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

 

Are We Getting Any Closer? Revisiting our Foreign Ownership Rules

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Changing our constitution to allow  more foreign investors is a must if we are to succeed in developing our nation. Hence, we must be fast  in doing so if we are to take advantage of the global development in RE including falling prices.

As early as last year, President Rodrigo Duterte already announced his plans to open various industries to foreign players.

In a speech made during a visit to New Zealand last year, the president said “The only way to make this country move faster to benefit the poor is really to open up the communications, the airwaves and the entire energy sector. My decision now is to open the Philippine economy to other players.

These days, foreign ownership of companies is in the headlines as the government is set to release the upcoming Foreign Investment Negative List ( FINL). The FINL defines which investment areas of the country are still off-limits to foreign investments and open to 40%  foreign ownership. 

Unfortunately, the government can only do so much with its FINL as they need to work within what’s allowed by our constitution.  Perhaps it’s also time to make amendments to the constitution given that times have changed. In this day and age of technology, we need to be more competitive. Unfortunately for us, our laws have not been updated to keep up with the times.

Many economists have already stressed the need for significant changes in our constitutional provisions on ownership

Just recently, former National Economic Development Authority or NEDA chief Cielito Habito has emphasized the need for these changes. “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,” he said.  

He further added that we are being left behind by our Southeast Asian neighbors because of the lack of participation of foreign investors. “The reason we continue we to  lag behind our neighbors, in spite of dramatic improvements already made, is still because of these legal constraints to more foreign participation in our industries.”  

The President back then said that he wants changes in the “regulatory requirement and institutional arrangements to hasten the entry of new players in the power industry and energy sector.

And I cannot wait for these changes to take place. We need this if we are determined to shift to cleaner sources of energy. Our progress in moving to more renewables for our energy has been quite slow. We are not getting any closer to our goal of using more RE for our needs. In fact, we seem to be heading in an opposite direction as coal fired power plants are seen to dominate our energy mix in the next 10 years as noted by BMI Research of the Fitch Group. The study revealed that 90% of the 7,300 MW of power projects in the pipeline are coal-fired plants. 

As I have been saying, the review of foreign ownership rules has been long overdue.  I have been vocal in my desire to open up the energy sector to more foreign investors, particularly the renewable energy sector. Mainly because putting up the RE plant has a high up-front cost and as such very few businesses can venture into this area. 

The government must consider limiting the ownership of foreigners of the renewable resources but increasing their ownership in owning the equipment required to convert these resources. 

Around the world costs of RE technologies are dropping. If we want to take advantage of this development in the hope of increasing the RE’s share in our energy mix, then we must act quickly and make the necessary changes in the foreign ownership rules. 

References:

http://www.investphilippines.info/arangkada/constitutional-amendments-needed-to-boost-fdi/

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faster Than Expected

Some experts are expecting that solar will eventually take over as the king of the energy mix. And it may come sooner than anticipated. Soon,  solar power, as well as renewable energy (RE), will dominate the power basket according to a Bloomberg New Finance outlook released last June.

The solar photo voltaic panels cost for one is expected to drop by 66 percent by the year 2040 while onshore wind power will dip by 47 percent after 2040.

The report noted that solar costs are now already just one-fourth of its prices in 2009 while onshore wind has seen a 30 percent decrease in the last eight years. Off shore wind prices are also expected to drop by 71 percent, making this RE technology more attractive.

Presently, solar costs are already comparable to new coal power plants in the United States and Germany. By 2021, the same will happen to emerging markets like India and China. By 2020s, both countries are expected to have lower power prices with the countries’ aggressive investments in solar energy. The BNEF report noted that close to 39 percent or some $4 trillion of RE investments of the world are to be poured in China and India.

“These tipping points are all happening earlier, and we just can’t deny that this technology is getting cheaper than we previously thought,” said Seb Henbest, the lead author of the BNEF research.

Due to the falling costs of the two technologies, the BNEF outlook stressed that in 2040, solar and wind power combined will account for close to half of the world’s installed generation capacity, more than four times the current 12 percent share.

