NEA) said that these three typhoons caused some Php500 million worth of damage to the utility system.

Plus, of course, there’s the COVID-19 pandemic that has restricted the movements of everyone. In the early months of the pandemic, there was a big issue about electric bills people received as many consumers received bills that were significantly higher than what they had consumed. Distribution utilities, after all, could not send their employees to read meters during the hard lockdown.

All these point to the fact that the Philippines needs to make its power infrastructure more resilient against natural disasters. We thus need to revisit our energy systems and start investing heavily in smart grids and distributed energy systems.

The global trend is to move away from the traditional central power production model and replace them with distributed energy production. As a country that is more prone to natural disasters, we should join the fray and move to decentralized power systems.

Decentralized power systems will make our infrastructure more resilient to disasters. Centralised power systems, after all, are characterized by power lines spanning long distances and are highly vulnerable to natural disasters. Damage to a single line due to natural disasters will leave thousands of homes without electricity. We only need to remember that it takes power distribution utility companies weeks even months to restore full power in areas affected by storms.

Electric cooperatives, power distributors, and the transmission company have to thoroughly assess the damage to the power line before the linemen can restore power physically. Power restoration after a calamity is a high-risk undertaking. Sadly, many have lost their lives in the physical restoration of electricity.

Centralized power systems, given their massive size, multiply the risk of disruption. A single felled tree can deprive plenty of homes of electricity. In contrast, decentralized systems create redundancies in the power system. Microgrids can easily disconnect from the main grid experiencing outages so they can run without any disruptions until the main grid is up and running again.

Centralized grid systems are also unable to differentiate end users. This means residential users are getting the same quality and amount of power as other establishments like hospitals and government centers. This means that during disasters, the system makes it challenging to provide electricity to the most crucial users or infrastructure.

Centralized grids typically can only be turned on or off, or simply put, either on one or everyone gets power. This inability to differentiate and direct power to the most crucial areas or infrastructure makes emergency and recovery efforts more difficult during calamities. Decentralizing electricity allows for the prioritization of essential infrastructure, cutting down hindrances to quick disaster recovery.

Now more than ever, we should be seeing the role of decentralized energy resources. Cities or towns that have been struck with a natural disaster can function better if essential infrastructure has continuous electricity. Hospitals that are now in full capacity, for example, have one less thing to worry about as they can continue their operations normally despite a disaster.

Aside from disaster resilience, distributed energy systems also offer more cost savings. It is also easily scalable. One study by Vibrant Clean Energy in the United States showed that investing in renewable energy, storage, and distributed energy technologies can save the US around $473 billion in electricity bills from now to 2050.

Plus, distributed energy and other related technologies offer massive employment opportunities. The study of Vibrant Clean Energy showed that distributed energy resources can provide two million jobs if 25 percent of US homes invest in DERs and related technologies.

Consumers also enjoy plenty of benefits in distributed energy systems as they can either receive compensation for allowing the use of their storage systems in stabilizing the grid or by selling back electricity to the main grid.

Distributed energy systems also help in breaking down monopolies in power distribution. As I have discussed in a separate post, power distribution is not monopolistic by nature as monopolies only become a monopoly due to regulation. Distribution energy systems offer better transparency on pricing like energy management systems, advanced metering, dynamic-based pricing, and more options for power consumers.

There are also other tools relying on renewable energy that can be used during disasters. For example, we currently have a technology that can convert any river, lake, contaminated borehole or even flood water into clean drinking water by state-of-the art desalination units running purely on solar power. The desalination units that can be connected to the grid or a combination of solar and grid generator so the units can run 24/7. At a minimum these desalination units can provide potable drinking water for 500 to 700 individuals. The units can be fitted with a 5-kilowatt hour (kWh) Solar Panel system so it can operate round the clock.

The Philippines is always dealing with natural disasters. Year after year we will be facing the same threats, which according to the United Nations are about to get worse over time. The technology we need to make our power infrastructure more resilient is now available. The Philippines only need to realize their value and make the most of what they have to offer.

