We Lowered our Power Bill Despite Higher Consumption, Here’s How We Did It

Consumers are complaining of their energy bills these days after months of not receiving them. The mounting consumer complaints have compelled the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to order the biggest power distributor, Manila Electric Company (Meralco) to explain how it billed its close to seven million customers, 92 percent of which are residential accounts.

According to Meralco, the high power bills of its subscribers are because of the higher usage of electricity at homes during the community quarantine. The summer season didn’t help in lowering power consumption either, the energy distributor says.

There’s also a problem with the meter reading. During the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), Meralco did not send out its employees to conduct meter reading. Thus, the last three month’s average consumption was used as a basis for the billing during March and April.

There are various ways we could have avoided a bill shock.  The company says smart meters, which allows for remote meter reading, would have eliminated the need for meter readers to go door-to-door during the lockdown. Indeed, remote meter reading would have been beneficial for consumers. We are now developing a new technology that allows our personnel to read, connect, disconnect, and reconnect power remotely. We intend to roll-out this technology by year-end. 

While many consumers were shocked and left in dismay over their power bills, our household, on the other hand, has a different experience. I and other members of the family stayed at home like many Filipinos. Our power consumption is higher, too given multiple devices, gadgets, and appliances catering to our needs. But unlike most Meralco consumers, our power bill is lower despite our higher consumption. 

Fortunately, even before the lockdown, we have installed rooftop solar at our home. After all, as a renewable energy advocate, I knew that there are many benefits in investing in renewable power technologies. And indeed, our solar system installation came in very handy at a time when we all had to stay home and consume more energy for months.

Solar rooftop technology can cut electricity costs drastically. Many anti-renewables are always pointing out that the one-time investment in this technology is too expensive and might not be worth it. However, consumers have to consider that this system is a one-time investment. A household would only need to shell out money once, unlike getting electricity from a traditional distributor where they have to pay a monthly charge depending on their consumption and other pass-on costs. Consumers who don’t want to experience a bill shock would do well in installing a rooftop solar system. 

A rooftop solar system is also low maintenance since it merely requires proper cleaning from time to time, much like any appliance. There are no major maintenance costs involved in having rooftop solar at homes. Maintaining a car is way more expensive than the maintenance costs of using a solar rooftop technology.

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In the U.S., solar panels can increase the value of a home property anywhere between 3 to 9.9%. Photo c/o Greentech Media

Solar rooftops also increase a home’s resale value. A study by Zillow, a real estate information company in the United States revealed that adding solar power at home increases the property’s sale value, similar to the effects of renovating spaces such as kitchens and basement. According to Zillow, solar panels can increase the value of a home property anywhere between 3 to 9.9%, depending on the property’s location.

Our solar rooftops are of great help at a time when we are all staying at home. This technology allows me and my family to use even high-consuming appliances like airconditioners without much guilt, knowing that our investment in rooftop solar panels is working for us. It is unfortunate that some who would like to have this technology such as those living in high rise buildings won’t be able to take advantage of this technology, for now, to help with their power bills. But for those who can, solar rooftop system is indeed a worthy investment.

A New Normal for Power Distribution Companies: Less Face-to-Face with Customers but More Digital Engagement

In my previous blog entries, I have talked about Utilities of the 21st century, discussing how competition among energy players should flourish and how we should move to distributed energy systems. This was before the COVID-19 pandemic happened.

When I entered the power distribution business, my main priority was to provide a customer-centric service, which means ensuring stable energy supply and finding ways to help electricity rates become more affordable. 

According to an article, COVID-19: How Energy & Utility Companies Can Soften the Blow, most Energy and Utility companies usually have set contingency plans in place to address the impact of natural disasters. But no company is fully prepared for the coronavirus. And I agree since this pandemic is a new challenge in the power distribution business as we must craft strategies to ensure our customers and employee’s safety in light of the coronavirus.

The same article said that several measures must be undertaken by energy firms to address the impact of the pandemic. These measures include increasing the digital contact center footprint where companies should beef up on their customer services to allow real-time and two way interactions. Other recommended strategies are offering digital payments and leveraging social media to proactively tackle customer concerns.

Fortunately for us at the power distribution company I’m working with, we already have invested our efforts and resources in technological solutions that will make the lives of our customers easier even before COVID-19. 

In our case, before COVID-19, many customers would pay their power bills in our offices. We have recently added more payment partners. Our recent addition is Xenpay, allowing customers to pay their bills in the sari-sari stores, which minimizes the risk of exposure to the virus given that there’s a sari-sari store practically in every corner in the Philippines. We also have our digital payment channel through G-Cash. Now customers can conveniently settle their bills at the comfort of their homes.

As the article said, there’s a need to ramp up a company’s digital contact center footprint. For us, this means changing customer engagement from face-to-face interactions to social media. This is necessary given experts’ prediction that a vaccine for the coronavirus won’t be available for the next 18 to 24 months. In the meantime, distribution firms should find ways to minimize the need for our customers to go to our offices for official business.

For years now, companies are using social media to reach out to their customers more. But corporate social media accounts should do more than re-post news or carry announcements. While these are useful to customers, social media account should add more value. These days, power distributors must leverage social media more especially since studies show that people are spending more time in their social media accounts while confined at home. A Consumer Welfare Office that engages with consumers via Facebook messaging is useful.

medium.com

By this time, energy and utility firms should be working on additional digital assets to lessen face-to-face interactions with customers in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Photo c/o medium.com

By this time, energy and utility firms should be working on adding to their digital assets that will be utilized for mass knowledge dissemination, necessary to empower our customers. Using customer analytics to proactively identify and address customers’ concerns coursed through social media is a must these days.

Our company is working on an app that will let customers report power outages via social media, which in turn will alert our line-men in real-time, thanks to their GPS-enabled radios. This will allow our linemen to respond quickly to outages.

