More Reasons to Believe and Reflections by DiCaprio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

REN21 Renewables Global Futures Report

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

Boom and Bust 2017: Tracking the global coal plant pipeline

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

Ignoring the Numbers

Just recently, United States President, Donald Trump signed an executive order, which mainly seeks to overturn his predecessor, Barrack Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

To recall, then President Obama announced the Clean Power Plan in August 2015 in response to the growing clamor to address climate change. The Plan’s primary objective is to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) subsequently issued the Carbon Pollution Standards, the first U.S. national standard on pollution.

Trump’s EO will trigger the review of the US Clean Power Plan and carbon standards for new coal plants. News reports, however, note, that it is unclear if the US will keep its commitment to made in COP 21 agreement to keep the world’s average temperature below two centigrade above pre-industrial levels.

Reports also quoted Trump as saying that his order is about “ending the theft of prosperity” as the signing of the EO will “start a new era of production and job creation,” particularly in the coal and mining sector.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that the new US President is ignoring the actions and calls of the global community to work double time to mitigate the effects of climate change. After all, he has promised to bring coal mining jobs back while dismissing climate change as “a hoax created by the Chinese” during his presidential bid.

More details are yet to be released on the full impact of this new executive order. But as early as now, environmental activists are already criticizing Trump for going backward on the progress already made by the US in fighting climate change. The U.S, once considered as the leading country in the world’s quest for a cleaner and greener world is now seemingly going backward.

I also join the many others who question Trump’s move in signing such an E.O. as Trump seemed to have ignored that cleaner forms of energy, do generate jobs. Many jobs in fact.

Weeks before Trump signed his controversial order, the US Department of Energy (DOE) released a report showing the contribution of the renewable energy (DOE) sector in jobs creation in the country.

The US, Energy and Employment Report revealed that solar power employs the most workers in the US Electric Power generation industry with wind energy is the third biggest. Solar alone provided work for 43 percent of the sector’s employees with 374,000 individuals from 2015 to 2016. In contrast, traditional fossil fuels all together just hired 22 percent of the workforce at 187, 117 for the same period. Coal’s job figures have been on the decline for the past decade the report stressed.

And renewables’ contribution to the additional employment in the power sector is not to be ignored either. The Energy Sector’s contribution to the overall job generation is significant as it accounts for some additional 300,000 jobs, which is 14 percent of the US job growth in 2016.

Plus, RE’s job growth is significant as it increased by 25 percent, creating a total of 73,000 new jobs last year.  Wind power employment alone grew by 32 percent.

The growth of the renewables has been significant in the past decade as more energy are generated from these sources the report stressed: “The electric generation mix in the United States is changing, driven by the transition of coal-fired power plants to natural gas and the increase in low-carbon sources of energy.”

The study pointed out that generation from coal sources has dropped by 53 percent from 2006 to September 2016 while solar power alone has increased by 5000 percent in the same period.

And with the stellar growth of cleaner energy, jobs are still created.

“These shifts in electric generation source are mirrored in the sector’s changing employment profile, as the share of natural gas, solar, and wind workers increases, while coal mining and other related employment is declining.”

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Solar alone provided work for 43 percent of the sector’s employees with 374,000 from 2015-2016.  Photo c/o http://www.zmescience.com

Trump stressed during the signing of the report that the main thrust of the EO was to protect American jobs. But apparently, the above numbers released by the U.S. DOE shows that adding cleaner forms of energy in the mix does not necessarily translate into the loss of jobs. Renewable power generation also requires manpower.

The US DOE study isn’t the only one that talks about job generation in the RE sector. Earlier studies have already established that increasing investments in renewables will generate employment.

Research by the University of California, Berkeley has shown that “photovoltaic technology produces more jobs per unit of electricity than any other energy source. Most of the jobs are in construction and installation of solar facilities and can’t be outsourced to other countries.”

Similarly, the report of the University of Massachusetts, “The Economic Benefits of Investing in Clean Energy in the US” stressed that a total of $150 billion of investments in clean energy would produce some 2.5 new million jobs.

Inevitably, these numbers point to one thing: Clean energy generates jobs. Choosing cleaner forms of energy does not come at the expense of the workers. On the contrary, more employment opportunities are available as we grow the RE sector.

