Solar farms to 'eat’ PH food lands

The country’s grand ambition for massive solar power installations could result in weaker food sustainability, because energy developments could snatch lands that could have otherwise been allocated for agricultural production, a study outcome of the Department of Energy (DOE) has shown.

The DOE study showed that the targeted influx of solar farm projects “reduces agricultural land since it is the most viable land for solar use as it is under flatlands, where solar radiation is easily captured.”

As stated under the updated Philippine Energy Plan (PEP), an applicable rule of thumb casts that for every 1.0-megawatt of solar photovoltaic (PV) installation, this will be in need of at least one-hectare of land; and it is often an agricultural land that is being utilized for such ventures.

Given this predicament, the DOE noted that “this effect necessitates land use policy for agriculture vis-à-vis energy use to mitigate the negative impact of VRE (variable renewable energy) on food security.”

The energy department said this also prompts the need for deeper study on RE resource assessment -- including those for solar rooftop installations, to determine “the availability of areas to reduce the land area for solar installation.”

The RE sector’s unsustainable competition with agricultural production is a concern often swept under the rug by green energy advocates, because they tend not to give much attention even if their projects would further pauperize the country on its need for food. As it is, the Philippines is already relying heavily on food importation, rather than utilize the domestic lands available to shore up domestic agricultural outputs.

On that premise, the DOE is recommending that a deep-dive study be carried out “on climate, land, energy and water balance the interrelationships among other sectors of the economy.”

Apart from gobbling up Filipinos’ food on the table, the DOE stressed that solar is also among the VRE technologies that could diminish reliability of the country’s power grid, that if not properly addressed, could trigger unwanted blackouts or service interruptions.

“Increased share of variable renewable energy or VRE – particularly solar and wind – reduces the reliability of the grid due to the intermittency and vulnerability to hazard, such as typhoons,” the DOE qualified.

The department expounded that “with the anticipated increase in peak demand by 2040, the operating reserves (i.e. regulating, contingency and dispatchable reserves), shrink by half from 16.4-percent in 2020 to 7.5-percent in 2040 on the assumptions that the capacity credit for both solar and wind is zero, and that the largest and second largest units in the major grids remain the same.”

The DOE thus pointed out that “even the 25-percent reserve margin would not be enough if the capacity credit of solar is still zero.”

On that score then, the energy department propounded to “revisit the policy on operational reserves vis-à-vis tripling of peak demand level by 2040 for grid reliability.”

And if the intermittency of solar PVs will have to be addressed, the DOE specified that it will entail additional cost for the installation of battery energy storage system as VRE’s technology coupling.