Leadership is What We Need: UPVI’s webinar on National Energy Security

Last October 19, UP Vanguard Incorporated (UPVI) with SMC Global Power as a major sponsor, conducted a public webinar entitled “National Energy Security: Reliability and Resiliency in the New Normal”.

We had been fortunate to have a distinguished panel consisting of two former Energy Secretaries, namely Dr. Francisco Viray and Atty. Raphael Lotilla, and outgoing Chief Executive Officer of New York Power Authority, Mr. Gil Quinoñes. The forum was moderated by Atty. Mike Toledo, Director for Government Relations and Public Affairs of Metro Pacific Investment Corporation.

One of the main discussion points in the forum was the transition to clean energy. Panelists and reactors agree that the transition to a carbon-free environment is inevitable. Under the COP 21 Paris Agreement in 2015, countries should aim to limit global warming to preferably 1.5 degrees celsius compared to the pre-industrial level. 

Dr. Viray pointed out that the International Energy Agency has recommended the complete phase-out of all unabated coal and oil power plants by 2040 to reach net-zero global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.

He, however, sees three issues in the clean energy transition for the Philippines.

First, is that the mismatch in clean energy investments for whatever reason can impact energy security and price volatility. Second, the availability of cost of non-greenhouse gas emitting technology sharing the same characteristics of fossil fuel-fired plants and balancing the need for VRE sources may be subject to geopolitical challenges as the Philippines will just have to sit and wait on the technology made available by advanced countries. Third, he asked who bears the costs of the energy transition, especially the replacement of capacity generated by fossil fuel plants.

For his part, Atty. Raphael Lotilla said that the transition will not happen overnight and that it must be managed well. The pace of the energy transition will vary from one country to another but the end game is the same: a carbon-free environment.

He raised two points on how the Philippines can manage the clean transition properly. 

First, he noted that the upstream natural gas and petroleum industry sector has a major role to play in the Philippines’ clean energy transition and energy security. Atty. Lotilla stressed that the country needs to provide investors with clear regulatory policies.

He cited the case of the Malampaya gas field’s tax issue where the Commission on Audit’s 2011 decision reversing the rule that the government will assume corporate income tax has caused major uncertainty among investors. The potential investors, he added, need more clarity and certainty before they shell out money for exploration and development work in other service contracts.

One of the reactors, UP Vanguard, Engineer Ray Apostol who is a long-time professional in exploration work, cited alarming statistics on the present administration’s lack of exploration activities.

Mr. Apostol noted that the Philippines is at the bottom among ASEAN countries when it comes to gas exploration. He stressed that there has been no exploration well drilled in the last five and half years. Mr. Apostol recommended that the government should ramp up support for exploration activities and carefully review the bidding process and exploration contracts. Likewise, the government should opt for non-exclusive exploration activities.

There is also a consensus that renewable energy is clearly the way forward for the Philippines. According to Dr. Viray, achieving energy security requires more development of renewables but, unfortunately, our country has no full control to harness and exploit these resources.

Atty. Lotilla stressed that we must allow more foreign investors so we can develop renewable energy sources in the country. He said that the provision in the constitution referring to foreign ownership that should be limited to 40 percent should only be interpreted for finite resources. The constitution talks about “potential energy” and thus must exclude solar and wind as they can be converted immediately to electricity.

One of the reactors, former Energy Undersecretary, Atty. Jay Layug echoed Atty. Lotilla’s point of allowing more foreign investors in the renewable energy sector. 

He lamented the fact that the Philippines imported more oil and coal in the last five years as renewables only accounted for 800 megawatts (MW) out of the 4930 MW capacity added in the last five years. In contrast, from years 2010 to 2016, renewables accounted for 1,500 MW out of the 5180 MW total added capacity.