Industry experts are bewildered on how Trump will deliver his promise of bringing more jobs to the coal industry.  Jason Bordoff, founding director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, says that it is impossible to bring back coal jobs. “There isn’t a lot of investment activity because in some cases it looks more economically attractive for firms to invest in cleaner technologies.”

Additionally, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis or IEEFA, in its 2017 U.S. Coal Outlook stressed that job losses would continue for coal industry as companies will continue to use fewer workers in the future: Promises to create more coal jobs will not be kept — indeed the industry will continue to cut payrolls.”

Plus, the IEEFA sees that natural gas will soon replace coal, which makes it almost impossible to for Trump to achieve his goal: “Trump’s false promise that he can bring back coal is really exposed as so much coal dust and mirrors by this executive order, since utilities will continue to use natural gas instead of coal.”

Sadly, the US President didn’t look at these numbers nor listened to industry experts.

References:

http://edition.cnn.com/2017/03/27/politics/trump-climate-change-executive-order/

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-solar-power-employs-more-people-more-oil-coal-gas-combined-donald-trump-green-energy-fossil-fuels-a7541971.html

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-energy-idUSKBN16Z1L6

https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2017/01/f34/2017%20US%20Energy%20and%20Jobs%20Report_0.pdf

https://www.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan/fact-sheet-overview-clean-power-plan

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/donald-trump-coal-mining-jobs-promise-experts-disagree-executive-order-a7656486.html

Green is Gold: How renewable energy can save us money and generate jobs”. Greenpeace

Note: UCLA Berkeley & University of Massachusetts studies are cited from the Greenpeace report.

 

 

The Key to Sustainable Energy: Energy Storage Solutions

One of the biggest criticism on renewable energy is its inability to act as a baseload plant. With the exception of geothermal energy, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar cannot provide power 24/7 and have variable outputs, thus making the task of balancing the supply and demand a tedious one.

This is why we need additional technology to store the energy sourced from renewables. Gladly, scientists discovered energy storage technologies for RE. They have been available for some time now, but with the rise of renewables, their importance is now being emphasized

There are different kinds of technologies for energy storage. The most mature and common energy storage is the pumped hydropower where two reservoirs with different elevation are used to store excess power. Water is pumped to the reservoir with a higher elevation when there is excess hydropower supply. Stored energy is drawn when needed by releasing the stored water into the reservoir with the lower height with the help of turbines.

In the Philippines, the Kalayaan Pump Storage is one such type of storage.  Originally designed for the Bataan Nuclear Power plant, the National Power Corporation in the 1990s expanded the capacity to 600 MW to precisely act as a pump storage. In its design, however, it was not contemplated to store renewable energy. This facility provides ancillary services to the system to regulate voltage and frequency.

There are also other storage technologies available, as well.

For example, thermal storage is used by solar plants where the heat from the sun is stored in molten salts, water or other liquid.  Another storage technology is the compressed air energy storage that compresses air and stored in underground caverns. The compressed air is then drawn from their storage and a combustion turbine is used to fire the air with the help of natural gas to produce power.

At Emerging Power Inc or EPI, we use the multi-hour flywheel battery storage. We are in partnership with California-based company, Amber Kinetics for our power storage needs in our solar power plant. The flywheels serve as the reservoir of significant volume of kinetic energy with the high-speed steel rotors. The fly-wheel batteries have been around for some time, but we chose Amber Kinetics’ technology since it can store and release power for hours unlike other similar technology that works only for some minutes. The pilot model is currently installed in the Subic solar farm.

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Flywheel technology by Amber Kinetics at the JSI Subic Solar farm

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Recently, the World Economic Forum named battery storage as one of the Top Ten Emerging Technologies of 2016, the advances in technologies that can help improve lives and industries significantly and help protect the environment.  This list includes technologies that have been available for some time but have reached a tipping point, or where the development in such technology is significant and advantageous to many.

Battery storage solutions after all, are on the rise, too. Zinc, aluminum and sodium batteries are being employed to service small areas. For example, Fluidic Energy, a start-up company that specializes in making batteries using air and zinc has already signed a deal with the Indonesian government to help power-up some 500 remote villages using solar power in the country. The firm will provide air batteries that can store as much as 250-megawatt hours of energy. Fluidic Energy, has earlier inked an agreement with the government of Madagascar to help 100 remote villages put up a mini-grid with the aid of their zinc-air batteries.

