Let’s Not Forget About The Jobs

The reminders to world leaders and governments to shift to green energy to help the environment are endless given that we only have a few years left to minimize the effects of climate change. There is also clamour for greater use of renewable energy to ensure energy security for all.

Arguably, environmental impact and energy security are two of the most commonly cited and discussed reasons why governments and private entities are urged to have more renewable energy in their portfolio, if not aim for 100 percent use of clean energy.

But there’s another direct benefit in paving the way for greener power: job generation. Creating more employment opportunities through renewable energy may take a backseat in advocating for renewable energy. Nevertheless, providing more work for people is another benefit of building more renewable energy plants and infrastructure. There are, after all, millions of jobs created by the renewable energy sector around the world. 

Recently, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) released its Renewable Energy and Jobs Annual Review 2019, which showed that some 11 million were employed by the sector around the world in 2018. The jobs provided last year is higher than the 10.3 million posted in 2017. The 11 million jobs provided by the renewable energy sector is almost 3.7 million more compared to 2012 when IRENA first started its yearly job report.

The rising number of employment generated by the sector is partly attributable to the world’s desire for low carbon economic growth as stressed by IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera who said: “Beyond pursuing climate goals, many governments have prioritised renewables as a driver of low-carbon economic growth. Diversification of the supply chain has broadened the sector’s geographic footprint beyond a few leading markets, as more countries link sustainable technology choices to broader socio-economic benefits.”

The report also noted that most employment opportunities were concentrated in a few countries like China, United States, Brazil, India, and some European Union countries. Almost a third of the jobs generated last year came from the Solar PV industry. It helped that off-grid solar sales are on the rise, which in turn increases the chances of spurring economic activities in isolated areas in various countries.

The Philippines made it in the top 10 countries for wind employment.  According to IRENA, the top 10 countries for wind employment provide 85 percent of wind jobs. The Philippines proudly landed the 10th spot on the list as the country has employed around 16,900 jobs in the wind energy sector. Unfortunately for our country, the number of jobs for Filipinos in the Solar PV sector declined as there were only 20,800 employed in 2018, lower than the 34,000 recorded in 2017. This is largely due, I believe, in the non-resumption of the FIT program for the Philippines.

That’s rather sad to hear since a study by Greenpeace entitled “Green is Gold: How Renewable Energy Can Save Us money and Generate Jobs” noted that the Philippines can generate as much as  4.5 to 5.5 kWh/m2/day as the country is a tropical one. This means that our solar power industry can generate plenty of employment since research by the University of California, Berkeley showed 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.”

There will be more jobs as we harness more power from the sun. The same Greenpeace report noted that a 10 MW solar power plant can provide 1000 people during the construction phase alone as well as an additional 100 full-time employees. In the case of our solar farm in Subic, we managed to train and hire indigenous people thus making them even more productive in their own lands.

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Renewable energy development create jobs. At Emerging Power Inc, we hired and tirade indigenous people thus helping the community along the way. Photo c/o https://www.emergingpowerinc.com

The above figures are just for solar energy. Other renewables such as wind, geothermal and hydro, to name a few could provide employment for thousands of Filipinos as well.

Luckily for us, our country is blessed with so many natural resources. We can harness these resources to save our environment, ensure energy security for all, and provide employment for Filipinos. 

Unfortunately, policies and regulations have restricted the growth of the renewable energy industry. Just take our geothermal power sector as an example. We were once the second biggest geothermal power producer in the world. Sadly, we are now just ranked third as Indonesia has produced 1,800 megawatts (MW) whereas the Philippines decreased its output from 1850 MW to 1600 MW.

Yes, our country enjoys abundant natural resources. But we have to find a way to make renewable energy development a priority in the government’s agenda so that we can enjoy the many benefits of green power including more jobs for Filipinos.

References:

 IRENA Renewable Energy and Jobs Annual Review 2019

“Green is Gold: How Renewable Energy Can Save Us Money and Generate Jobs”. Greenpeace

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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

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