We Pay Higher With A Weaker Peso

pexels-photo-164560

The Philippine Peso has been falling against the greenback in the last few weeks. Tagged by Bloomberg as Asia’s worst performing currency, our currency has lost 1.6 percent this year. Bloomberg also noted that the Philippine peso is also the worst performer among emerging markets, only next to the Argentina Peso.

Both forecasts by DBS Bank and Bloomberg also predict that the exchange rate would be P52 to a dollar by year-end, In fact, according to DBS Bank, the weak peso could continue until middle of next year.

The weakening of the peso is a result of various factors. Unfortunately, a shrinking peso against the dollar is detrimental to normal Filipinos if we are talking about their power rates. The falling peso could spell doom for many Filipinos, mainly because the lower peso would increase power prices.

As I have pointed out in previous posts, our Power Sales Agreements or PSAs have the provision for the pass-on costs where the consumers pay for the foreign exchange and fossil fuel upward price adjustments. To put it simply, the consumers will pay for the weak peso in their electric bills.

Remember December last year where the biggest power distributor announced a P0.1011 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) increase because of the upward adjustment in the generation charge caused by the significant weakening of the peso against the dollar. A news report then noted that the peso slid down to P49.73 in November from P46.59 to a dollar from August of the same year. That’s almost a three peso difference in three months, which resulted in the increased electricity bill. We have to keep in mind that the largest DU in the country sources its electricity from independent power producers, which, unfortunately, have 90 percent of their billings in dollar denomination.

As I have discussed in detail, our energy planners have favored the ‘floating’ PSAs rather than fixed ones, thinking that it is cheaper. To simplify, these floating PSAs are not necessarily more inexpensive as there are unknowns specifically fossil fuel global price spikes and falling value of the peso against the dollar. These unknowns are, sadly, inevitable.

As with our experience last year in the above example, a weaker peso resulted in higher power prices. So, we cannot say that floating PSAs are cheaper because, in the end, the poor consumers will shell out more money when the inevitable happens.

This is why we need the fixed priced contracts. Under fixed priced contracts, consumers will pay the same amount for a specified period, let us say, 25 years, for their electricity. Fixed price contracts eliminate the need for users to pay for the pass-on costs or to simplify, pay for higher power charges when the peso falls against the dollar or when prices of coal or oil in the international market increases. I’m sure our consumers would appreciate knowing how much they would be paying for their energy consumption on a monthly basis rather than be surprised when their electric bills come.

Let us see the economic sense in having fixed price contracts for the sake of the end consumers. Rather than just fret on how a weak peso could hurt us, let us make the adjustments needed to ease the burden for the Filipinos who will shoulder the cost of the falling peso when they for pay their electricity. Surely, Filipinos have other uses for their hard-earned money.

Jobs, Jobs and More Jobs

Renewable energy development creates jobs. Recent figures from the International Renewable Energy Agency shows that. The growing investments on RE in recent years are resulting in more work for many nations.

The report, Renewable Energy and Jobs Annual Review 2017 showed that in 2016, the RE sector provided jobs to as many as 9.8 million individuals. This amount was higher by 1.1% posted in 2015. Leading the pack is solar photovoltaic, employing some 3.1 million people, a number that is up by 12 percent from 2015. Wind energy also saw a jump in the number of people it employed, providing jobs to some 1.2 million people.  The report stressed that wind and solar PV have been consistent in providing more jobs in recent years as work from these two subsectors have more than doubled since 2012.

As government’s in Asian countries take notice of the potential of RE, Asia accounted for the largest contribution to job generation in the sector, accounting for 62% of the total globally. Growth in RE jobs in this continent has been significant with its 12% increase from 2013 to 2016.

Asia has been on the rise with its new installed capacity accounting for 46% of the global growth in 2016 from a mere 40% in 2013. Thanks to China, which the study noted as one of the top countries in producing the most number of jobs along with Brazil, the United States, India, Japan, and Germany. Given China’s pivot to cleaner energy, it now provided some 44% of the total RE jobs worldwide last year. China has been employing more people as it only posted 41% in 2013.

Traditional sources of energy, on the other hand, is suffering a different fate.  Several developments such as growing use of automation in extraction, overcapacity as well as the shift to greener forms of energy of nations are causing the decline of jobs in the sector. Jobs generation from this sector has been declining all over the world for decades.

Developments in China alone are hurting traditional power industry, particularly, coal. China, the producer of almost half of the world’s coal, have already closed 5,600 mines due to the slowdown of its economy and excess supply. It is predicted that some 1.3 million coal mining work will be reduced in the country. Similarly, the world’s largest coal producer, Coal India has already decreased the number of jobs by 36% as the number of its employees are down to 326,000 in 2015-2016 from 511,000 workers in 2002-2003.

