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.

wind_turbines_denmark

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/

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