Atty. Layug stressed that the government cannot afford to adopt a technology-neutral policy. It must instead step up and be an enabler to ensure that the Philippines become more dependent on renewables instead of imported fossil fuels. He added that the country has too many laws but the problem lies with implementation, adding that the National Renewable Energy program is a “bible” that the government must follow.

For his part, Mr. Gil Quinoñes said that it may not be feasible to be 100 percent coal-free by 2050 but what is more doable is for the world to achieve 80 percent electrification from renewables.

He added that clean energy transition may be expensive but the climate crisis requires that problems be addressed as fast as possible.

Mr. Quinoñes stressed that richer countries should advance clean energy technologies that can be adopted by emerging markets like the Philippines.

Another reactor, Bill Lenihan, CEO of ZOLA Electric, a company that offers power solutions in Africa, noted that a centralized grid system won’t solve the emerging markets’ problems. He added that distributed energy and micro grid adaptation in the Philippines will differ from the ways the US and other richer countries have developed these technologies. 

For example, in the United States, micro grids are necessary backups but they can afford to have them as mere backups as they have well-developed grids. On the other hand, the Philippines will need to make distributed energy resources (DERs) and microgrids as the primary source of power in many areas of the country.

In the end, Dr. Viray summed up the Philippines energy security problem best when he said that “We are not lacking in ideas and laws. What we need is to synchronize… Leadership is what we need.”

Energy Security Series, Part 1: High Power Rates

The Internal Energy Agency (IEA) defines Energy Security as “the uninterrupted availability of energy sources at an affordable price.” Energy security, the agency says, has many aspects. There’s short-term energy security, which the agency defines as “the ability of the energy system to react promptly to sudden changes in the supply-demand balance. There’s also the long-term energy security, primarily concerned about timely investments to supply energy for both economic development and environmental needs

There’s no better time than now to talk about energy security in the Philippines, especially as we are experiencing a lack of power supply, resulting in rotating brownouts and energy price spikes. 

And energy security in the Philippines is what I would like to discuss in this post and succeeding ones.

Personally, the term “energy security” is difficult to define. “Secure” from what? Does the concept pertain to physical threats to power supply or exposure to global prices? What sector are we referring to– transport or electricity? Does energy security pertain to the ability of power utilities to weather economic uncertainties?

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippines was already exposed to various risks.

For one, more than 80 percent of our coal is sourced from Indonesia. And at the start of the pandemic, I was worried that our supply from our neighbor could be affected by border closures and hampered supply chain and logistics.

There’s also the big percentage of tariffs on energy regardless of whether they are electricity or fuel that are affected by global supply and prices. These risks are shouldered by consumers.

Let me start tackling energy security in the Philippines by discussing high power rates.

It’s no secret that the Philippines has one of the highest power prices not only in Southeast Asia but also around the world. A report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) noted that our power rates are higher by Php10 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) when compared to global standards.

The report entitled “Prospects Improve for Energy Transition in the Philippines” said that our reliance on imported fossil fuel, uncompetitive market structures, and high financing costs are causing the high power rates in the country. The pass-through costs have inflated power prices in the country.

Let me expound on this as I have long been saying that the high power rates in the country can be attributed to our cost recovery mechanism in our tariff setting, our dependence on imported coal, and our energy planners’ penchant for the least-cost method.

Let’s start with the least-cost approach, which has failed to live up to its name. If anything it has driven power rates up.

The least-cost approach compares various technologies and prioritizes the “cheapest” power source to produce. It only looks at the upfront and standalone costs and fails to factor in other considerations such as risks of supply shortage, global price fluctuations, and foreign exchange.

The least-cost method favors traditional power plants as the upfront costs of building them are cheaper than developing renewable sources. However, relying on traditional sources such as coal comes with big risks. For one, they are purchased in dollars, and as we all know, foreign exchange fluctuates. Plus, there’s the risk to its supply. Had Indonesia closed down its borders due to the pandemic, then where would we source coal?

