Off-Grid Renewable Energy is the Way to Go

 

Southeast Asia Market Analysis man on boat solar panels

Growth of off-grid renewables in Asia increased to 4.3 GW in 2017 from 1.3 GW in 2008. Photo c/o http://www.irena.org

The number of people served by off-grid renewables around the world has increased six-fold since 2011 as there are roughly 133 million people enjoying renewables in remote areas in 2016 according to International Renewable Energy Association in its report, Off-Grid Renewable Energy Solutions: Global and Regional Status Trends.

Of the 133 million, there are 100 million who are using solar lights, 24 million solar homes and nine million are connected to a mini-grid.

In terms of capacity, off-grid renewable capacity has also increased three-folds from under two gigawatts in 2008 to 6.5 in 2017.

The report noted that growth came from the Asia and Africa regions with 76 million Asians and 53 million Africans enjoying the benefits of off-grid renewable energy. Asia accounted for the most significant growth over the last decade from 1.3GW in 2008 to 4.3 GW in 2017. The population that’s enjoying RE in the region has increased by eight times, from 10 million in 2008 to 76 million in 2016.

The growth of renewable energy use in remote areas is not surprising since it has long been established that renewable can reduce energy poverty as well as help lower power costs even for isolated areas.

In the Philippines, various studies are concluding that the country will have big savings by using renewables for off-grid locations.

For example, recently, the Access to Sustainable Energy Program (EU-ASEP), a European Union (EU) funded program has said that the National Power Corporation can save as much as Php 2.25 billion, which is the equivalent of Php 4.50 per kilowatt-hour if the agency chooses hybrid technology for its mini-grids.

The EU, through its strategic advisor of the study, Dr. Christoph Menke defines hybrid mini-grid as “combines at least two different kinds of technologies for power generation and distributes the electricity to several consumers through an independent grid.” This means combining renewable energy with a traditional source of power such as diesel power plants as what most off-grid islands use for their energy.

The Php 2.25 billion savings is feasible, our Energy Department confirms in a statement: “Hybridization, in combination with properly maintained generator-sets will enable NPC to save around P2.25 billion annually.”

The EU-backed research is not alone in emphasizing the importance of adding more renewables for off-grid islands in the Philippines.

Similar recommendations were provided by the paper entitled “Electricity-Sector Opportunities in the Philippines: The Case for Wind- and Solar-Powered Small Island Grids,” which stressed that country could save as much as Php10 billion if off-grid islands use RE rather than traditional power sources.

The study also noted that shifting to more use of renewable power will not affect the availability of power in these areas: “Small island grids powered by solar, wind, and other renewable energy could reduce dependence on expensively imported fossil fuel generation without compromising the availability of power and grid reliability.”

Choosing renewables is the best solution to address energy poverty in the country especially when there are some 2.4 million Filipinos homes without access to poverty as of 2014.

Energy Undersecretary Felix William Fuentebella has recently announced that the Energy Department is ready to release a Department Circular named Renewable Portfolio Standards Rules for Off-grid Area, mandating industry players of off-grid and missionary areas to source a part of their needs from renewable sources. The RE requirement or percentage, as well as the yearly incremental RE generation in every off-grid area yet, has to be determined.

The circular could have been released much earlier given that the need to provide access to power and lower energy rates has been there all along. Nevertheless, may this circular help in providing stable and affordable electricity to fellow Filipinos living in isolated areas.

