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/

 

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

The Cost of Being Outdated

Numerous studies reveal the benefits of shifting to more renewable energy. These research papers debunk the myth that RE is more expensive and rather stresses that in the long-run, greener forms of energy may be cheaper if one is to consider many factors including cost of oil importation and effects on health and environment, to name a few.

One such study is the recently released “Electricity-Sector Opportunities in the Philippines: The Case for Wind- and Solar-Powered Small Island Grids¬” by the Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) and Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC).

According to the report, the Philippines is likely to save more than P10 billion annually if we are to replace diesel-fired power plants with renewables in off-grid islands or areas that are not connected to the grid.

For these off-grid islands, energy is provided by the small power utilities group or SPUG under the National Power Corporation (NAPOCOR) or by Independent Power Producers (IPPs). According to the report, there are 310 SPUG and IPPs combined with a total dependable capacity of 267 MW with mini-grids that uses oil-powered plants. The cost of generating electricity in these islands are subsidized under the Universal Charge for Missionary Electrification (UCME) of NAPOCOR where fuel costs account for 75% of the NPC-SPUG cost of power generation.

The reliance on oil for energy needs comes at a significant cost as fuel account for 75% of the NPC-SPUG cost of power generation. The cost of generating electricity in these islands are subsidized under the Universal Charge for Missionary Electrification (UCME). The researchers point out that P60 billion are spent on subsidies even if these areas only generate 0.49% of the overall generated power in the country and 6% of the total energy demand.

With the falling costs of RE technologies, the study noted that great savings can be made A swift transition to RE for these off-grid islands is possible says the researchers, except the country’s policies and regulations, are outdated: “Barriers to small island grid uptake of modern renewable energy power include outdated regulations that have not kept up with technology.”

The researchers emphasized that the present system fails to provide incentives to buy cheaper sources of power, which unfortunately causes the slow the shift towards RE in these areas “This system tends to be biased against renewable generation because franchise managers would rather stick with diesel generation they are used to, even though more expensive.”

The authors recommend for the Energy Department to provide incentives to the SPUG to hybridize their power plants as well as for the National Electrification Administration (NEA) to order electricity cooperatives to be neutral in their purchase of energy. After all, the researchers concluded that “Small island grids powered by solar, wind, and other renewable energy can reduce dependence on expensive imported fossil fuel generation without compromising availability of power and grid reliability.”

In a previous post, I have tackled the problem of energy poverty as some 1.2 billion individuals are without electricity. Unfortunately, our country is suffering, too from the lack of access to power.  We are in fact being left behind in terms of electrification in the region.

hybrid thailand

Photo c/o http://www.thai-german-cooperation.info

The Philippines is almost at the bottom of the list in South East Asia when we talk about national electrification rate which is at 79% while our neighbors such as Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei have already achieved 100%. Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Indonesia have impressive numbers at 99%, 97%, 87%, and 81%, respectively. We are at the bottom three along with Cambodia and Myanmar.

Indeed, there is a need to hasten in reviewing our policies to catch up with our needs especially since we are aiming for more inclusive growth.

The big picture is actually very simple: The Philippines should exploit and encourage the development of all renewable energy resources for the simple reason that: a) no need for fuel importation and thus saving foreign exchange; b) the Philippine economy will be shielded from wild swings in the global energy markets; and c) electricity prices will be stable over the long-term.

Clearly, falling prices of renewable energy aren’t enough for a major shift towards renewable energy. A problematic regulatory system must be addressed if we want cleaner and cheaper sources of energy.

The lack of foresight, willpower and competence can be a bane for the growth of any sector. And our power sector is one of those that stands to gain if only regulators competently enact changes needed to help our country develop.

References:

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

World Economic Outlook 2015 data base. International Energy Agency http://www.worldenergyoutlook.org/resources/energydevelopment

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

China’s Pivot

China power

Wind and solar energy from Yiyang County in Henan Province, China. Photo c/o china.org.cn

China, the world’s biggest polluter, is making a significant shift.

At the start of the year, the world’s largest consumer of energy has announced that it will pour some $361 billion by 2020 into renewable energy investments.

The announcement came after China raised its very first national red alert for smog as two dozens of cities in the country suffered from the air pollution, where officials warned citizens of a possible reduction in visibility to less than 500 meters. The smog, which is a clear manifestation of high air pollution forced airlines to cancel flights.

