Gov’t urged to address grid integration, food competition vs RE installations

Published October 29, 2020, 3:33 PM

by Myrna M. Velasco

The Department of Energy (DOE) has openly declared its ‘preferential treatment’ for renewable energy (RE) projects, but the government’s attention is also being called on managing concerns of efficient grid integration to avoid brownouts; as well as the competition that massive solar farm developments would pose against the country’s food productivity.

In the roll of the DOE, there are more than 13,000 megawatts of proposed solar projects – and these are combination of ground-mounted photovoltaic (PV) installations, solar rooftop and floating solar developments.

The solar rooftop and floating solar projects would not cause risks on agricultural lands being converted to industrial use, but it will be the ground-mounted installations that will spark off tension vis-a-vis the country’s overarching agenda toward a sustainable energy-water-food nexus, especially so since the Philippines is already heavily leaning on importation of food supply which could have otherwise been harvested domestically.

At this stage, both the DOE and the National Renewable Energy Board (NREB) admitted that there are no studies carried out yet as to the scale of agricultural lands that will be gobbled up by solar projects, but energy officials said they will encourage more solar rooftop and floating solar ventures to take the edge off on that dilemma.

Atty Monalisa C. Dimalanta, chairperson of the National Renewable Energy Board (NREB), said “we are looking at floating solar projects and behind-the-meter solar capacities; or the net metering and own-use proposition to consumers.” That could entail solar rooftop installations in houses or buildings; which will propel the emergence of “prosumers” or the end-users producing their own electricity; and any excess to their generated power could be injected back to the grid.

On grid integration of massive scale RE projects, Dimalanta noted the government is propagating the newly-launched competitive renewable energy zones (CREZ) and this was discussed both with the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) and the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), so energy planning and timing of investments on transmission facilities could be harmonized.

“NREB met with ERC Chairperson Agnes Devanadera last week and these are among the items that we discussed. I think we are all aligned towards realizing that RE vision. ERC is actually very open to approving transmission projects for future capacity,” Dimalanta said.

However, for the initial 2,000 megawatts of RE capacity that will be auctioned next year to comply with the Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) policy, energy officials cannot give categorical answer yet if they could be reliably integrated into power grids.

It must be recalled that when humongous solar facilities were developed in the Visayas in 2015, their grid integration turned up a major problem – and it had been a disadvantage to the investors who suffered losses; then to the grid as well as the consumers opting not just for reliable electricity service but for cleaner energy when that supply had not been immediately wheeled into power load networks.

For transmission projects to be concretized, that has to be cast in the Transmission Development Plan (TDP) and must be part of the capital spending applied for by NGCP with the industry regulator.

And for these capital expenditure (capex) investments to be approved by the ERC, it could take one to two years or even longer before a decision is rendered; and that’s the only time that NGCP can start implementing these projects.

Hence, for the initial installations under RPS, it is critical that the government can assure their efficient and reliable integration into power grids.