As we push for more use of RE, we also need to find a way to store harnessed power from renewables and its integration to grids more feasible. And fortunately, various organizations including governments are now heavily involved in research work to find more power storage solutions that will pave the way for a cheaper, greener and cleaner energy consumption.

References:

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/06/next-generation-batteries

http://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/how-energy-storage-works#.WDKm9Pl9600

More Reasons to Shift: Health and Death Print

Recently, the Senate voted to concur the ratification of the Paris Climate deal after President Rody Duterte signed the ‘Instrument of Accession,’ signifying the Philippines’ commitment to Paris Agreement.

To recall, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change seeks to reduce carbon emission and was signed by 194 countries. Our country has pledged to cut 70% of its carbon emissions by 2030 with the help of the international community.

The Senate’s concurrence signifies that we are now legally bound to the agreement. This means it is time for us to double our efforts in reducing our carbon emissions.  One way of doing that is to add more renewable energy in our energy mix.

This shift has sound economic reasons, and more importantly, it has even more profound rationale: its impact on the health of our people.

Data from the Department of Energy reveals that we are still reliant on oil and coal for our energy needs. In 2014, we sourced our power from imported coal and oil by as much as 13.9% and 29.8%, respectively. The figures are even higher for 2015 as imported oil and coal accounted for 14.92% and oil was 32.79% of our energy mix.

Aside from the monetary consequences relying heavily on imported products, reliance on coal and oil for our energy needs has an impact on health of our countrymen, and therefore death rates. Coal, for one, has the largest carbon footprint among all energy types. One kilowatt-hour (kWh) of power produced from coal emits roughly 900 grams of carbon dioxide. And this has health consequences.

Data shows that shifting to renewable energy will pave the way for lesser carbon emissions. Just recently, a study revealed that in the United Kingdom, carbon emissions decreased by 5.8 percent in 2016 compared to previous year as the country’s use of coal dropped by 52% for the same period.

Aside from having a large carbon footprint, experts are now talking about another measure: “death print.”.  Both oil and coal have large death prints. According to James Conca, an energy expert, and geochemist, “death print is the number of people killed by one kind of energy or another per kilowatt hour (kWh) produced”.

Conca explains that coal, oil, and biomass are carbon particulates that result from burning and cause respiratory problems. Our internal organs, particularly the lungs, don’t respond well to these particulates.  Using them has the same result as inhaling cigarette smoke: black lungs.

Just how bad are the death prints of coal and oil?

Conca’s research shows that on global average, the mortality rate of coal –computed as death divided by trillion kWh of use–is 100, 000 when 50% of energy needs are sourced from coal.  It’s even worse in China, which sources 75% of electricity from coal as its mortality rate is 170,000.  The US sources 44% from coal, and its coal’s mortality rate is 10,000. Conca says that China has unfortunately ramped up the building of coal in the last decade with plants that usually do not have exhaust scrubbers thus the higher death print.

Oil has a large death print, too, as its mortality rate is 36,000 for every 8% energy it supplies.

On the other hand, solar rooftop and wind power, with each contributing roughly one percent to the global energy supply, has mortality rates of 440 and 150, respectively.

In the United States, Practice Greenhealth points out that a typical 200-bed hospital that uses coal-powered energy is responsible for $107,000 a year in direct healthcare costs associated with asthma attacks, chronic bronchitis, and other health problems. The organization is the leading membership and networking organization in the US for organizations in the healthcare community that have made a commitment to sustainable, and environmentally preferable practices.

Clearly, these numbers point that adding more renewable energy to the mix will both save the environment, as well as lives.

Again, as I have been saying in the past, I do not have problems with coal plants per se. In fact, I have built some of them during my days with the NAPOCOR. But I also believe in responding to the needs of our time. And studies suggest that the world needs more clean energy if we are to save the world for the succeeding generations.

References:

http://edition.cnn.com/2017/01/18/world/2016-hottest-year/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2012/06/10/energys-deathprint-a-price-always-paid/#16e2ea1b709b\

https://qz.com/925294/carbon-emissions-in-the-uk-have-fallen-to-a-120-year-low/

http://www.rappler.com/nation/162865-duterte-signs-paris-agreement-climate-change

http://www.rappler.com/nation/162865-duterte-signs-paris-agreement-climate-change

https://practicegreenhealth.org/topics/leaner-energy

The Next King

Last year was another spectacular year for solar energy as a total of 73 gigawatts (GW) came online, breaking the record posted in 2015 of 56 GW installed capacity.