Similarly, coal-mining in Germany only employs roughly 30,000 jobs, which is a mere tenth of what it used to hire 30 years ago. The US coal mining work, too have dwindled to 55,000 jobs from 174,000 three decades ago.

And we can expect more of this trend in the coming years. Russia, for one, has recently announced its largest-ever purchase of renewable energy as it aims to award contracts to buy 1.9 gigawatts of clean energy in a bid to attract more jobs through foreign investments.

Director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency Andan Amin has noted that this move “can significantly contribute to the country’s economic objectives such as economic growth and employment.”

RussiaRussia now joins other power nations that are seeking to invest more in renewables. Just a few months ago, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC’s top producing country, Saudi Arabia announced that it will invest some $30 to $50 billion in renewables starting with the construction of wind and solar power plants.

As I have been saying, there are many benefits of investing in renewables. And job generation is one of them. As some of the world’s most advanced countries shift to greener forms of energy, with the exception of US, (which is a different story, by the way), we can only expect more jobs and a better (and cleaner) future, hopefully for all.

 

References:

Renewable Energy and Jobs Annual Review 2017

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-05-29/russia-starts-largest-renewable-energy-auction-in-bid-for-jobs

Double 100

The previous year closed with good news on the renewable energy development front.

For starters, the world’s billionaires have announced in December their $1 billion clean energy technology fund known as the Breakthrough Energy Ventures.

To recall, the world’s richest came together in 2015 to form the Breakthrough Coalition with the intention of helping the world find a solution to the worsening problem of climate change. Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Alibaba’s Jack Ma are just some of the members of this organization.

A year after the formation of the coalition, these prominent businessmen put their money where their mouth are and pooled the one billion fund to finance research on clean energy. In an interview, Gates was quoted as saying “We need affordable and reliable energy that doesn’t emit greenhouse gas to power the future and to get it, we need a different model for investing in good ideas and moving them from the lab to the market.”

Aside from the venture fund, another good news greeted those who are hoping for a greener future. Before the year ended, internet giant firm, Google announced that its global operations, which includes data centers and offices would be 100% powered by renewable sources beginning 2017.

This is no easy feat given Google’s size. Having their offices which houses some 60,000 employees running on renewable energy is truly impressive.

Google, being the biggest corporation buyer of RE has done well in keeping its commitment to using clean energy as it announced in 2012. To date, it has a commitment to procure 2.6 gigawatts of wind and solar energy. For Google, choosing renewable sources to fuel their operation is a solid business strategy. According to its EU energy lead, Marc Oman. “We are convinced this is good for business, this is not about greenwashing. This is about locking in prices for us in the long term. Increasingly, renewable energy is the lowest cost option.”

Now there’s more reason to believe a cleaner environment, and achieving the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees are within reach. It is encouraging that prices of solar and wind are at the same price or even lower than coal energy in more than 30 countries as reported by the World Economic Forum.

Both energy types, in fact, are making headlines. Solar power in the US reached a record-breaking year with 9.5 gw of photovoltaic capacity added to the US grid in 2016. This makes it the top fuel source of the country for the entire year, a first in US history based on the estimates of US Energy Administration. The Solar Energy Industry Association noted that the US added 125 solar panels per minute last year, twice the pace in 2015.

groenetrein

Dutch Trains running on 100% RE. Photo c/o Groenetrain

And even wind energy is making waves.  In Netherlands, all electric trains are now powered by wind energy as of January this year. According to the Dutch national railway company, NS some 600,000 passengers daily are being transported using wind energy. Ton Boon, the NS spokesman stressed that the increase in the number of wind farms in Netherlands allowed them to achieve their goal of powering all electric trains via wind energy one year ahead of the firm’s target date.

Locally, we have seen more companies employing renewables to power their operations. Major malls such as SM, Robinsons and Gaisano have installed solar rooftop systems to power up their operations. Just this January, Gaisano Capital has unveiled its 1.03 MW system that can supply 50 percent of its daytime operations of its mall in La Paz city in Iloilo, making it the largest solar rooftop system in Iloilo.

Similarly, the University of the Philippines recently announced that its partner has already completed the installation of three solar roof top with a combined capacity of 240 kWp in the Diliman campus.

No doubt 2016 was a good year for renewable energy development, and it seems that 2017 will likely even be better.

References:

https://qz.com/871907/2016-was-the-year-solar-panels-finally-became-cheaper-than-fossil-fuels-just-wait-for-2017/

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-bill-gates-fund-energy-idUSKBN1412QP

https://blog.google/topics/environment/100-percent-renewable-energy/

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/12/google-green-renewable-energy-in-2017/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/10/dutch-trains-100-percent-wind-powered-ns

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/dec/06/google-powered-100-renewable-energy-2017

http://www.rappler.com/move-ph/160377-iloilo-malls-switch-solar-energy

http://powerphilippines.com/2017/02/09/pnoc-renewables-completes-solar-rooftop-installations-diliman/

 

Why Geothermal Energy?