Relying on social media to minimize in-person interactions makes sense in this digital world. More so for the Philippines since according to a report on social media and digital trends, Filipinos spend an average of nine hours and 45 minutes online per day, making us the most active social media users around the world. This annual study by the creative agency, entitled, entitled Digital 2020, revealed that Filipinos spend an average of three hours and 53 minutes daily on social media.

The energy distribution sector is undergoing a massive transformation, thanks to technology. Before COVID-19, we were absorbed with cutting system losses, studying decentralizing power distribution systems, and technological solutions that will disrupt the sector. Now, we must also prepare for the new normal, a consumer-centric service delivery with limited personal interactions between consumers and power distribution company employees. Fortunately, we have the tools and human resources ready for digital engagement.

 

Is Weather Too Hot? Soon the World Will Be Unlivable

 

The summer season in the Philippines means enduring sweltering weather for two to three months. According to the state weather bureau, Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration or PAGASA, the month of May saw the country’s heat index reach its highest values for the year.

The heat index in May (or at least for the first half of May) reached what Health officials refer to as dangerous levels, a range between 41℃ to 54 ℃.  The dangerous level can cause heat cramps, and heat exhaustion and might result in a heat stroke. Unfortunately, the dangerous heat index was recorded in May all over the Philippines, the highest so far for the month was 51℃ to 53℃ in places like Dagupan City in Pangasinan, Butuan City in Agusan Del Norte, and Sangley Point, Cavite.

It was worse for San Jose City in Occidental Mindoro on April 20 as it recorded a heat index of 58℃. The Health Department says there is an extreme danger if the heat index is more than 54 ℃ because heat stroke is imminent. 

In mid-May, a tropical storm with an international name, Vongfong. After two days of torrential rains and strong winds in Northern Philippines, the warm summer heat in the Philippines returned a few days after, which is likely to last until mid-June. The current heat index we are experiencing shouldn’t be surprising since scientists have already predicted that 2020 will be the hottest year on record.

Fortunately for us, we only have to endure such sweltering heat for two to three months. But there’s a strong likelihood that the majority of the world will suffer from extreme heat by 2070 as new research revealed.

According to the study “Future of the human climate niche,” some three billion people will live in “nearly unlivable” conditions by 2070 if global warming remains unchecked. Authors say that much of the world’s population will live in climate conditions that are “warmer than conditions deemed suitable for human life to flourish.” I probably won’t be around by then but my grandchildren will be still on this earth by that time, so this warning is still alarming for me.

The study warns that the average annual temperatures will be above the climate “niche” in which humans have lived for 6,000 years. “We show that in a business-as-usual climate change scenario, the geographical position of this temperature niche is projected to shift more over the coming 50 years than it has moved (in the past 6,000 years),” the study noted.

If the world continues with its business-as-usual and refuses to take climate mitigation measures, a substantial part of the world will be experiencing average annual temperatures warmer than practically anywhere today by 2070. This means the future generations could be enduring warmer weather than what we are experiencing now here in the Philippines. 

 

ecoworld

By 2070, the world will suffer from unlivable weather conditions if global warning remains unchecked. Photo c/o eco world

“Large areas of the planet would heat to barely survivable levels and they wouldn’t cool down again,” says the study co-author Marten Scheffer of Wageningen University in the Netherlands.”Not only would this have devastating direct effects, it leaves societies less able to cope with future crises like new pandemics. The only thing that can stop this happening is a rapid cut in carbon emissions.”

Again, this isn’t the only warning about the effect of climate change. we have heard. A few years ago, Nobel Prize winner and Director of Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) already warned us that Southeast Asia would likely suffer from extreme temperatures if nothing is done to lessen our high carbon emission levels. 

Schellnhuber’s paper entitled “A Region at Risk: The Human Dimensions of Climate Change in Asia and the Pacific,” said that temperatures would keep increasing where we could “see a complete shift in living conditions,” and that “All of the tropics will develop conditions that physiologically, humans cannot live outside anymore.”

Experts have been warning us all that lessening our carbon footprint is the only way we can avoid extreme temperatures around the world in the future. These studies also point out that a shift to renewable energy is one of the effective climate change mitigation measures we should adopt. 

Unfortunately, with the world already falling into recession, the renewable energy sector is likely to see a lean period, probably temporarily ending the sector’s rapid growth in recent years. Renewable power projects are exposed to various risks due to the economic crisis brought by the COVID-19 pandemic just like other sectors. One of these risks could be less access to financing.

Fossil fuels are likely to become more attractive in the cover-19 recovery period as coal prices have been falling even before COVID-19 forced locked downs. Plus, oil prices hit at an all-time low. Economies could be wary of the high upfront costs of renewable energy projects and potentially renege on long-term sustainable development plans.

But governments, particularly ours, shouldn’t be too quick to abandon or shelve clean energy transition plans for a variety of reasons. For one, analysts say that the low oil prices will be short-lived. According to an editorial entitled “Coronavirus: The Caribbean is the First Domino to Fall, but There is Hope” “It is expected that at current lows, many high-cost producers will shut down operations and some may go out of business. In a post-COVID world, with increasing global demand and a reduced number of suppliers, there will be upward pressure on oil prices.”

Plus, energy transition plans were well already underway before the pandemic causing the technology costs for renewables to fall in recent years.  Wind power and solar photovoltaic have become the cheapest source of energy in many markets, debunking the myth that renewable energy is the more expensive choice.

A report by the International Renewable Energy Agency also showed that accelerating investments in renewable energy could spur the global gross domestic product (GDP) by almost $98 trillion between now and 2050. IRENA projects that RE would provide returns of $3 to $8 for every dollar invested in renewables. The report entitled “Global Renewable Outlook” stressed that high investments renewable power could also quadruple the number of jobs in the sector over the next 30 years.

And in the short-term, decentralized energy systems will help small communities economically as IRENA Director-General, Francesco La Camera stressed recently. “Decentralized technologies also allow for greater involvement by citizens and communities in energy decisions, with transformative social implications. Importantly, they offer a proven approach for remote health care in energy-poor communities and add a key element to the crisis response toolkit.”

