Unfortunate But Not Hopeless

While other countries in the world are slowly shifting to cleaner forms of energy, the Philippines seems to be moving in the opposite direction.

The recent BMI Research of the Fitch Group noted that coal-fired power plants would dominate new energy infrastructure in the next 10 years. “Growth in the Philippines power infrastructure sector over the next 10 years will be driven by investment in coal-fired generating capacity as companies and the government build a slew of new power plants to support growing electricity demand,” according to the report.

Based on the group’s research, there is roughly 7,300 Megawatts (MW) capacity that is either under, approved or already for construction. Of these, 90 percent are coal-fired energy plants. Even the Visayas and Mindanao regions, which by the way have more renewable energy sources particularly, hydro and geothermal in their power mix, will be recipients of the future coal plants.

The report pointed out that the there is a price to pay for the country’s continued reliance on coal-fired plants.

One of the significant consequences is that the Philippines will have to keep fuel imports steady in the next five to 10 years when these power stations become operational.

“As the share of electricity generated from thermal — and especially coal — sources grows from 73% in 2017 to 77% in 2026, the Philippines will have to increase imports of fuels to feed newly built coal-fired power plants.”

There are various reasons why this report bothers me.

For one, we are lagging behind in our commitments to provide cleaner forms of energy given the amount that would be generated in the coming years from coal plants. While the rest of the world is moving away from coal, we are still stuck and depending heavily on this form of energy.

Again, I stress that I have no issues with coal plants per se, having built some of them during my time as Napocor chief. But the world and its needs have changed, and we need to get our energy from cleaner sources. Other countries are making drastic changes. China alone, the world’s biggest consumer of coal is shifting to RE by pouring some $361 billion worth of RE investments by 2020. Its government has also canceled roughly 150 coal projects from September last year to March this year.

Unfortunately, we are heading towards the opposite direction largely because our government regulations are not supportive of the growth of the RE sector. For one, we still have limited participation from foreign investors in the energy infrastructure, and as such, limited funds flow to build more RE plants.

Our regulatory environment is far from friendly for both consumers and RE producers, too.

For one, our regulators use an incorrect valuation for the beta by taking the value from the point of view of the generator than of the consumers for our floating Power Sales Agreements or PSAs. Unfortunately, our PSAs have pass through costs, which means power consumers pay end up paying for higher energy prices when the peso falls against the dollar and when coal and oil prices surge in the global market because of the value of the beta, which has a positive value.

As I have said previously, this is incorrect as the the consumers are the ones who are shouldering the cost of foreign exchange fluctuation as well as the fuel risks. Hence, the beta in our tariff setting should be a negative one to reflect the risks borne by consumers for both the foreign currency adjustments and world prices of oil and coal.

Plus, I have discussed in an old blog post, our regulators place an arbitrary value on the beta when it comes to cost recovery in our tariff setting. For example, a geothermal plant and coal-fired power plant will have the same beta value. This is faulty because the developer of a geothermal power plant takes more risks given the exploration cost than the coal-fired power plant developer. The incorrect application of the core concept of the capital asset portfolio model is detrimental to the development of renewables.

 

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Coal-fired plants must be a thing of the past. Renewable Energy is the future. 

 

Again, at the risk of sounding like a parrot, our energy planner belongs to the school of thought that coal-plants are cheaper the RE ones. These planners only look at the upfront cost of building power plants rather than scrutinize the risks that consumers shoulder when relying significantly on fossil fuels.

I have repeatedly pointed out that traditional sources of energy are not necessarily cheaper as we could end up paying more given our heavy dependence on imported coal. Even the above report of BMI stressed that we are importing 70 percent of our coal needs from neighbors. So, what happens when coal prices increase? What happens if importation becomes more expensive due to various factors? We have been in this situation before where our power rates have increased because getting coal abroad has become difficult.

Sadly, it is the Filipinos who are screwed with such flawed thinking as the ordinary Pinoy consumer pays for these upward price adjustments. We do, after all, have the pass-on provisions where customers pay for price fluctuation.

We have been suffering from high power rates for several decades now. And as I have been discussing in quite some posts, the key to solving high electricity prices is to one, have more renewable energy in our mix and second to have fixed-price contracts for our PSAs.

Our best bet to lower power prices is to have more RE in our energy mix. RE will be a cheaper alternative as many experts have stressed that the prices of RE technologies will continue to fall.

Regrettably, it seems unlikely that our country will shift to more cleaner form of energy soon. Understandably, moving to cleaner energy will not happen over night.

In the meantime, we must find ways to mitigate the consequences of relying heavily on coal-fired plants. I stand firm on my position that we need a greater share of renewables. But we must, at the very least, consider having fixed-priced contracts where we use a risk-free rate, the negative beta as I have mentioned above in the discount rate in computing for the tariff (reasons for this are in an in-depth discussion in my previous post.)

RE sources are in the best to position to give out these fixed-priced contracts, which do not pass-on the costs to consumers. These contracts will not burden consumers by making them pay for price fluctuation of coal importation costs since there are no import costs of raw materials in RE production.

Yes, we do need more infrastructure, particularly more power plants as our economy develops. But we must also pay attention to the welfare of ordinary Filipinos as we build for our future. Heavy reliance on coal-fired plants will be detrimental to our families as they shell out more money to pay their electric bills. I implore our energy planners to map out and scrutinize all options available as we try to meet our increasing demands for energy.

Reference:
http://beta.bworldonline.com/bmi-coal-remain-primary-power-source/

 

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

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

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.

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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