China, the country that uses more than half of the world’s coal is now working on sourcing a big chunk of its energy needs from renewables.

Its economic planning office, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), has said it plans to boost the capacity of solar power by five times.  The country will also spend one trillion yuan in solar, 700 billion yuan in wind energy and 500 billion in hydropower with tidal power.

At present, the country generates the most renewable energy in the world. As of 2015, China accounts for 199 GW of the world’s 785 GW produced RE capacity excluding hydropower. It has drawn up a total of 199 GW of RE, while all European countries combined and the United States only generated 276 GW and US 122 GW, respectively. The country is also the largest wind generator for the same year, producing some 30.8 GW, more than thrice the generated wind capacity of the United States and Germany at 8.6 and 5.7 GW.

China also outpaced all other countries in RE investments for the same period as its RE investments reached $102.9 billion. The amount is almost three times higher than $49.8 billion of investments of poured in by European and US of $44.1 billion.

Even before the announcement of massive investment into renewables, the Chinese government has already made it clear that it is serious in its drive to lessen its carbon emissions. Last September, the government canceled some 103 planned and under construction coal power plant projects with a combined total generating capacity of 120 GW. Just this March, the government also announced that it would either be shutting down or postponing a total of 50 GW coal projects.

With all these developments, China is poised to become the world’s leader in the global fight on climate change especially since US President Trump has headed in the opposite direction. And in the words of Greenpeace East Asia’s spokesman Li Shuo: “China has transformed itself from climate bad boy into a reluctant leader, and at the Paris climate change talks, really a true leader.”

But China’s change in gears isn’t only about towards a greener environment. It is also an economic strategy according to experts. In a report, a professor at King’s College London, Nick Butler notes that the new energy direction also aims to reduce China’s reliance on imported supplies and to create a modern economy that provides more jobs as its economy continues its transition. After all, the announced investment is seen to generate some 13 million jobs.

“Having managed the transition from a predominantly agricultural economy to one based on heavy industry, basic manufacturing, and construction, China must develop a more complex economy with a rise in services, consumption, and higher value added,” Butler said.

China’s pivot is an excellent example of how shifting to greater use of renewables comes with enormous benefits. Indeed, this significant change will pave the way for a cleaner environment as well as provide more jobs needed by its citizens.

The Philippines should take note of this shift given that the State Grid of China Corp. (SGCC) is a major investor in our transmission company National Grid Corporation or NGCP. The Philippines will stand to gain from this Chinese pivot if SGCC will help the campaign for RE in our country.

References:

http://www.newsweek.com/china-issues-first-national-smog-red-alert-538121

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/06/china-green-energy-superpower-charts/

http://asian-power.com/power-utility/exclusive/china-dead-serious-its-greener-energy-mix#sthash.Nfl1olmQ.dpuf

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-energy-renewables-idUSKBN14P06P

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-02/china-coal-cuts-and-renewables-transform-climate-change-leader/8316660

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/how-china-is-planning-ahead-for-life-after-coal-a7725621.html

Let’s Not Forget Wind and Natural Gas

So much has been said about the potential of renewable energy especially on solar power in the news lately. But there’s another renewable energy source that could significantly help us reduce our greenhouse gas emissions: Wind Energy.

Similar to other renewable energy source, wind power does not emit greenhouse gas emissions, and of course, the resource is free.

But this form of energy has one advantage over other renewable sources: its low carbon foot print. According to energy specialist James Conca wind energy has the smallest carbon footprint (along with Nuclear), only emitting 15 grams per kilowatt hour (kWh). Its emissions are largely from the manufacturing, installation and the maintenance of the wind turbines.

Development in solar energy has overshadowed the good news about wind power. But we should also take note of the progress wind energy has made.

In 2016, a total of 54.6 gigawatts (GW) was installed globally, bringing the world’s total installed wind capacity at 487 GW according to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC). China alone has installed 23.3 GW of wind power last year, and now has the largest share of wind power in the world with 42.7%. US also added more wind energy last year after installing a total of 8.2 GW.

Analysts at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance notes that “wind is now one of the main workhorses in power markets around the world.” And the BNEF predicts that wind power’s growth will continue as some 59 GW will be commissioned this 2017, beating the additional installed capacity in 2016.