China and the United States contributed the most to the high growth of solar power last year as both almost doubled their installed solar power from 2015. China added 34.2 GW from 15 GW in 2015 and the U.S. with 13 GW from 7.3 GW. Other countries also added more power sourced from the sun such as India with 4.2 GW and UK, France and Germany with each adding at least one GW.

Naturally, more employment was generated from solar PV as it provided some 2.8 million full-time equivalent jobs. This figure accounts for one-third of the all the jobs for renewable energy (RE) sector worldwide. In the U.S., solar PV added around 73,000 jobs last year, twice the jobs generated by the coal industry in the country.

Aside from the growth in installed capacity, solar prices dropped significantly, too. The World Economic Forum notes that the price of solar power is currently lower than coal in some 30 countries. Indeed, there has been a continuous decrease in prices of solar power in the last few years as costs have dropped by 62% since 2009 according to the Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). And many predict that this trend is likely to continue.

Sohail Hasnie, Principal Energy Specialist for Central and West Asia Department of the Asian Development Bank, for one, foresees that global average price of coal would increase to $65- $100 per megawatt hour (MWh) for 2017 from its $60 per MWh. On the other hand, solar prices, he notes are now at $60-70 MWh, and likely to go lower in the next few months as solar energy in some countries were sold at low levels early this year.  Hasnie cites the case of India’s Madhya Pradesh state where solar power was sold was roughly $45 per MWh for 750 MW generated last February.  He believes that prices could drop below $25 per MWh this year in some auctions abroad.

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India’s 750 MW solar plant. Photo c/o http://www.hindustantimes.com

Battery storage costs are crucial to the expected price drop in solar PV, Hasnie stresses. He notes that lithium-ion battery prices dropped by 22% last year given the increase of manufacturers and awareness on the technology as the use of battery storage increased to roughly 750 MW globally. Hasnie anticipates that battery prices will likely drop by $75 per kilowatt (KWh) by 2020 from $350 per KWh in 2016.

Hasnie isn’t the only one to make such forecasts. The BNEF sees that solar energy is likely to be the lowest cost option in less than a decade.  The head of solar analysis for BNEF, Jenny Chase predicts that one MW ground-mounted solar system will be around 73 cents per watt by 2025, a 36% drop compared to its current price of $1.14. The BNEF also anticipates battery costs to decrease to roughly $200 per kWh by 2020.

Similarly, the International Energy Agency also predicts that solar generation cost will decrease by 25% in the next five years, and a drop by 65% by 2025 according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.

It looks like solar power would soon dethrone coal as the cheapest source of energy. And if these predictions come true, then we might see solar energy take over coal as the king of the energy mix.

Developing countries such as the Philippines should be sensitive to these developments.  Given our penchant on “quick fixes,” we might miss the boat (again) on this one. Our regulators should realize that the “least cost” in today’s environment takes on a different meaning. As I pointed out in my previous blogs, traditional power planning uses the least cost generation methodology where planners only look at stand-alone costs. The least cost generation method, however, does not compute for the risks involved.

For example, we never thought of Indonesia’s changing rules about exporting coal.  A few years back, Indonesia suddenly decided that it will not allow the export of certain grades of coal.  This led to a much higher cost for coal-fired power plant operators in the Philippines.  One company started to bleed because its ERC-approved formula did not take into consideration the fundamental change in the base prices.

To look at a price without considering risks behind the price can lead us to a completely wrong decision.

The global energy and political leaders should now realize that pushing for solar and other renewable energy sources is not just being good citizens of the planet, but also makes economic sense.

References:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-01-03/for-cheapest-power-on-earth-look-skyward-as-coal-falls-to-solar

https://blogs.adb.org/blog/5-predictions-clean-energy-2017

State of Solar 2016: Globally and in Australia. Climate Council

Click to access 4127a8c364c1f9fa8ab096b04cd93f78.pdf

 

 

 

 

Double 100

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Harnessing the Sun to Empower Farmers

Agriculture is the single sector that employs the most number of individuals. According to the United Nations, 40% of the world’s population rely on agriculture for their livelihood. Unfortunately, the world’s poorest are from the sector.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says that increasing the productivity of the sector is one of the most effective means to combat poverty. The UNEP noted that a 10 percent growth in farm production reduces poverty by five percent is Asia and seven percent in Africa. And one of the measures to improve production is to ensure proper irrigation. This was the focus of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in its report “Solar pumping for irrigation: Improving livelihoods and sustainability, stressing the benefits of solar pumps for irrigation.”

The report noted that food is produced mostly on rainfed lands and the majority of farmed land in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are reliant on seasonal rains to meet water needs since only 20% are irrigated agriculture. Agrarian economies developed irrigation particularly groundwater structures (wells and tube wells) to boost agricultural productivity. Unfortunately, this has increased water consumption and electricity consumption. In India, for example, irrigation comprises 18% of electricity consumption and five percent of diesel consumption. And globally, energy use of electric irrigation pumps is roughly 62 terawatt-hours per annum, which is equal to Singapore’s annual power consumption in 2014.

The report stressed that there are consequences on depending heavily on electric power pumps. There is the impact on public spending given that electricity or fuels for irrigation are often subsidized by governments, which also results in the inability of utilities and distribution firms to recover their full costs. This hampers the utility companies to fund new power projects. On the other hand, utility businesses that are unconcerned on cost recovery have little incentives to address the inefficiency of water and energy consumption practices in the sector. Plus, there is also the impact on the environment. Naturally, high energy consumption for pumping contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. For example, in India, fuel groundwater pumping accounts for eight to 12 percent of the country’s greenhouse emission. Likewise, in China, energy consumption for irrigation equals roughly 45 metric tons of C02 or equivalent 50 to 70 percent of all the energy activities of its agricultural sector.

Given the above consequences of relying heavily on energy for pumping, it would then be beneficial to harness the sun’s power for irrigation purposes.  The report emphasized that solar power can provide cost-effective, reliable and environmentally-friendly irrigation services. Harnessing the sun’s power to irrigate farmland can substantially help increase farmer’s productivity and incomes, as well as help government’s reduce public expenditure on fossil fuel subsidies. The report highlighted examples to prove that such outcomes are possible.

domrep-solarpanel

photo c/o irenanewsorg

In Little Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, India where 70 percent of India’s salt are produced, most of the salt farmers use inefficient diesel-powered water pumps in the salt harvesting. Farmers’ income are reduced given that they spend 40 percent of their annual revenues to buy diesel for their next harvest season.  Two pilot projects were carried out in the area to replace diesel-powered pumps with solar-powered pumps. The projects showed that annual savings of farmers increased by $1,277 or 161% compared to farmers who were using diesel-powered ones.

Likewise, in Zimbabwe, the Ruti Dam Irrigation Scheme of Oxfam, added solar pumps to irrigate more lands and solar rooftop panels to provide cold storage and solar charging. Such actions resulted in an increase of household incomes by 287% for the very poor and a 47 percent income increase even for middle-income families.

Solar irrigation pumping could pave the way for lessening CO2 emissions, too. In the case of Little Rann, estimates showed that reduction of 115,000 tons of CO2 is possible when diesel water pumps are replaced with solar or hybrid solar or diesel pumps in the area. Similarly, research by the World Wild Fund showed that the deployment of 5 million solar pumps could save 10 billion liters of diesel or 23 billion kWh of power. Also, in Bangladesh, studies showed a reduction of one million tons of emissions yearly or 450 million liters of diesel with the installation of 50,000 solar irrigation pumps.

I, for one, is a believer of solar pumps. In fact, almost a decade ago, we implemented a solar pumping project in Butong, Ronda, Cebu. We installed the Aquameter system that employs a controller that can covert 2,700 watts of photovoltaic power and solar-powered tap stands where consumers simply need to draw water using their rechargeable pre-paid cards.  Water is sourced from an underground river where a well was drilled. Unfortunately, the project didn’t last long as the community became less cooperative with the project.