The problem with the least coach approach is exacerbated by our Power Sales Agreements (PSAs), which typically last for 25 years. Our PSAs have pass-through provisions, meaning the foreign exchange and higher fuel prices are passed on to consumers to allow power producers to recover costs. This means that for the next 25 years or as long as the PSAs are valid, the consumers are exposed to volatilities of foreign exchange global price risks. It’s what I have been calling the ‘floating contract.’

I have then argued for a fixed contract, which is possible for renewable energy sources. The consumers pay the same prices for as long as the PSA is valid. It minimizes the exposure and likelihood of consumers paying when the peso is weak or when global fuel and coal prices are up.

Some generation companies have started to offer fixed-price contracts. I am not privy on how these companies hedge the coal price and forex risks, but I can imagine that these companies play on portfolio management, tenor of power sales agreements and over-the-counter hedging instruments to allow them to offer fixed price contracts albeit for a shorter period. This augurs well for consumers in the long-run as they will be paying the same rate for a fixed period rather than shoulder the costs of a weaker peso or higher global prices.

However, let us go back to our energy planners’ penchant for the least-cost method has gotten consumers into trouble. Just take this pandemic as an example.

Another study by the IEEFA entitled “Philippines Power Sector Can Reach Resilience by 2021″ revealed the weaknesses of the Philippine Energy sector. It noted that the country’s dependence on large scale fossil plants with guaranteed contracts have resulted in grid inflexibility and price instability

Coal plants are inherently inflexible. And so as the pandemic depressed the power demand, fossil fuel plants turned to their mid-merit load factors, which are more costly to run, increasing the cost per kilowatt-hour. This is allowed as the PSAs have cost recovery mechanisms of coal plants that in the words of IEEFA are “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.”

Sadly, 80 percent of our caseload coal plants are inflexible.

Again, our reliance on coal, penchant for the faulty appreciation of the least-cost method, and our pass-on provisions are causing consumers to pay more than what they should. All these have caused price instability. Our regulations allowing pass-on costs to consumers are a disservice to the Filipinos. I am happy to note, however, that there are now concrete plans to put up new gas-fired generation plants. Adding gas-fired power plants will allow the entry of more intermittent renewable energy projects. This, partly addresses some of the issues causing high power rates.

Aside from batting for more fixed-price contracts, we should also push the government to order the immediate development of indigenous sources along with making changes to procurement rules. The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) does not differentiate imported energy from indigenous ones. 

The commission should require distribution utilities during procurement to testify that either there are zero offers from indigenous power producers or there are no available indigenous resources in their franchise area.

When we talk about energy security, particularly energy prices then we should look at how favoring the least-cost approach has led us into more trouble. IEEFA in its report said it best “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.”

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.

Wanted: Fast and Reliable Internet Connection

The Enhanced Community Quarantine or ECQ forced us all to stay indoors. As with the many Filipinos, I stayed inside and worked at home. But work from home means having a slow and unreliable internet connection.

According to Speedtest Global Index, as of February 2020, the Philippines’ mobile, download speed average is 16.66 while upload speed is 6.47 Megabits per second (Mbps). On the other hand, fixed broadband average download speed is31.48 Mbps and upload of 31.42 Mbps.

An internet speed test I did, however, show that my home internet’s download speed was at 1.59 Mbps while upload speed is 11.17 Mbps. I am subscribed and am paying for a plan that’s supposedly up to “100 Mbps”, considered my fast internet that can handle multiple activities online.

Yes, one can argue that with everyone at home there’s heavy usage of the internet. But really, my internet service provider (ISP) seems to be robbing me with my 1.59 and 11. 17 Mbps. My ISP says my subscription is up to 100 Mbps but really, my download speed is just 1.5 percent of what I’m subscribed to. The service I received is even way below than the Philippines’ average. This kind of service is just really absurd.

Clearly, and as everyone knows, we need better internet speed and reliable connection, requiring more investments in IT infrastructure. This isn’t because I simply want to stream in Ultra High Definition for my Netflix, Hulu or Apple TV. We need to invest in our IT infrastructure because our modern world depends on reliable interconnectivity.