These are some of the reasons to debunk the belief that fossil fuel could be the better choice in the short-term. But if these counter-arguments illustrating that renewable energy isn’t the “expensive” option, then let us go back to the fact that we need to address climate change.

According to scientists, climate change is a potent risk multiplier or can contribute to pandemics. Plus, rising temperatures allow for the quick spread of certain infectious diseases like dengue and malaria. As research shows, failure to address rising carbon emissions will make the world an unlivable place as humans cannot survive the high temperature by 2070 unless they stay in an air-conditioned place, day-in and day- out.

A Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) report released before coronavirus was declared a pandemic said that 77 percent of investments from 2019 to 2050 will be in renewables. This prediction of BNEF remains achievable if we don’t let the pandemic and its economic effects derail us from putting more money in clean energy. Short-term plans to revive any economy post-COVID-19 must remain aligned with our long-term objectives on sustainable development and climate change. The COVID-19 pandemic should encourage us to build back better.

Finally, I would like to repeat my previous point that moving forward we need to move away from our dependence on imported fossil fuel.  The COVID-19 crisis has raised a specter that Indonesia may decide to shut down its ports and close down all ingress and exit points of the country.  If that happens – and thank God it has not happened – this will not augur well for the Philippines We rely on 90% of our coal from Indonesia.

We will have not only a pandemic but a total power meltdown.

Still Renewables in a Post COVID-19 Economy

There’s been a strong clamor for cleaner energy sources long before the COVID-19 pandemic. Securing loans from financial institutions for thermal coal power plants has become difficult in recent years, thanks to the increasingly negative public opinion and falling demand for this energy type.

Just recently, Citigroup, the third-largest bank in the United States announced that it will quit providing underwriting and advisory services as it aims to eliminate exposure to the sector entirely by 2030. “Citi recognizes that emissions from fossil fuel sectors, in particular, must be drastically reduced in the coming decade,” the bank noted.

Citi’s move comes after the similar announcements made by other large financial institutions such as Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation of Japan, South Africa’s ABSA bank, and Mizuho Financial Group.

The enforcement of lockdown, shelter at home, circuit breaker, or what we refer to as the Enhanced Community Quarantine in the Philippines will result in a global economic recession. And with this, we can expect many to advocate for the halting or slowing down of clean energy transition around the world. More so since oil prices are in negative territory and there’s slow demand for coal given the lower energy consumption

But as many experts stress, the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the economy is not a reason to back out on commitments to shift to renewable power. On the contrary, the pandemic is a wake-up call to push forward in meeting our environmental commitments, recognizing that the development of RE will help us become more climate-resilient and aid in reviving the economy in a post-COVID 19 world.

For one, a recent report by the International Renewable Energy Agency revealed that accelerating investments in renewable energy could fuel an economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic by spurring the global gross domestic product (GDP) by almost $98 trillion between now and 2050. Speeding up investments in RE would provide returns of $3 to $8 for every dollar invested, too.

The landmark report entitled “Global Renewable Outlook” also noted that heavy investments renewable power would also quadruple the number of jobs in the sector over the next three decades, thus improving global health and welfare scores globally.

IRENA Director-General Francisco La Camera stressed that “Governments are facing a difficult task of bringing the health emergency under control while introducing major stimulus and recovery measures. By accelerating renewables and making the energy transition an integral part of the wider recovery, governments can achieve multiple economic and social objectives in the pursuit of a resilient future that leaves nobody behin.,”

Perhaps to better understand the transformative power of RE, we could take a look at the case of the Caribbean region as discussed in an editorial entitled “Coronavirus: The Caribbean is the First Domino to Fall, but There is Hope”

The region, unfortunately, relies solely on tourism, a volatile sector, which is at a standstill. The region’s economy is near an economic collapse that will take time to rebuild. Just how bad is the economic effects of the pandemic? In a single day, Saint Lucia alone lost 13,000 jobs or equivalent to 16% of the labor force.

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According to experts, a clean energy transition is key in rebuilding the economy of the Caribbean post COVID-19 . Photo c/o RenewEnergy

According to the authors, transitioning to a resilient economy via renewable power and with the help of multilateral stimulus is the only way to rebuild the economy of the Caribbean. A clean energy transition should be fast-tracked for a variety of reasons. First, the Caribbean countries have some of the highest power rates in the world because of their dependence on a centralized fossil fuel system. Second, the region is highly vulnerable to natural calamities which are becoming prevalent, thanks to climate change. And third, is the underutilized renewable energy sources. All these points to the fact that the Caribbean region has great potential to be the world’s first RE economy.

The economic recovery of the region hinges largely on affordable and sustainable power. And clean energy is the key to reducing operating costs and lowering of power rates for households and businesses. Renewable power will pave the way for new private investments outside tourism, namely in the manufacturing, agro-business, manufacturing and other high energy-consuming sectors A new resilient and green electricity infrastructure will create new jobs and stimulate economic activities, too.

A Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) study showed that capital required to source 90% clean energy by 2030 of the 31 countries for the Caribbean will require $80 billion. In return, realizing the investment would mean a $9 billion savings annually in fuel costs and offsetting 240 million metric tons of CO2 per year.

There’s another reason why the Caribbean must develop modern energy systems, particularly micro-grid systems that allow the integration of renewables. The authors stressed: “When modern software controls and battery energy storage are added into micro-grid systems, renewables produce and store power flexibly, shifting effortlessly from heavy demand scenarios to low demand, where cheaper renewables are stretched even further.”

The case of the Caribbean region is highly similar to the Philippines. Not that we rely solely on tourism but rather, because, we are one of the countries that would benefit the same way with a quick shift to renewable power. After all, our country has one of the highest power rates in the world, we are one of the most vulnerable to natural disasters and we have underutilized renewable energy sources.