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Solar water pump of the Aquameter system

So, it is good news that the DA is now considering solar pumps again. Last August, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol announced that the department is installing five prototypes of solar powered irrigation pumps in different areas. The prototypes are US-assembled where the design allows drawing of water from underground or catchment basins. The government expects that installation of such can provide potable water supply, generate excess power for isolated areas as well as provide other sources of livelihood.

It is my hope that this project becomes successful especially since our farmers, just like in other parts of the world, remain the poorest. Surely, we can help our countrymen get out of poverty if we put to good use technology along with our natural resources. Giving solar-powered pumps a chance is a step in the right direction.

References:

http://www.bworldonline.com/content.php?section=Economy&title=solar-powered-pumps-readied-for-installation-to-boost-crop-yields&id=132706

International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA): Solar pumping for irrigation: Improving livelihoods and sustainability, stressing the benefits of solar pumps for irrigation

Adding More Wind and Solar Energy

Previously, I have argued that the country will benefit from harnessing renewable energy given the fluctuating prices of coal and oil that result in energy price spikes.

I have also introduced the concept of portfolio theory, which says that risks can be minimized regardless of the level of expected return as long as investors mix low or zero-risk assets in their portfolio. In energy planning, this means adding more renewable energy in the energy mixes that are predominantly composed of fossil-based power plants. Again, fossil-based energy is considered a risky asset since the supply is fast diminishing, pushing both fossil fuel and energy prices upwards eventually.

The Benefits of Wind and Solar Energy

Among all renewable energy technologies, the wind is considered as one of the cleanest energy sources. Wind power generation does not release any gas or emission.

And just like with other renewable energy technologies, the establishment of a wind power plant can provide employment to local communities as wind turbines installation and the maintenance of wind power plants require manpower.

On the other hand, the sun is the greatest source of energy as the solar energy that is emitted to the earth in a year is twice the amount of the produced fossil and nuclear energy around the world. In fact, the earth receives roughly 340 watts of solar energy for every square meter.  And one second of sunlight is equivalent to 100-watt bulb use. Plus, solar energy plants require little maintenance after installation. A small herd of goats, in fact, will be beneficial.

Debunking the Misconception

However, there is this misconception that adding wind and solar energy to the portfolio or energy mix will increase the cost of power generation. This is brought about by the fact that the stand-alone cost of building wind and solar power plants is higher compared to the cost of building of fossil fuel or coal-based plants. Again, I have argued before, that this is the pitfall of energy planners given that they use the least-cost method in energy planning, favoring the cheaper energy source based on current prices. Those who choose the least-cost in power generation, however, do not look at the risks: the diminishing supply of coal and oil that will make such sources of power more expensive in the future.

That said, let us take a look at a study that discussed the cost implications of adding wind and solar into the generation mix to dispel notions that adding renewable energy in the mix increases power costs.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory conducted a study on the effects of adding both wind and solar into the generation mix for the Rocky Mountain Power Pool (RMPP) region in the United States. The RMPP region covers the entire state of Colorado and some parts of South Dakota and Wyoming. The region was chosen because of its abundance of both wind and solar energy, and its heavy reliance on natural gas and coal thermal power plants.

Renewable Energy Lab Facility in Paonia, Colordado, Western Slope of Rocky Mountains Photo from http://www.solarenergy.org/

Renewable Energy Lab Facility in Paonia, Colordado, Western Slope of Rocky Mountains
Photo from http://www.solarenergy.org/

The study’s main objective is to determine the effect of higher penetration or use of both technologies as a hedge against the uncertainty of power costs in the region. The researchers simulated different RE penetration rates ranging from10 to 50 percent under different price scenarios of natural gas to determine whether adding more wind and solar energy into the energy mix increases energy costs.

The study showed that in a coal-dominated mix, the annualized variable system cost of adding 10 percent RE at a low natural gas price of $2/MMBtuis roughly $15/mWh. And the annualized variable system cost of electricity for the region goes down to $8/mWhwhen RE penetration is increased to 15 percent at a higher natural gas price ranging from $4/MMBtu and $9/MMBtu.

This simply means that adding more renewable energy, in this case, wind and solar can reduce the variable system cost of electricity even when natural gas prices shoot up.

Of course, the study did not tackle total system costs as capital recovery and fixed operations and maintenance costs– all affecting total system costs–vary. The research also showed diminishing marginal returns for the higher penetration rate of 35 to 40 percent of RE. But clearly, the study debunks the misconception that adding more renewable energy pushes energy prices up.