In the Energy Sector, high speed and dependable internet is a prerequisite for modernizing the grid.

The Internet of Things or IoT is a game-changer and the internet is the backbone of IoT. Technological advancement has given birth to distributed energy systems, which foregoes the traditional distribution energy of centralized generation and transmission with really long high-powered lines delivering power. Rather, we now have a combined generator and distributor in small and even remote communities.

IoT is needed to empower consumers. There are more choices for everyone if we can leverage on what technology has to offer, allowing even a homemaker to be a generator and distributor at the same time. Imagine a homeowner with solar power or even wind turbines generating excess capacity that can be sold to neighbors.

Speaking of distributed energy, thanks to the internet, grid managers will have visibility over grid functions and performance remotely. Distributions lines and substations are equipped with sensors that can provide real-time data on power consumption helping grid managers make decisions remotely. Even when away from their substations, grid managers can decide real-time on network configuration, load switching, and voltage control, among others.

The Internet allows for virtual troubleshooting, too. We can expect fewer linemen risking their lives trying to fix broken power connections and consumers waiting for days or weeks to get their power back that after a devastating natural disaster.

As for consumers, they now have more information in their hands. With smart devices and meters, they can now know their power consumption and adjust their consumption patterns accordingly. Smart technologies allow them to choose and eventually limit the use power-hungry appliances. Likewise, they can strategize their consumption if they are likely to go over the budget with their power consumption. This is because IoT’s low-powered sensors and internet-connected devices allow for the collection and transmission of data to users quickly.

The case of Chattanooga City in Tennessee illustrates how crucial fast internet is in the modernization of grids and improvement of the community’s economy. In 2008, Chattanooga City rolled out a fiber-optic network that could provide speeds of up to 1000 Mbps. This despite the huge capital needed to install and maintain fiber networks which required new underground wiring and linking to individual homes.

Chatt gridsmart

Chattanooga City is reaping huge benefits from investments in fiber optics and smart grids. Photo c/o http://www.smartgrids.com

Chattanooga’s project was started as the small city wanted to build a “smart” power grid that’s capable of rerouting or switching electricity easily to prevent outages.

The city government opted to operate a city-owned agency, the Electric Power Board (EPB) that would run its own network offering higher-speed service than any private sector players can provide. Naturally, large businesses incapable of providing better service tried to prevent the entry of a new player that would change the competitive landscape. The city government faced lawsuits from US telecom giant, Comcast and local cable operators who tried to block the entry of EPB. But by September 2009, the internet service was already in operation.

A $111 million stimulus grant given to the city by the US Department of Energy saw the completion of the project. EPB managed to roll out its smart grid rapidly. The organization intended to complete the smart grid deployment in 10 years, but only needed three years. “Deploying a network for telecommunications is not fundamentally different from deploying a network for power,” Benoit Felten, a broadband expert with Diffraction Analysis said. “Chattanooga is the prime example of that, and it’s absolutely worked.”

These days, the EPB offers electric, cable, internet and telephone service to the majority of the Hamilton County in Tennessee and eight nearby counties in East Tennessee and Georgia. It manages 3560 miles of transmission line and serves around 178,000 residential and business customers.

Reports say that Chattanooga City is reaping huge benefits from EPB’s investments in fiber optics and smart grids. EPB is credited for being the most influential in Chattanooga’s astonishing economic transformation

The city’s smart grids have helped reduce power outages and incidents in half. This translates to 285 million customer minutes, which means EPB’ customers get to save around $50 million yearly in spoiled food, lower productivity, and other negative impacts.

Chattanooga City’s example shows that there are many benefits to be enjoyed if one invests in a smart grid. The best way to start modernizing the grid is to address the lack of high speed and reliable internet. This is why we need to have better internet services in the country. We need to invest in our internet infrastructure not because we need to stream our entertainment content in Ultra High Definition. But rather because, the Energy Sector needs reliable internet to provide more choices and better services to Filipinos.