But the authors warn against arguing that fossil fuel power is the ‘cheaper option’. The sharp decline in crude oil prices, driven by oversupply and decreasing demand, will be short-lived as demand returns. It is expected that at current lows, many high-cost producers will shut down operations and some may go out of business. In a post-COVID world, with increasing global demand and a reduced number of suppliers, there will be upward pressure on oil prices.”

The same can be said of coal prices as demand has been falling even before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. Plus, coal exports could be limited should Indonesia decide to close down their ports. As I have been saying, our reliance on fossil fuel power sources comes with a lot of risks, particularly volatility of global prices and foreign exchange fluctuations with costs being shouldered by consumers. And just like with the recommendations of the authors of the report, the Philippines should put their money on renewables to hedge against these risks. Our country would also benefit from more construction jobs brought about by higher investments in renewable power.

Evidence to debunk the myth that fossil power has the “least cost” has been available for many years, but have largely been ignored here in the Philippines. Contemplating our future with the effects of COVID-19 in mind also means securing our energy transition. Ignacio Galán, the chairman and CEO of the Spanish renewables giant, Iberdrola, which owns Scottish Power, said it best: “A green recovery is essential as we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis. The world will benefit economically, environmentally, and socially by focusing on clean energy. Aligning economic stimulus and policy packages with climate goals is crucial for a long-term viable and healthy economy.”

References:

https://stockhead.com.au/resources/nearly-130-financiers-are-now-refusing-to-back-thermal-coal/

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/20/green-energy-could-drive-covid-19-recovery-international-renewable-energy-agency

https://www.irena.org/-/media/Files/IRENA/Agency/Publication/2020/Apr/IRENA_GRO_Summary_2020.pdf?la=en&hash=1F18E445B56228AF8C4893CAEF147ED0163A0E47

http://newenergyevents.com/

Opportunities for the RE Sector In The Time of COVID-19

Global renewable energy capacity increased by 176 gigawatts (GW) last year, reaching a total of 2,537 GW. According to the International Renewable Energy (IRENA), renewables accounted for 72% of all power expansions last year with solar and wind power providing 90% of the growth.

These numbers were promising and it looked like renewable energy’s growth trajectory was likely to continue in 2020. But this all changed with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Just like with many industries, renewable power is taking a hit with the construction of new power plants being halted due to the imposed lockdown around the world. There’s also the growing fear that the pandemic will likely affect clean energy investments negatively given the depressed prices of fossil fuels in the market.

But experts also warn that it’s too early to predict the extent of the impact of the Coronavirus on energy markets. They also stressed that there are opportunities for clean power to flourish in spite of the global economic slowdown caused by stay-at-home orders or lockdown, or what we call the Enhanced Community Quarantine in the Philippines.

The Global Head and Managing Director, Cleantech Coverage of Standard Charter, Sujay Shah points out that 70% of the world’s energy investments are driven by governments. With the stimulus packages being offered by governments, a total of USD7 trillion and counting, provide a “once in a generation opportunity for all industry participants including developers, investors, and financiers to shape this spending to accelerate the energy transition and low-carbon agenda.”

There are also opportunities, too for Southeast Asia (SEA) renewable energy market, which has one of the fastest energy growth rates in the world with a yearly 6% growth according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). SEA’s power demand has grown by 80 % since 2000.

Daine Loh, power and renewable analyst for Fitch Solutions as quoted by a Channel News Asia article says that there is a downside risk to the completion of new large scale-thermal and hydropower projects over the medium term, which will probably result in delays or cancellation of government-funded RE projects.

But she also stresses that the weakened power demand for this year due to the slowdown in economic activities could reduce pressures to peak demand outputs, thus freeing up some policy space for government to pursue their energy transition plans. “(It) may put pressure on governments to amend regulations to boost private sector investment in renewables in an effort to support growth in the market over the longer term.”

It also helps that getting financing for traditional power sources has been difficult in recent years. Loh says financial pressures could further weaken investments in fossil fuel power projects and give momentum for RE project financing.

Speaking of financing, access to capital is likely to be cheaper, too with interest rates dropping. The cost of borrowing for capital-intensive RE projects could be attractive.

The RE sector could benefit from the rebuilding of economies since increased construction activities would provide more jobs. As the economy recovers, countries will also have higher energy demand, and governments anticipating this demand may turn to renewable power that can provide more affordable power rates say Krib Sitathani, a project manager with the United Nations Development Programme in Thailand. “There is also the possibility that many governments to take this opportunity to manage their risks to stabilize their energy costs through increasing renewable energy production to not only stabilize their power production but also to ensure a more predictable cost,” he said.

For the Philippines, one of the possible negative scenario of the COVID-19 crisis is that Indonesia, where we source 90% of our coal closes down all its ports. We are okay as of today because there’s a drop in demand.  So I presume we have a lot of coal inventory already in the Philippines. But if this crisis worsens and Indonesia will have to close all its ports, then we are in for an insurmountable problem. 

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The RE sector could benefit from the rebuilding of economies as increased construction activities would provide jobs. Photo c/o http://www.weforum.org

 

To mitigate this threat, our government should order the immediate development of indigenous sources of energy: solar, wind, and geothermal.  To do this, the power sales procurement rules should be amended. Ultimately this is where the development of RE will have to depend unless the government adopts more draconian measures like requiring a much higher percentage of RE in all the portfolios of the distribution utilities. 

The current rules in evaluating PSAs do not differentiate between indigenous and imported energy.  Technically, this should be differentiated because from a risk perspective these are two different types of energy sources.  However, the current evaluation rules and, in fact, the evaluation skills of the utilities will not allow this differentiation. 

To enforce this policy, the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) should require utilities procuring power to testify that there are no indigenous resources within its immediate vicinity, or franchise area, or that it has not received any offers from indigenous energy source within the country. This testimony must be made in public and under oath, which will then be submitted together with the application for PA for the signed PSA. This means that utilities must bid or negotiate with indigenous sources of energy providers before doing any procurement from imported-energy sources.

The implication of this policy will be the development of indigenous energy of the country thus reducing risks of non-supply such what we are facing today.  The traditional economic analysis of imported versus local (if it is cheaper to import, import) can no longer stand the scrutiny of today’s reality.