Apparently, wind power’s potential must not be ignored.

In the Philippines, the World Wide Fund notes that our grid can accommodate up to 500 MW of wind power without hurting the grid. Plus, there are new technologies, which could make the Philippines a leader at least in the South East Asia (SEA) for wind power.  While we have as much wind as our neighbor countries, the Philippines’ is friendlier to the generation sector, particularly on research and development compared to other SEA countries. Our restrictions on connecting to the grid are much less.

However, our government should be more supportive of the feed-in tariff for wind energy because, without it, development of wind power could be stunted. That’s a shame because developing this renewable source could help us shift faster to cleaner energy just like in the cases of other countries.

Last year, the wind power in the United King made waves as it generated more electricity than coal. This is a first in the country’s history.  Coal power generation in the UK declined from 22.6 percent of the country’s overall energy mix in 2015 to 9.2 percent in 2016 with the shutdown of three major coal power plants.

Just last February, Denmark was able to generate sufficient energy from the wind to supply the power needs of the entire country.  WindEurope reported that the country produced a total of 97 GW from wind, with onshore wind providing 70 GW and offshore wind at 27 GW. The volume generated was enough to supply to some 10 million average households in the European Union.

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Wind turbines off of Skovshoved, Denmark. Photo c/o http://www.euractiv.com/

As of 2015, wind energy combined with solar only accounted for less than 0.1 percent of the Philippines’ energy mix. There is obviously more room for wind power just like with other renewable sources if we want to meet the country’s goal of cutting our emissions by 70 percent by the year 2030.  And the best way to move forward in achieving our committed emissions is to shift our dependence on fossil fuels to liquefied natural gas or LNG for our ancillary needs.

Wind and solar energy are intermittent sources of energy. Thus, we need to beef up on our ancillary services to maintain the correct direction and flow of power as well as to address the imbalance on the supply and demand on the grid. Currently, we rely on traditional sources of energy for the security of our grid, which unfortunately, creates havoc in our environment and health.

On the other hand, natural gas is less harmful to the environment since its main component, methane, results in lesser carbon emission. Its carbon dioxide emissions are 30 percent less than oil and 45 percent lesser than other conventional fuels. Natural gas also produces less sulfur dioxide and nitrogen, which are precursors of acid rain and smog, respectively.

The benefits of depending on LNG rather than coal are undeniable. In fact, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Texas shows that natural gas and wind are the lowest-cost technology choice for power generation in the United States when cost, environmental effects and impact on public health are taken into consideration.

In the last two years, natural gas accounted for some 15 to 16% of our energy needs while coal dominated our power mix at 32 %. If we are committed to reducing our carbon emissions and saving our environment, then we should work harder in shifting away from coal and instead look at natural gas, solar and wind as viable options.

References:

https://about.bnef.com/blog/10-renewable-energy-predictions-2017/

http://www.cnbc.com/2017/02/13/china-and-us-lead-way-with-wind-power-installations-says-global-energy-report.html

https://cleantechnica.com/2017/02/24/denmark-generated-enough-wind-energy-power-power-needs-wednesday/

http://www.wwf.org.ph/stories/rp-grid-can-accommodate-500-mw-additional-wind

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/jan/06/uk-wind-power-coal-green-groups-carbon-taxes

https://news.utexas.edu/2016/12/08/natural-gas-and-wind-are-the-lowest-cost-for-much-of-us

 

More Reasons to Believe and Reflections by DiCaprio

The report, Renewables Global Futures Report: Great Debates Towards 100 % Renewable Energy, showed that the majority of energy experts expect a continuous drop in the costs of RE technologies within the next decade. The revelations of the report shouldn’t surprise anyone anymore. This isn’t the first time we have heard of such expression of confidence in the ability of RE to take the place of conventional power sources in the energy mix.

In terms of pricing, various experts have already predicted that solar is likely to be the next king. The Bloomberg New Energy Finance, for one, has already said that the global average of solar cost might be lower than coal by the year 2025, as solar prices have already dropped by 62% since 2009. In my own personal experience the cost of panels went down by 35% in a span of less than one year.

Recent developments around the world have given energy experts more reasons to believe that an RE domination is indeed plausible. I share this view.