What Lack of Competition Means

A recent World Bank report says that more competition in the power, transportation, telecommunication can boost economic growth in the Philippines.

According to the study, “Fostering Competition in the Philippines: The Challenge of Restrictive Regulation,” the above-mentioned sectors are crucial in improving job generation and services in the country. Unfortunately, there is limited competition in these sectors.  

When compared to other countries, the Philippines’ economy is more concentrated due to the higher proportion of oligopoly, duopoly, and oligopoly in the market, the report added.  The author of the report and World Bank senior economist, Graciela Miralles Murciego stressed that such market structures have hampered productivity growth in the sectors: “The entry of politically connected companies limited productivity.”

The study also emphasized that restrictive regulations and restrictions such as complex regulatory procedures and barriers to trade and investments including foreign equity investments have constrained the growth of the economy. This in turns led to the high prices of services. It also cited that the limitations on foreign direct investment have stunted the development of infrastructure in the energy sector.

The World Bank is not alone in pointing out that more competition is needed in the energy sector. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a paper, Utility of the Future by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which concluded 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 report may not be talking about the Philippines directly, but it nevertheless echoes the sentiments of the World Bank.

The MIT study added that there is a need to review electricity markets especially since new technologies can be integrated into the power system. “Wholesale market design should be improved to better integrate distributed resources, reward greater flexibility, and create a level playing field for all technologies.”

I have been vocal about the needed reforms by the power sector so Filipinos can enjoy lower electricity rates. Our rules are skewed to favor the few. 

Take for example the lack of competition in service areas. Currently, another power player is barred from offering its services in an area that is already being served by a distributor. This, in turn, creates a monopoly. And as our economic professor will tell us, monopolistic practices will always put consumers at a disadvantage.

It also does not help that we are not allowing more foreign investments in the power sector. As the World Bank Report stressed, limitations on foreign direct investments have curtailed the growth of energy infrastructure. This is especially true for renewable energy development. 

We have to remember that renewable sources need to be explored (as in the case of geothermal) and plants have to be constructed. These undertakings require new technologies and equipment. Foreign investors can provide these two while we limit the foreign investors’ ownership on the natural resources if they are allowed to do so. This is the best way forward if we are serious in shifting to greater use of cleaner and sustainable energy sources.

Unfortunately, our 1987 constitution limits foreign participation in many industries including power. These provisions, however, are already outdated and needs to be revised. Former National Economic Development Authority chief, Cielito Habito emphasized this need aptly when he said, “The hope is we will be willing to amend economic provisions of the constitution because that is what really is holding us back. It is outdated. Many of the restrictions in foreign advertising, mass media, education, are really out of date. Given the technology in recent years, those rationales don’t apply anymore to the information age.”

Time and time again we are reminded by various experts on the many virtues of competition in various areas including the power sector. But these reminders seem to fall on deaf ears. The Philippines still has one of the highest power rates in Asia, and we all have to thank our regulators and policymakers for that.

References:

https://www.philstar.com/business/2019/03/05/1898614/greater-competition-power-telco-transport-boosts-growth-world-bank#UcJx07M8WylEry0k.99

http://www.bworldonline.com/constitutional-amendments-needed-boost-fdi/

A Growing Consensus

There is a growing consensus among energy players and experts around the world that the best path forward to a sustainable energy and clean energy is to combine renewable energy with natural gas. Unless an alternative type of fuel is found, or until battery storage (or similar technologies) become economically feasible, this may be the case.

For one, Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s biggest energy company is investing heavily in liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants and developing a market for it. Shell currently has various LNG projects scattered in practically every continent.

Now why the massive investment on LNG? According to Maarten Wetselaar, Royal Dutch Shell Plc’s director of integrated gas and new energies, its because “We are deeply convinced that the end-point energy mix that provides cheap, or at least affordable, reliable and clean energy to everybody will consist of renewable power, biofuels, and natural gas.”