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing so much uncertainty for the whole world. For us, in the renewable energy sector, we can take comfort that the world sees the value in investing in clean energy and that many governments know that RE is the way forward to providing affordable and reliable power. Thus, while there may temporary setbacks due to the virus in 2020, as with almost all industries, there remains high optimism for the long-term growth of the RE sector.

References:

https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/covid19-southeast-asia-renewable-energy-nuclear-asean-12617520

https://www.sc.com/en/trade-beyond-borders/covid-19-clean-energy-challenges-and-opportunities/

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/06/the-coronavirus-is-hitting-renewable-energy-supply-chains-factories.html

Burning Fossil Fuels Equals Big Losses

Recent research by Greenpeace Southeast Asia and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) found that the global cost of air pollution from fossil fuels is roughly $8 billion per day or 3.3% of the world’s global domestic product (GDP). Burning fossil fuels also causes 12,000 premature deaths daily.

The study entitled, Toxic Air: The Price of Fossil Fuels is the first global assessment of the economic burden of health impacts from fossil fuel air pollution. The research showed that burning fossil fuels also resulted in an estimated 4.5 million premature deaths every year globally as toxic pollutants are causing an increase in chronic and acute diseases. This costs the world some $2.9 trillion annually as a result of non-communicable diseases and respiratory made more likely by elevated pollution levels.

Particulate Matter (the small liquid droplets and particles in the atmosphere that comes from fossil fuels) air pollution increases work absences with an estimated cost of 1.8 billion days of work absences yearly worldwide.

Plus, the research also showed that air pollution from fossil fuels is affecting children from low-income families severely. There are at a minimum of 40,000 kids who die before reaching the age of five due to exposure to particulate matter air pollution.

In the Philippines, the study noted that air pollution due to burning fossil fuels, particularly, coal, gas, and oil is causing an estimated 27,000 premature deaths yearly, which is equivalent to roughly $6 billion in economic losses annually or as high as 1.9 percent of our country’s GDP.

The study concludes that decarbonizing globally can provide rapid gains for everyone. The authors stressed that many of the solutions to address climate change are the same ones needed to eliminate air pollution. This means that replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy is crucial in limiting global warming to 1.5 c above pre-industrial level while at the same time help in the reduction of the emission of air pollutants. “A phase-out of existing coal, oil and gas infrastructure brings major health benefits due to the associated reduction in air pollution,” the study read.

The numbers presented by this recent research is alarming. Yet it isn’t the first warning the world has received about the dangers of using fossil fuels heavily for our needs.

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Research shows that burning fossil fuels also resulted in an estimated 4.5 million premature deaths every year globally. Photo c/o theecologist.org

The recent Greenpeace study also somewhat echoes the findings of energy expert and geochemist James Conca who measured death prints or the “number of people killed by one kind of energy or another per kilowatt-hour (kWh) produced”.

Conca’s research showed that globally, the mortality rate of coal is 100,000 for every 50 percent of electricity demand sourced from coal. Oil also has a large death print with its mortality rate of 36,000 for every 8% energy sourced from oil.

In contrast, solar rooftop and wind power, and mortality rates of 440 and 150, respectively. Each power source only contributes one percent respectively to the global energy at the time of the study.

Plus, the environmental benefits of shifting to renewable energy has long been well documented. For example, a study in the United Kingdom in 2017 showed that the carbon emission of the UK decreased by 5.8 percent in 2016 as the use of coal dropped by 52 percent.

Unfortunately, our government and energy planners don’t see the risks of using traditional sources of power continuously. Coal remains the dominant power source in the Philippines, accounting for 52 percent of the total energy supply in 2018. And unlike other countries that are closing down coal power plants, the Philippines will see a massive expansion of coal plants up until the next decade. Fitch Solution’s forecast released August last year showed that coal will continue to dominate our power mix and contribute to 59 percent of the energy mix by 2028.

There was a time when I have built coal plants myself to address the growing needs for more energy but we can no longer ignore the undesired effects of relying heavily on fossil fuels. And over the last few years, I have been advocating for the shift to renewables for a long time for a variety of reasons. It is possible to plan for a renewables only future for the country.  Of course, we know that even if we go completely renewable it will not contribute much in terms of “volume” to the global need to bring down CO2 . However, as we say, a small candle lighted in the dark will go a long way in contributing to this global effort.

More importantly, as I have been saying renewable power is our best bet in getting ourselves affordable and stable power. Of course, the benefits to health and our environment are also more reasons to push for a major transition to cleaner energy as many countries are now doing. We also need to look at what climate change has been doing to our father patterns -we are one of the more disaster-prone countries in the world.

Maybe providing affordable and stable energy are not sufficient reasons for our planners and government to work double-time to fast track renewable energy development in our country. Perhaps the thought of premature deaths among Filipinos and especially among our young children less than five years of age can help convince that the time to make that big shift to cleaner power is now.

References:

https://news.abs-cbn.com/spotlight/10/14/19/ph-climate-measures-lack-urgency-despite-vulnerable-status-experts-say

 https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1228083/dirty-air-kills-27k-in-ph-yearly-says-study#ixzz6FFbqt1dz 

PH could attract $20-B renewable energy investment

Here We Go Again

It’s high time that the Philippines revives plans to use nuclear power says Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi.

During the Alliance Global Sustainability Conference, the secretary was quoted to have said: “For the past several years, the DOE, through our Nuclear Energy Program Implementing Organization, has been working under the close guidance of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to assess the feasibility of safely and responsibly harnessing nuclear energy in the Philippines.”

Here we go again talking about nuclear energy. This isn’t the first time we are hearing government officials consider this power source. In 2018, the local government of Sulu signified interest in a modular  Nuclear Power Plant (NPP). Last year, the national government signed up with Russia’s state nuclear company, Rosatum Overseas to study the idea of constructing nuclear plants in the country.