For example, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries or OPEC’s top producing nation, Saudi Arabia, is now investing heavily in renewable energy and its government intends to pour in $30 to $50 billion investments in renewables. The oil-rich kingdom is now in the planning stage of developing some 10 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy by 2023, starting off with solar and wind plants in the northwestern part of the country.  This move would replace some 80,000 barrels of oil daily used to supply its energy needs.

saudi-arabia-solar

Solar panels at King Abdulaziz City of Sciences and Technology, Saudi Arabia. Photo c/o Reuters

Aside from the falling cost of RE globally, the world is moving towards making a significant shift as evidenced by the closure of coal plants.

The report Boom and Bust 2017: Tracking the Global Coal Plant Pipeline made by environmental groups, Greenpeace, Sierra Club and CoalSwarm showed that closure or retirement of coal plants is at an unprecedented pace as total capacity of closed coal plants totaled to 64 GW in the last two years.

The study also showed a slowdown in construction of new power plants as there has been a 48% drop in the preconstruction activity and 62% decrease in construction of new coal plants from January last year up to January 2017.  India and China combined, have frozen some 100 coal projects totaling to 68 GW.

Such developments only show that the world is moving towards greener forms of energy. But while there has been much progress in shifting to more renewable sources for the world’s energy needs, the report stressed that there are still challenges in developing renewable energy.

Social awareness on the benefits of RE sources is considered as a major hurdle, according to the report.  “The lack of awareness that renewables are already economically competitive was also considered problematic.”

Additionally, the study also stressed the need to address energy policies if we are to move towards greater use of RE.  “The absence of long-term thinking in energy policy and the lack of specific policies for the high penetration of renewable energy systems were also seen as huge challenges,” the report stressed.

Such thoughts of the authors only echo what I have been saying for quite some time now.  Our energy planners had failed to look at the long-terms effects of choosing traditional sources of energy over renewable ones without looking at how such a choice hurts our environment. For a long-time, many energy planners refusing to believe in the potential of RE sources of being a clean and inexpensive option. “Costs” as defined by current energy planners do not factor in risk. As a result, we can make seriously flawed options in our choice for energy source.

This penchant for only considering the short-term profits in energy planning is one of the topics tackled in the documentary, Before the Flood, produced by National Geographic and Oscar awardee, Leonardo DiCaprio. One of the interviewees in the documentary, environmental scientist, and director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center, Michael Mann noted how leaders and large global corporations have pushed the world into ignoring the effects of traditional sources of energy: “These people are engaged in an effort to lead us astray in the name of short-term, fossil fuel profits, so we end up in a degraded planet.”

Unfortunately, we are now suffering the consequences of our short-sightedness, refusing to believe in the potential of RE sources of being a clean and inexpensive option. DiCaprio, in the documentary, offered a reflection, which energy planners should be asking themselves: “Imagine the world right now if we’d taken the science of climate change seriously back then. Since then our population has grown by five billion people and counting. The problem has become more difficult to solve.”

There is, however, some glimmer of hope as some energy planners are now seeing the need to replace traditional sources of power with renewables as evidenced by the growth in investments in the sector. In 2015 alone, global investments in RE reached some $256.8 billion; double the amount poured in fossil power for the same year. The rise of renewables is undeniable, as even developing nations that suffer most from the effects of climate change are investing more in renewables compared to the rich countries. It seems like a great number of energy planners is seeing the value of choosing cleaner energy options.

Many planners still reject the idea of renewables dominating the energy mix, despite the recent development on RE, particularly, the falling costs of both wind and solar power prices. But perhaps the predictions by energy experts about the falling prices of RE, recent developments such as the one in Saudi Arabia, coupled with a strong campaign for renewables, will do the trick. Convincing energy planners and policy makers that the best way to move forward with our energy needs is to develop more renewable sources is a tedious task but must be done nevertheless.

References:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-02-14/saudis-warm-to-solar-as-opec-s-top-producer-aims-to-help-exports

REN21 Renewables Global Futures Report

http://www.ren21.net/future-of-renewables/global-futures-report/

Boom and Bust 2017: Tracking the global coal plant pipeline

http://www.greenpeace.org/india/en/publications/Boom-and-Bust-2017/