He added that that the company will go full speed with investments projects that can produce the cheapest LNG.

As early as 2012, Shell’s CEO, Peter Voser already announced that the firm would invest some $20 billion in the natural gas around the world in the next three years.

Shell isn’t alone in its belief that renewables should be combined with natural gas.

Craig Ivey, president of US Energy firm, Consolidated Edison Inc, stressed that the US shift to RE like wind and solar is feasible if there is greater reliance on natural gas. Consolidated Edison Inc. provides electric service to some 3.3 million customers and gas service to roughly 1.1 million customers in New York City and Westchester County in the US

Ivey added that REs could account for half of New York’s energy needs by 2030 only with the help of natural gas.

But energy company officials are not the only ones to have this conclusion. A study published recently by the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that natural gas power plants that can fire up quickly must be used to meet the cut emissions and energy stable supply.

Author’s of the study, “Bridging The Gap: Do Fast Reacting Fossil Technologies Facilitate Renewable Energy Diffusion?” stressed that “Renewables and fast-reacting fossil technologies appear as highly complementary and that they should be jointly installed to meet the goals of cutting emissions and ensuring a stable supply.”

I have to agree with these experts as adding more natural gas helps in ensuring a stable energy supply through diversification.

 

Shell LNG

Adding more natural gas to the power mix is key to achieving energy diversification. Photo c/o https://www.green4sea.com

 

According to Andy Stirling, a Professor of Science & Technology Policy at the University of Sussex, there are three basic properties when it comes to diversification: variety, balance and disparity.

In the context of energy systems planning, variety is about the number of energy supply options available. And having more variety of energy types means that there is greater diversity in the system.

On the other hand, balance pertains to the reliance on each option available where the system is considered as more diverse if there is more balance across energy choices while disparity refers to the differences in each option. There is more diversity in the energy supply system when options are more disparate.

This is why we need to make use of various energy types for our energy mix.So far, we depend heavily on coal to meet our ancillary needs. According to the Department of Energy, last year, coal accounted for 48 percent of our energy needs while some 22 percent came from natural gas.

Obviously, our energy supply is far from diverse given the numbers above. This is why we need to develop and increase the share of natural gas in our energy mix. We can lower our reliance on coal, and use more natural gas for our ancillary need as we add more renewable energy mix.

Keep in mind that both wind and solar power are intermittent. Thus, we need to beef up on our ancillary services to maintain the correct direction and flow of power as well as to address the imbalance between the supply and demand on the grid. And for that we can utilize more LNG rather than always turning to traditional power sources for our ancillary needs.

After all, there are advantages in using natural gas. For one, natural gas is three times more useful compared to conventional power. It is highly efficient as around 90 percent of natural gas produced can be converted to useful energy.

Natural gas is less harmful to the environment, too since its main component, methane, results in lesser carbon emission. LNG’s carbon dioxide emissions are 30 percent less than oil and 45 percent lower than other conventional fuels.

Plus, the death print of natural is less than coal according to energy expert James Conca who defined death print as “the number of people killed by one kind of energy or another per kilowatt hour (kWh) produced”. Natural gas death print is 4,000 significantly less than coal’s 100,000.

We have so much to gain by developing our LNG to replace coal-fired plants in the country. Adding more LNG will make our energy supply system become more diverse while helping us achieve our goal of helping the world become a less polluted place.

In the long-term, however, maybe indigenous, sustainable and therefore renewable energy may be the way to go.

References:

http://www.reuters.com/article/usa-property-coned-energy-idUSL1N1IY1DK

https://www.cnbc.com/id/49841864

fuel.https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-06/shell-seeks-to-boost-lng-demand-as-canada-in-mix-for-new-plant

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/08/11/turns-out-wind-and-solar-have-a-secret-friend-natural-gas/?utm_term=.dbf4c1935ceb

https://www.doe.gov.ph/electric-power/2016-philippine-power-situation-report

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comparison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CAPM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do we translate this to Juan de la Cruz?