In his recent speech, the Energy Secretary admits that we are ripe to opening the Philippines to nuclear energy again but building these plants will definitely take time. “Considering the potential of safely utilizing nuclear energy for our power needs doesn’t mean that nuclear power plants will immediately come out of the woodwork. The entire process will take time, especially since we are still at the stage of addressing the infrastructure issues needed in developing a national nuclear power program.” 

Unfortunately, it takes more than just “addressing the infrastructure issues” in developing a national nuclear power program. There’s just too much complication in the legislative and regulatory framework for nuclear power development in the Philippines. It also does not help that there are no local Human Resources or experts for this energy source.

Let us start with the problem with the regulatory framework covering nuclear power. First off, it has been 50 years since the regulatory framework for NPPs was created. It is safe to say that the “Science Act of 1958 and the Atomic Energy Regulatory Act of 1968 “or RA 5207 is already outdated. 

Under RA 5207, the Philippine Atomic Energy Commission or PAEC was tasked to regulate nuclear power development and operations. It was also in charge of licensing engineers. However, PAEC was already downgraded to the Philippine National Research Institute or PNRI, which only regulates nuclear and radioactive materials. So, which agency then will issue a license to build and operate a nuclear facility? Which agency or commission will regulate professionals tasked with building, operating and maintaining NPPs?

BNPP3

Experts who helped build and operate the BNPP are either retired or no longer around. Photo c/o http://www.Filipinotimes.net

 

Speaking of professionals, we don’t have the technical skills to build, operate and maintain nuclear plants locally. We cannot rely on experts who helped build the Bataan Power Plant as they are either retired or no longer around to help us. The original plant manager, Fidel Corea, has passed on.

The lack of qualified people for nuclear power development in the country is a major concern that even lawmakers tried to address. 

For example, the late Senator Miriam Santiago filed the House Bill 580 “Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) Operability Act” which sought to mandate and create a training program for all technical aspects of the BNPP. The bill proposed the creation of a Nuclear Power Engineering Department under the College of Engineering at the University of the Philippines. This bill was in recognition of the fact that the Philippines does not have the manpower needed to build, run and regulate NPPs.

Having nuclear plants in the country isn’t just about building the facilities. Developing nuclear power means fixing our laws, regulations and investing in Human Resources, among other concerns. Yet, here we are again talking about nuclear power for the Philippines. 

The Energy Secretary said that a survey commissioned by his department revealed that there’s a 65 percent approval rating on the possible construction of a new NPP. Hence, “I feel that the time is ripe for intensified and informed public discussions on nuclear energy and its potential role in our energy security agenda.” 

Sure, we can have a discussion of nuclear plants in the country. But if we are to ensure the energy security of the country, then we should double our efforts in meeting our goal of having more renewable energy in our power mix instead.

Perhaps the government should be reminded of our failure in meeting our renewable energy targets. Just last year, the DOE admitted that the Philippines had failed to meet its RE targets 10 years after the Renewable Energy Act was enacted.

Just how far behind is the Philippines in its commitment to renewable energy development goals? Under the National Renewable Energy Program of 2011, the DOE was aiming to triple the renewable capacity from 5438 MW to 15,3054 MW by 2030. However, only 7000 MW were added as of the end of 2017.

Last year, National Renewable Energy Board (NREB) chairman Monalisa Dimalanta said that non-RE sources were growing faster than renewables “There are a lot more plants that were built that were using non-RE. The pie got bigger with the share of non-RE getting bigger. For RE, the increase was not proportional,” Dimalanta said.

The DOE also noted that failure to roll-out programs also contributed to the government’s failure to meet RE targets, “When we assessed the NREP and implementation, there were delays in issuances of development of support mechanism, like Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) on-grid and off-grid, Green Energy Option Program (GEOP) and the RE market,” DOE-Renewable Energy Management Bureau (REMB) director Mylene Capongcol said.

And this is what I don’t understand. Again and again, I’ve been saying that renewables can help us achieve energy security as we are endowed with natural resources that we can harness. We also have the expertise to develop these resources. We have the regulatory framework to guide us (although they do need a lot of improvement). Yet we are spending so much time and even resources in discussing and paving the way for nuclear energy when we should be focusing on renewable energy development. 

I say it’s high time for the government to focus on the work needed in the RE sector first before making grand plans for NPPs comeback.

https://www.philstar.com/business/2020/02/07/1990930/cusi-revives-plan-consider-nuclear-energy

Redouble Efforts to Address Doubled Threats

A recent study revealed that the number of intense floods and storms could double within 13 years due to rising carbon dioxide worldwide, threatening the environment and the world’s socio-economic progress. In particular, the results showed that floods and storms are likely to increase by nine percent for every one percent rise in the carbon dioxide level.

The research, entitled “Impacts of Carbon Dioxide Emissions on Global Intense Hydrometeorological Disasters” used climate data from 155 countries, collected over 46 years from 1970 to 2016. The study concluded that the continuous increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide in the last 40 years was significantly correlated with the rise of extreme disasters.

The research also stressed that the Philippines could face more devastating natural disasters, particularly storms and typhoons. This is because the country faced roughly nine extreme hydrometeorogical disasters yearly, significantly higher when compared to the single disaster per year of other countries.

One of the authors of the study, Vinod Thomas, as quoted in an article in The Inquirer, warned that “One more extreme event in the Philippines, for example, one more Supertyphoon ‘Yolanda’, Typhoon ‘Pablo’ or Tropical Storm ‘Ondoy’ (Ketsana), would strain the country’s ability to cope.” The strain on the country’s infrastructure can be severe. We need to re-think on our resiliency strategies given this inevitable fact.

The authors concluded that the world needs more investments in disaster risk reduction and mitigation and the Philippines has to redouble its efforts in climate change adaptation. “But all the adaptation in the world will not be enough if we do not mitigate…The Philippines has to cut back on the use of coal and fossil fuels, and go all out for wind and solar power.”