Sadly, as of 2014, wind and solar energy only contribute 0.2% and 0.02%, respectively to the total energy mix in the Philippines despite the country’s great potential to harness energy from these two renewable energy sources. According to NREL, the Philippines has a total of 76.6 GW of potential wind capacity.

As of last year, the country has a generation mix composed of 42.78% coal, 24.19% natural gas and 7.39% oil-based. It will then be beneficial for the Philippines to add more renewable energy to hedge against future power price escalations brought by the country’s dependence on coal and natural gas power plants.

Wind Farm in Ilocos Norte. Photo from tourism.gov.ph

Wind Farm in Ilocos Norte. Photo from tourism.gov.ph

Connecting Solar and Wind Power to the Grid is a Problem

Both wind and solar energy have their benefits. However, the intermittency of solar and wind power makes the job of the system operator (SO), in our case, the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) more difficult.

The role of NGCP as the SO is to balance the demand and supply of energy through the use of a system. The NGCP has to find the correct mix of high-voltage generating power plants and transmit the generated electricity to the distribution utilities, which in turn distribute to end-users.

With a constant power supply from conventional sources, SO merely watches the level of frequency, voltage, and the demand, and adjust the level of supply accordingly to ensure the system’s security and stability.

The process of balancing the supply and demand becomes more difficult when intermittent energy like solar and wind is included in the supply side since the SO will have to look at both demand and supply to ensure the system is stable and secure. It’s like watching a tennis match instead of a pelota game: there are two sides to scrutinize carefully instead of just watching one side.

Obviously, there are technologies available that allow any SO to balance the demand and supply properly when intermittent sources of power are added to the mix. Plus, NGCP is technically competent to ensure system security and stability even when renewable energy is added to the system.

But here lies the problem: the increase in complexity is not properly compensated by the regulator, the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).  So, the objective of injecting more renewable energy into the system, which again, comes with more intermittency is not aligned with NGCP’s financial objectives. Why should NGCP agree to manage a more complex system without a corresponding adjustment or fee to compensate for this complexity?

Of course, one can and should argue that NGCP has the legal mandate to manage the system regardless of the level of difficulty, and that the management of a complex system is already part of the SO’s management fees. However, the fact is, the Renewable Energy (RE) law was not yet in place when NGCP took over the SO function from Transco when it was privatized. This means that the valuation of Transco by NGCP did not consider the management of a more complex system with the full implementation of the RE law.

This problem is often exacerbated by the arrogant attitude of some RE developers who feel that their connection to the grid is a God-given right. It is true that NGCP is mandated to connect power projects–especially RE projects– to the grid, however, our SO will go through a whole lot of hoops before it makes this decision.  From a purely selfish perspective, why should NGCP connect an RE project to the grid when doing so will only make its work more difficult?

References:

The Use of Solar and Wind as a Physical Hedge against Price Variability within a Generation Portfolio by National Renewable Energy Laboratory http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy13osti/59065.pdf

Applying portfolio theory to EU electricity planning and policy-making by Shimon Awerbuch with Martin Berger

Renewable Energy Devt.in the Philippines: Presentation by Mario Marasigan, DOE

10 Reasons to Start Investing in Solar Energy

http://abcofsolar.com/10-reasons-start-investing-in-solar-energy/?utm_content=buffer63872&utm_medium=social&utm_source=linkedin.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Benefits of Solar Energy http://www.greenoughsolarfarm.com.au/solar-energy/benefits-solar-energy

Why Geothermal Energy?

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

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

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

Geothermal energy, however, has many advantages.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So is the geothermal energy more expensive?

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

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

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

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

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

References:

Click to access Economic%20Cost%20and%20Benfits_Publication_6_16.pdf

Click to access Values_of_Geothermal_Energy.pdf

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

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

Why Renewable Energy

In my previous post, I have argued that using the least-cost method in energy planning with planners favoring fossil fuel plants on the basis of their “lower” cost may not necessarily be the best option for a country like ours. Let us examine why this is so.

As mentioned, traditional sources of energy or fossil fuel based power generation is subject to unpredictable prices. This means that the cost of power is affected greatly by the rise and fall of the fossil-based global prices, making dependence on traditional power plants a high-risk undertaking. Planners, however, do not even consider the risks involved when putting together an energy mix.