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

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

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

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

Time to change.

Job Generation in Renewables

Going green, in this case, going for more renewable energy sources to dominate our energy mix has its rewards. Coal, as we have been discussing, is harmful to our environment, as well as health. Sourcing energy from renewables would lead to savings from medical expenses.

Aside from the environment and health-related benefits, there is one advantage of going renewables, an outcome that can help the lives of impoverished families And this is the focus of GreenPeace Philippines report, “Green is Gold: How Renewable Energy can save us money and generate jobs.” Renewable energy development generates employment. The report cited the example of Europe where the renewable energy sector employs some 650,000 individuals. The RE sector in Germany alone has roughly 370,000 jobs. Data from the German Renewable Energies Agencies stressed that there are more employment available in solar energy than nuclear and coal energy combined. Likewise, in Spain, its RE industry has already provided close to 89,000 direct jobs.

In its report, GreenPeace stressed that solar power could generate the highest number of employment. Research by the University of California, Berkeley pointed out that “photovoltaic technology produces more jobs per unit of electricity than any other energy source. Most of the jobs are in construction and installation of solar facilities and can’t be outsourced to other countries.” A good example would be the solar power business in Japan, where some 9,800 jobs were generated after completing the installation of a total of 360 MWp (megawatt peak) of PV power.

And it’s not just solar power that can provide employment. The study also showed that other RE sources could provide a great number of employment, too.  For example, a typical wind farm generating 250 MW can generate 1079 direct jobs–jobs in the manufacturing, construction, maintenance and operation of power plants– during the installation phase alone. Naturally, indirect jobs are created as well.

On the other hand, job generation figures of geothermal power are impressive, too.  A Philippine company that generates some 1,189 MW of geothermal power has directly hired more than 2,500 individuals.

At Emerging Power Inc. or EPI, we also employ locals in our various power plants including indigenous people. Our Mindoro power plant has employed some Mangyans while there are hundreds of Aetas working with us in the Subic solar plant. So far, we have roughly 400 individuals working with us, and this figure is likely to increase over time as we build more renewable energy projects.

2016-feb-jsi_site-2-1

Workers at EPI’s solar plant in Subic.

Aside from giving them employment, EPI also provides them with the opportunity to go back to school through our CSR programs.  For example, our Alternative Learning Program sponsors individuals to go back to school regardless of their age. In fact, one of our recent high school graduates is a 47-year old Mangyan, who unfortunately had to quit school in the past due to poverty.

Clearly, growing our RE sector will help address the country’s unemployment problems especially when renewables provide more employment than coal-fired plants. A study by the University of Massachusetts, The Economic Benefits of Investing in Clean Energy in the US, noted that about 2.5 million new jobs are to be created when investments on clean energy reach a total of $150 billion. Concluding their report, the researchers added that “clean-energy investments generate roughly three times more jobs than an equivalent amount of money spent on carbon-based fuels.”

Again, I am not against coal power plants per se. In fact, I had helped built some them when I was with NAPOCOR. But times are different, and we need to make some changes to address the needs of our country and the earth.

We have to remember that we are a country that benefits from abundant natural resources. For one, we are the second largest producer of geothermal energy in the world. Plus, the Philippines has a long and hot summer, as well.  According to the National Renewable Energy Labor NREL, the Philippines has the potential of generating an average of 161.7 watts per sq. m., being one of the sunniest countries on the planet.

No doubt that we are set to gain more economically if we harness our resources properly. Building more power plants from renewables could help lower our unemployment rate which stands at 19.7% as of July this year.  RE doesn’t only help save the planet; it also helps improve the lives of so many through the creation of jobs.

References:

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

Note: Data including geothermal, wind employment & NREL figures, cited UCLA Berkeley, University of Massachusetts & German Renewable Energies studies and definition of direct employment are included in the Greenpeace report.

Labor Force Survey. PSA. https://psa.gov.ph/statistics/survey/labor-force