This recently released study isn’t the first to call for more action on climate change mitigation and adaptation measures. We have all been at the receiving end of warnings telling us to limit carbon dioxide emissions by shifting to cleaner power or we’ll all suffer the wrath of natural disasters.

For example, David Eckstein, a Germanwatch policy advisor on climate finance and investments, has previously warned that “Countries like Haiti, Philippines, and Pakistan are repeatedly hit by extreme weather events and have no time to fully recover. That underlines the importance of reliable financial support mechanisms for poor countries like these not only in climate change adaptation but also for dealing with climate-induced loss and damage.” 

typhoon c:o reuters

Countries like the Philippines are repeatedly hit by extreme weather events and have no time to fully recover says David Eckstein, a Germanwatch policy advisor on climate finance and investments. Photo c/o Reuters

Yet, despite these dire warnings, coal remains the king of our local power mix. In 2018, coal made up 52.05 of our energy mix. On the other hand, renewable energy only contributed less than a fourth at 22.7 percent. This figure isn’t likely to improve since 80 percent of the committed energy projects are still coal power plants as a Greenpeace noted in a report. Naysayers will point out that any contribution in RE from the Philippines will amount to nothing. I think that view is very shortsighted. The sooner that we, as a country, learn the ways of sustainable energy, the better it is for our children and their children.

Our country needs to do its share in limiting the world’s carbon dioxide level. The Philippines is one of the countries that suffer the most from extreme weather events. Thus, we need to rely more on renewable power than coal. 

Paving the way for renewables to flourish in our country requires additional infrastructure, particularly, smart grids and distributed energy resource. Let us remember, that these two are key technologies in renewable energy development. 

It is also imperative for us to beef up on our energy resilience With all the warnings that the Philippines is one of the countries that suffer and will suffer most from extreme weather events. We need to put our money in putting up distributed generation systems and smart grids while we work harder on climate change mitigation and adaptation measures.

And we can make this shift if we also invest in smart grid and distributed energy. These two are key technologies in renewable energy development. 

The smart grid offers an electric power system capable of integrating the actions of all users from the power generators to users. This means integrations of higher levels of renewable energy is possible with smart grids, unlike the rigid and inflexible grids. Distributed Energy Resources or DERs, on the other hand, allow are small-scaled power generation or storage technologies that offer an alternative to the traditional electric power system. It allows for power generation near where electricity will be used. 

Plus, smart grids and DERs help in making our country more resilient to the impact of natural disasters. Let’s remember that power loss is rampant after we get hit by typhoons given our centralized energy system requires long power lines to deliver electricity. Weather disturbances often compromise power lines simultaneously, leaving thousands of countrymen without electricity. Thus, having smart grids and DERs will help decentralize power production where only a few will suffer power loss after disaster strikes.

As we rally for a greater share of renewable power in our energy mix, we should also invest more in smart grids and distributed energy. Replacing coal with renewable power while slowly moving away from the traditional way of transmission and distribution is key to fighting climate change and increasing our energy resilience.

References:

PH faces disasters ‘others haven’t seen’

Smart Grids and Distributed Energy for Disaster Resilience

Typhoon Ursula hit during Christmas time and left several provinces devastated. Its impact includes damaged power supply structures, leaving many many Filipinos without electricity for weeks.

In Aklan, power yet has to be restored three weeks after Ursula made its landfall. According to the Aklan Electric Cooperative or Akelco, the firm is targeting normalization of power supply in some parts of the province by January 25, almost a month since Ursula’s arrival.

Unfortunately, despite round-the-clock efforts to restore electricity, only 60 percent of 381 villages’ power supply has been restored. Power restoration is a massive undertaking in the province given Ursula’s destruction. There were 1144 electric posts either damaged or destroyed. “Several of our primary and backbone lines were destroyed or damaged, that is why full restoration is taking time,” an Akelco engineer was quoted in a news report.

Naturally, being without electricity is hurting the businesses in the province. According to the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) the micro, small and medium enterprises are the ones suffering most from the lack of electricity in the areas as generator sets needed to power their businesses cost a lot of money to operate.

ursula

Electric posts felled by Typhoon Ursula in Capiz. Photo c/o inquirer.net

Similarly, electric cooperatives in other parts of Visayas are also begging consumers for patience as restoration of power takes time. An executive from Samar II Electric Cooperative is appealing to consumers for more patience and understanding. The cooperative is being criticized for its inability of the cooperative to bring back electricity. The linesmen have been at the receiving end of harsh comments, too, prompting the executive to explain that the cooperative has to also look out for the safety of linemen as well.

“These are stories that sometimes never made it in the news. We don’t want to make grandstanding, what we want is for people to know how our linemen risk their lives just to get the power back to your respective houses and properties.” 

Unfortunately, we are a country that is and will be repeatedly hit by extreme weather events. The Philippines will always experience the wrath of natural disasters. This means that Filipinos will have to endure the effects of natural calamities like being without power. If we can recall, it took almost six months for power to be restored after Super Typhoon Yolanda devastated the Visayas region in 2013. It was reported that six linemen died in the restoration process.

For the power sector, this means investing in infrastructures such as distributed generation and smart grids. 

The traditional model of power supply and distribution is proving to be detrimental and even deadly for us Filipinos. Let us keep in mind that central power production means that energy has to be carried via power lines spanning long distances. This means any damage to a single line leaves thousands of homes without power.

In extreme weather disturbances like typhoons, dozens of power lines are compromised simultaneously. The transmission company and distributors then work double-time to determine which lines are affected and which broken ones should be fixed first. Only then can the crews and linemen start the physical side or power restoration.

This is where smart grids and distributed energy come in. Since power is produced in many places, only a handful will be affected if the facilities of a power producer are badly damaged. Even then, those being supplied by the affected power producer may not even experience a power loss. Thanks to the smart grid, electricity can be sourced from another generation node so those affected by the compromised line or power generator can be supplied by another generator.

This is the advantage of moving away from the traditional way of power transmission and generation. Distributed energy along with smart grids can make an area extremely resilient from the wrath of natural calamities.