Let us look at this example to better understand the risks of using the least-cost method.

A couple needs to borrow P5 million for a house loan, payable in 20 years. This couple is given two options:

Option 1: Borrow at fixed interest of 10 percent per annum for the next 20 years

Option 2:  Borrow at varying interest rate that could range from 5 to 20 percent for the next 20 years.

Which option should the couple choose?

If the couple chooses Option B, then it is possible to pay 5 percent per annum for the first five years and end up paying anywhere between 5 to 20 percent for the remaining years of the loan. It is also possible that the couple will pay an interest rate of 20 percent for the next 10 years or 15 years, depending on the conditions of the market.

On the other hand, the couple who chooses Option B is assured of paying a fixed interest rate of 10 percent per annum only for the next 20 years.

The same analogy can be used for energy planning.

At a glance, a coal-fired power plant may seem cheaper because it can generate power initially for $1 per kWh, unlike a wind power plant that costs $4/kWh for the next 25 years. But coal is likely to diminish, which means that the lack of supply will push the price of coal upwards.

Those who have chosen to invest all resources in building coal power plants will have to shell out more money than they have expected because of the price spikes in the global market.

Unfortunately, the Philippines is one of the countries that is highly dependent on fossil-based power generation. Data from the Department of Energy in 2012 showed that the country relies heavily on coal-powered plants for power generation, making up 32.02% of the power mix, followed by oil-based plants at 19.48% and natural gas at 16.46%. Similarly, the country imports 90 percent of its coal and oil resources according to the World Wild Fund (WWF).

So, an increase in global prices will increase the cost of power generation for the country. Consumers will have to pay for higher costs of energy when global prices go up. And world consumption for fossil fuels is increasing at a fast rate, outpacing the world production increase for all three traditional power sources: coal, fossil fuel and natural gas.

The country already has one of the highest electricity costs in Asia. And in the future, the country’s power costs will even be higher due to the dependence on coal and oil-based power plants.

This is why adding renewable energy in the country’s of power generation mix is crucial. Renewable energy can provide stable prices—a fixed price for an ex-number of years; a reduction of risks brought by fluctuating prices of fossil-based fuels.

Adding Renewable Energy

Many energy planners favor fossil-based energy for fear of higher generation costs since renewable energy costs more. But studies refute the traditionally held notion that adding renewable energy into the portfolio increases the over-all cost of energy.

For example, the European Union added more wind into their mix from in 2010. Adding more Wind, which costs roughly 10 percent more, did not increase the generating cost of the EU mix. The generating cost for the mix in 2002 and 2010 were almost the same at €0.033/kWh (from Awerbuch)

Year 2000 Energy Mix for EU

  • 20% old gas
  • 32 % coal
  • 8% oil
  • 40% nuclear
  • 1% wind

Year 2010 Energy Mix for EU

  • 17% old gas
  • 23% coal
  • 6% oil
  • 34% nuclear
  • 3% wind
  • 16% new gas

Similarly in the United States, adding more gas into the mix raises risks, but does not necessarily reduce costs. Let us look at the figures below.

US Technology Costs

Technology Cost
Gas $0.034/kWh
Coal $0.043/kWh
Wind $0.058/kWh

The energy mix in 2002 consisted of 15% gas and 85% coal. However, studies revealed that moving to 100% gas increases risks from 8.5% to 11.5% or by 35%, but only reduces costs by roughly 9%.

On the other hand, changing the mix to add 18% wind (see mix below) reduces the risk by 23% from 8.5% to 6.6%, but has the same cost as the energy mix in 2002.

Mix with more wind

  • 45% gas
  • 37% coal
  • 18% mix

The studies show that adding more renewable energy into the mix 1) reduces risk 2) does not significantly raise the cost of generation. There are also other benefits of adding more renewable energy such as reduction in GDP losses, which we will tackle in succeeding articles.

The point here is simple: If we want stable power prices, then local energy planners may want to consider the results of the studies done in advanced countries and work harder to achieve an energy mix consisting of more renewable energy.

Reference:

Applying portfolio theory to EU electricity planning and policy-making

Shimon Awerbuch with Martin Berger

Click to access iea-portfolio.pdf