Naturally, the greater share of these renewable sources will displace coal and natural gas plants. The estimate showed that roughly 369 gigawatts (GW) of coal plants projects would likely be canceled, an amount that’s equivalent to the combined generation capacity of Brazil and Germany.

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At present, solar costs are already comparable to new coal power plants in the U.S. and Germany

Even the United States where President Trump signed an executive order to “start a new era of production and job creation” especially in the coal sector, will see coal capacity drop by half in 2040.

Europe’s coal capacity is also expected to slide by 71 percent given the region’s environmental laws that will make fuel burning cost more.

The new king of the renewable mix is indeed coming.

Unfortunately, for us Filipinos, we still yet have to see a dramatic increase in the renewables’ share in our power mix. While India, has already embraced technology and the benefits that a nation can reap from harnessing its resources properly, our country has remained in the same position for years. In the last two years, the share of renewables— solar and wind combined– only accounts for one percent.

As I have been saying, our energy planners remain fixed in their incorrect thinking about how expensive RE is. While the rest of the world have been sensitive to the development of the RE sector, we still insist on having our ‘quick fixes.’ We favor the least cost in terms of capital outlay for power plants but refuse to look at the additional cost that consumers will shoulder for our heavy dependence on fossil fuels.

We only need to look at the devastating impact on energy prices from history to see the risks of relying heavily on either coal or oil plants. In the 1990s, the Gulf War, for example, brought roughly 30 percent increase in the average spot price for crude oil.  According to the average unit price of crude oil increase in the country was approximately 56.1 percent.

We don’t even have to go as far as the 1990s. Just last year, our Energy Department officials warned of a possible disaster with the news that Indonesia has extended its imposed moratorium on coal exports to the Philippines due to the kidnapping of several Indonesian sailors in the Sulu sea by the Abu Sayaff.  We, after all, get 70 percent of our coal or 15 million tons for 2015 from Indonesia. A few years before that, Indonesia also changed its rules about coal exports which led to an even higher cost of generating power from coal.

A necessary consequence to all these is this: coal and other similar fossil fuel-based technologies will increasingly have difficulties in getting financing. Not only because financial institutions will institute policies to avoid fossil fuel technologies, but if at all, banks will have to shorten the tenors it will give to coal plants. Because of the expected decline in costs of RE technologies, the competitiveness of coal plants will increasingly decline.  Therefore, banks will have to lend, if at all, at much shorter maturities.  With shorter maturities come higher annuities.  This will make financing coal plants extremely difficult and uncompetitive.

All these points to one thing: Let us be like other countries, like our Asian neighbors India and China that have embraced and capitalized on developments of the RE. And part of it is welcoming fixed contracts in our energy mix to take advantage of the falling prices of RE technologies and having the maximum levels allowed in our Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), where power players are required to either source or produce a specified percentage from RE

Given that our Power Sales Agreements (PSAs) are ‘floating’ where risks such as price escalations of fossil fuel and foreign exchange rates are passed on to consumers, we need to have our fixed priced contracts to at the very least soften the blow on the negative impact of the ‘pass-on costs.’ Fortunately, renewables are in a good position to hand out those much needed fixed contracts.

While the rest of the world are embracing the lower costs of RE generation, we are still stuck in the old ways of thinking that fossil fuels and fixed price contracts are the correct formulae to our power rates woes.  Let us see the economic sense in investing and helping renewable energy flourish in our rich country.

If we want to maximize our abundance of RE sources in the country, which as many have said is the key to lower energy prices, then we must consider those fixed priced contracts for RE. And if we want to truly embrace and benefit from the falling costs of RE technologies such as what the recent BNFF report has noted, then we must be quick in adopting my above proposals. Otherwise, we will be left wondering years from now how and why we failed to find a solution to what seems to be never ending high electricity prices in the country, when in fact, the answer had been quite obvious.

References:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-06-15/solar-power-will-kill-coal-sooner-than-you-think

http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2016/06/27/1597092/philippine-power-supply-jeopardized-indonesian-ban

Oil Price Shocks and Devefoping Countries: A Case Study of the Gulf Crisis by Sarah Ahmad Khan

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.

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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/