The traditional model of central production, transmission and generation are slowly being replaced by distributed energy and smart grids. And rightly so, as explained by Josiah Nelson, Chairman, and CEO at Trolysis, a renewable energy company producing on-site, on-demand hydrogen power from aluminum and water.

“Not many people realize this, but in the majority of the country, if there’s a compromised line or a power outage, the power company has no way of knowing until customers pick up the phone and tell the utility that they’ve lost power. This is a horribly backwards way of detecting outages and is a perfect example of the decades-old technology our grid is built on.”

Aside from smart grids and distributed energy, our government should also consider underground conduits that can carry power and even telecommunication cables. Naturally, underground conduits are more unlikely to be damaged during typhoons.

We cannot change our geographical location, nor can we prevent typhoons or other natural disasters from happening. Neither can we change the fact that power restoration with our existing facilities is a dangerous task. What we can do is increase the country’s resilience against natural disasters. This means shifting away from decades-old technology and making way for new ones. Doing so requires acknowledgment of our need for such, proper regulation and more investments.

(Again) It All Boils Down to Appreciating Portfolio Theory in Energy Planning

A new study by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) foresees a record decline in coal-fired power in 2019.

The study entitled “Global Coal Power Set for Record Fall in 2019,” says that the decline of thermal power coal is likely in major markets such as the United States, China, European Union, and Japan. The slowdown in the US is a record one as coal-fire use in electricity generation is likely to fall by 13 percent. Coal power decline in the EU posted a staggering 23 percent year-on-year in the calendar year to September 2019. 

It also notes that Southeast Asia is unable to absorb the dramatic decline of coal in these markets. “At just 4.6% of the world’s total coal-fired power generation in 2019, the Southeast Asian region is not big enough to compensate for the dramatic cuts in thermal coal use in the U.S, the European Union and South Korea, and the ongoing slow decline in Japan,” explained Tim Buckley, co-author of the report and director of energy finance studies at IEEFA.

The report also stresses that around the world, investments are moving away from coal due to fear of rising stranded asset risks. It also doesn’t help the coal sector that renewables are seeing double-digit deflation annually says the report. Buckley says it is clear that we will see a steady decline in thermal coal in the coming year. “The transition away from coal is happening faster than forecasters can keep up with.”

In the Philippines, it seems like there is no slowdown in coal power use. On the contrary, coal dominates and continues to dominate the country’s energy mix. A Greenpeace recent report says that coal remains our primary energy source with a 52.05 percent contribution. On the other hand, renewable energy sources share was less than half of coal at 22.27 percent as of December 2018.

The Greenpeace study also says that in terms of proposed committed projects, coal remains the king with 80 percent shareholding in total installed capacity. The environmental group says that coal power’s share in the power mix will increase to three-fourth if all these proposed projects were to be approved. 

“We are already in a state or era of dirty energy because the majority of our power plants come from coal and there are a lot of proposed coal power plants,” Khevin Yu, Greenpeace Philippine campaigner noted.

Greenpeace also analyzed the commitments and energy portfolio of five power companies. These five firms’ portfolio when combined accounts for more than 50 percent of the present existing and proposed power projects in the country. The report pointed out that the proposed power projects of four out of five firms still have coal as their preferred energy source.

In terms of their priority, companies are focused on coal energy development. “This shows that these companies will lead us to a path that our energy system will become coal-dependent,” Yu said.

Greenpeace has recommended placing a moratorium on coal plants the soonest possible time so clean energy can flourish. The suggestion isn’t new as the Energy Secretary had already been asked in congress if he favors such move. To which the secretary replied that a moratorium would be a disservice to the Filipino people.

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Coal power is likely to contribute 75% in PH energy mix says Greenpeace. Photo c/o Optimusenergy.com.au

Stepping the brakes on the construction of coal-fired plants, and ultimately, the dominance of coal in our power mix is not a disservice to the Filipino people. On the contrary, building more coal-plants places Filipinos at a disadvantage as I have discussed before. We have to remember that coal plants are locked into long-term Power Sales Agreements or PSAs, which can run up to 25 years. This means that consumers’ choices are taken away from them in the long run, when in fact, what we should be working on allowing consumers to choose their preferred sources of power.

We can trace coal’s dominance in our energy mix to our energy planners’ skewed concept of the least cost. Again, our energy planners are using the ‘least cost method’ in terms of building costs without looking at the risks, namely fluctuation in foreign exchange rates and world prices of coal.

Perhaps our energy planners should be given a crash course on portfolio theory, developed by Harry Markowitz, a Nobel Prize winner. His theory posits that risks can be minimized at any level of expected return if the investor mixes assets in a portfolio, combining high and low or zero- risk assets. Putting this theory into energy planning, this means that we should diversify our energy sources portfolio.

Greenpeace says at the rate we are going, we are likely to end up with a 75 percent coal share in our power mix. This runs counter to what financial experts advise investors of diversifying one’s portfolio. Having three-fourths of our power come from coal means we are making our consumers more vulnerable to unpredictable global coal prices and fluctuation in foreign exchanges.

Yes, we can push for a moratorium on building coal plants. But unless our energy planners understand portfolio theory for energy planning, then we can expect them to always push for coal as they look at the least cost. We all should be very scared now if Greenpeace’s prediction that coal will contribute 75 percent and brace ourselves for possibly higher power rates in the future if this forecast comes true.

Of course, we need to reduce coal in power use significantly as we aim to meet our commitment of 70 percent emission reductions below business-as-usual-levels. We, along with other nations need to help save the environment. But another compelling reason to move away from coal is to provide consumers with more choices and reduce the risk of having them pay for more expensive electricity in the future. May our energy planners realize that their misplaced appreciation of the least cost method is costing Filipino consumers more.

References:

IEEFA update: Global coal power set for record fall in 2019

https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2019/11/22/1970979/greenpeace-companies-coal-expansion-will-block-philippines-transition-low-carbon-future