More RE rollout to hike oil’s share in power mix

By Myrna M. Velasco

It is an ironic twist, but the Philippines target of 15,304 megawatts of renewable energy (RE) capacity into its power system until year 2030 under the Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) will also entail rolling out more oil-fired facilities as back-up or provider of ancillary services.

Essentially, that will negate the country’s aspiration of really “greening its energy mix” and the claims of many RE developers that they are the saviors of “Mother Earth”, because the intermittency facet of some technologies would be matched by what are deemed as ‘dirty counterpart technologies’ with high rate of heat-trapping emissions such as diesel or bunker-C fuel fired power facilities.

The wish of the Department of Energy (DOE) is for natural gas, hydro or battery storage to become the ‘ancillary services’ provider that could save the system from frequency regulation upsets potentially triggered by the on-and-off generation of variable renewable energy (VRE) technologies.

“To integrate RE into the system better, we need more flexi plants,” Energy Undersecretary Felix William B. Fuentebella has noted.

He expounded that flexi plants could either be gas-fired generating facilities, hydro or the more advanced coal-fired power facilities that are deemed to have more flexible range of generating capacity. The major consideration, Fuentebella said, would be “the ability of the plants to immediately start up, ramp up and ramp down.”

The energy official added “gas is just one of them… so if we have coal capability ramping up and down, like super critical technology, then we’ll give it a go. We’re technology neutral, we’re just saying that the capacity of the plants should be  more flexible.”

Taking off from the ‘technology neutral standpoint’ of the DOE, it can be gleaned clearly from industry players’ preparations that their preferences to-date are installations of oil-fired facilities as back-up capacity to RE’s unreliable electricity generation.

Battery storage is also being dangled into the RE development scene, but cost remains a deterring proposition at this point, hence, investors are not really that keen yet on taking the plunge on that technology option.

For gas-fired generation, the major questions thrown to government are the sourcing of gas supply and how serious the blueprinted liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminals really are in getting concretized.

Hydro technology, absent a pumped storage, will also have cyclical generation issues – such as de-rated capacity when demand peaks at summer time.