References:
Off-Grid Renewable Energy Solutions: Global and Regional Status Trends IRENA
http://www.irena.org/-/media/Files/IRENA/Agency/Publication/2018/Jul/IRENA_Off-grid_RE_Solutions_2018.pdfhttp://www.irena.org/-/media/Files/IRENA/Agency/Publication/2018/Jul/IRENA_Off-grid_RE_Solutions_2018.pdf

Electricity-Sector Opportunities in the Philippines: The Case for Wind- and Solar-Powered Small Island Grids. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis

https://business.mb.com.ph/2018/09/11/doe-eu-estimate-p2-25-b-savings-in-hybrid-solution-for-off-grid-areas/

https://www.manilatimes.net/energy-circulars-on-uniform-electricity-bill-re-use-inked/438275/

Empowering Small Islands

Ta'u Island

The island of Ta’u in American Samoa now running  on 100% on solar energy. Photo c/o wired.co.uk

It is indeed possible to shift from diesel dependence to renewable energy sources. Such is what happened to two islands in other regions.

The island of Ta’u in American Samoa recently made the headlines as the island was able to shift 100 percent from diesel to solar power. The Ta’u is a small island with somewhere between 200 to 600 residents depending on the season.

Last November, the island was able to go 100% renewable after Elon Musk-owned SolarCity finished the installation of some 5,328 solar panels that can generate 1.410 megawatts (MW) and 60 Tesla large batteries that can energize the island for three straight days without sunlight.

Similarly, news items also carried the accomplishment of Tilos, a small island in Greece, which is it set to become the first island in the Mediterranean to run on solar and wind energy.  Installation of a small photovoltaic park and a single wind turbine and micro-grid for generation and storage is on-going and is expected to change the lives of some 500 residents.

Currently, the island still relies on the oil-based electricity from its neighbor, Kos through the use of a submarine cable. Due to the vulnerability of the cable, power cuts in Tilos happen often.  Project proponents are hopeful that eventually, it will be Tilos that would be able to send some of its excess power to its neighbor Kos because of its shift to renewable.

These stories only prove that the shift to cleaner energy in small islands is indeed possible. There then is still hope for our off-grid islands to end their reliance on diesel and instead use renewable sources for their energy needs.

The Philippines, being an archipelagic country will benefit from looking at the above islands and working double time to power our off-grid islands with renewable sources.

A study by the Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) and Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC) has already discussed the economic benefits of using RE to supply the electricity needs in off-grid areas.

To quote the study, “Small island grids powered by solar, wind, and other renewable energy can reduce dependence on expensive imported fossil fuel generation without compromising the availability of power and grid reliability.”

Indeed, the benefits of using renewables, especially in these off-grid islands should not be ignored.

According to the report, “Electricity-Sector Opportunities in the Philippines: The Case for Wind- and Solar-Powered Small Island Grids¬” the Philippines can save as much as P10 billion a year if renewables are used instead of diesel.  This is because 80 percent of the operating costs of power generation in these islands are spent on diesel costs. And as I have pointed out in several posts, reliance on fossil fuels is costly due to oil price spikes.

Research by Professor Shimon Awerbuch, a big advocate for portfolio theory revealed that the oil price spikes from years 2000 to 2004 cost the European Union some €700 billion given the region’s reliance then on oil-powered plants.

Unfortunately, our regulators have been slow in crafting policies that would pave the way for greater renewable energy use in these areas.

The study by the IEEFA and ICSC stressed that there are no incentives for island electric cooperatives to purchase cheaper energy sources given the present system where franchise ratepayers do not benefit from the cost savings as these go exclusively to the missionary fund. Both the Energy Regulatory Commission and National Electrification Administration yet have to change the tariff setting system to encourage electric coops in islands to increase their efficiency and lower their costs.

This is unfortunate. We, after all, have the resources to make the shift to renewable energy. In fact, our country can generate as much as 161.7 watts per square meter given that the Philippines is one of the sunniest countries. But we need to re-think and change our policies and regulations that hinder us from using these resources.

There is a pressing need to review our regulations to address the needs of our citizens in the islands. Hopefully, supportive policies and regulations will help us make better use of resources just like what the islands Ta’u and Tilos have done.

References:

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/02/tau-american-samoa-solar-power-microgrid-tesla-solarcity/

https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2017/jun/15/tilos-greece-renewable-energy-wind-solar-power

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

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