Renewable energy, as I have mentioned in my previous post, plays a critical role in providing stable power source. However, many people criticize renewable energy as a more expensive source if one is to look at it from a “least cost” approach alone.

In this post, we will tackle one of the most abundant renewable energy sources found in the Philippines: Geothermal energy. The Philippines after all, is the second largest producer of geothermal energy in the world, next to the United States.  Our country also has roughly about 2,600 megawatts of untapped geothermal energy resource.

Geothermal energy is perceived to be expensive due to the start up capitalization required. It is of course very risky as the first phase of any geothermal development is exploration. Construction of geothermal power plants is 2/3 higher than the construction cost of a natural gas plant, for example, and as such, exploration and building of geothermal power plants have traditionally required assistance from the government in the form of subsidies or incentives.

Geothermal energy, however, has many advantages.

One of the benefits of geothermal energy is its capacity to act as a base load plant. In fact, this is one of the most favorite points raised by those who oppose the use of renewable energy: RE products cannot act as a base load. However, the same cannot be said of geothermal energy.

Generation of geothermal power, unlike other renewable energy sources, is not subject to weather conditions such as with solar and wind. Solar power cannot provide consistent energy given that it can only produce energy during daytime and wind is subject to the wind blowing.

Geothermal energy, on the other hand, can generate power 24 hours a day at any given day of the week. In fact, the US Energy Information Administration says that geothermal power has the highest capacity factor among coal, gas and biomass and even among other renewable energy technologies given its non-reliance on environmental conditions. Of course properly done, geothermal energy can also be designed for peaking especially now that the cost of battery and other forms of storage have gone down.

Thus, the geothermal power plants baseload characteristic makes it a great substitute to fossil fuel power plants. And finding alternatives to fuel-based plants is more critical now than ever given that many coal-fired power plants are set to retire. The United States where 40 percent of the power supply is sourced from coal plants is set to retire 50 to 77 percent of the coal-fired plants by next year.

Geothermal energy plants are great alternatives to replace these ageing coal-fired plants given their base load characteristics. These plants have a relatively long life-span, too since they can last up to 50 years. The geothermal plant in California, The Geysers was built more than 40 years ago and still runs efficiently.

In fact, other countries are beginning to rely heavily on geothermal energy. Iceland, for example, sources two-thirds of its power from geothermal power plants. New Zealand, the fourth biggest producer of geothermal energy, sourced 16.2 percent of its power from geothermal sources last year.

And in Kenya, both industrial and household consumers are able to save 30 percent on power costs or roughly $24 million per month due to their use of geothermal power

So is the geothermal energy more expensive?

On the contrary, in terms of cost, geothermal energy can be a cheap energy source. For example, Mindoro, which has been suffering from power storage for many years, will soon have the first Greenfield geothermal project after the passage of EPIRA.

The geothermal project in Mindoro will have a tariff of P6.58 per kWh for the 40-megawatt capacity, cheaper than the P14 per kWh tariff being paid currently to power up the island. So, while the start- up capital needed for exploration and building of actual plants at a glance seems too high, geothermal power can be competitive against fossil fuel alternatives.

Geothermal power plants have negligible fuel costs, too. Plants can be operated even at partial capacity without incurring higher operating costs given that there are no additional costs for the unused geothermal steam. The initial costs of opening of geothermal plants may be high, but it is offset by the stable and constant operating costs of the plants.

There are also other advantages of using geothermal power such as having the smallest carbon footprint among possible replacement for coal-fired plants, higher employment rates brought by the operations of the plants in local communities, higher earnings for the governments through royalties, taxes and property rentals, among others. In Mindoro, the non-power use of geothermal is now being studied seriously.

You may ask why geothermal power is underdeveloped in areas where they are abundant like in the US. The answer is simple: there are barriers to the development of this resource, particularly the high-cost and risk of developing geothermal energy. We will talk about geothermal energy development in the Philippines in my next post.

References:

http://geoenergy.org/reports/Economic%20Cost%20and%20Benfits_Publication_6_16.pdf

http://www.geothermal.org/PDFs/Values_of_Geothermal_Energy.pdf

http://cleantechnica.com/2015/03/02/electricity-cost-decreases-30-kenya-due-geothermal/

http://www.theage.com.au/national/education/deep-heat-geothermal-energy-an-earthly-power-to-be-reckoned-with-20150517-gh0tcr.html