ELEVENTH HOUR: Tipping the scale toward renewable energy

Published April 21, 2022, 7:50 PM

by Climate Reality Project Philippines

The Renewable Energy Act was passed in 2008 as an attempt to promote clean and indigenous sources of power.  The energy sector, however, has yet to achieve the 100 percent electrification target, as well as to significantly increase the share of renewable energy in the power mix.

Whether consciously or unconsciously, there is a big bias toward fossil fuel technologies in the Philippines, which hinders the country’s energy transition. This bias is exemplified in current policies, regulations, and practices both in the private and public spheres.

The next set of leaders must put an end to policies that favor fossil fuel companies, specifically provisions that allow them to pass the higher costs on to the Filipino people. This was emphasized by energy experts and climate advocates during a virtual press briefing organized by the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities last month.

First is the automatic pass-through provision. In the early ‘90s, the country went through a power crisis with regular rotating power outages across the country. To address this issue, the government allowed the automatic pass-through of fuel cost and foreign exchange rate fluctuations to the consumers as part of the Power Service Agreements (PSAs) to attract investors to build power plants.

The automatic pass-through provision made power generated from technologies that require fuel more bankable because the risks of price fluctuations are passed down to the consumers. Because of this, the “playing field” is no longer equal for all technologies, especially for renewable energy because they do not require fuel to generate electricity.

According to the top commercial banks in the country, even if they know the benefits of renewable energy, they cannot easily turn their backs on fossil fuel technologies because the automatic pass-through provision de-risks the investors from price volatility. Therefore, even if developers want to install renewable energy, financial institutions still find fossil fuel projects more profitable.

Second is the over-reliance on, and preference for, baseload technology— plants that operate continuously to meet the minimum level of power demand but not designed to respond to peak demands or emergencies. As the demand for power increases, more power plants are installed. However, since most projects financed are coal-fired power plants, they also add more baseload to the power mix which makes the grid inflexible. We indeed need more power, but it does not mean that we should only add baseload technologies.

The country’s power demand varies greatly, especially during peak hours (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) at around 9.4GW, which is around 2.2GW higher than the lowest requirement (4 a.m.) at 7.2GW. Therefore, there is a lot of need for intermittent and peaking power sources like hydro, wind, and solar, respectively. However, because of preference to install more baseload power, intermittent and peaking sources are not as integrated in the grid to help address the demand requirements.

Towards an Affordable and Reliable Grid with Energy Transition (TARGET), which was published in December 2021, is an evidence-based comparative assessment of baseload coal and variable renewable generating technology. It confirmed that baseload coal has proven to be unreliable, in overcapacity, and is incompatible to what the Philippine power system needs today. The study noted that what the grid needs now are more flexible power plants that can provide cheap, reliable, and secure power during times of peak demand.

The inflexible grid has also proven to be problematic when the country experienced power outages last year due to thinning reserves because of scheduled and unscheduled maintenance of the baseload power plants. Because of their big capacity, shutting them down will entail that a larger amount of power will not be available for that specific period of time. Installing more intermittent and peaking power sources will promote grid flexibility, which will make the grid less vulnerable in case of shutdowns.

Finally, the current contracting practice only takes into consideration the present price of electricity without taking into consideration the price volatility of fuel and foreign exchange. Therefore, even if the contract won because they had the lowest price at the time of bidding, the price could eventually change over time because of changes in the global market. And due to the automatic pass-through provision, the consumers will have to carry the burden of more expensive power as developers and distribution utilities pass the risk. On the other hand, prices of electricity from renewables are fixed because of higher capital expenditures.

There are many other factors that could influence the country’s path toward energy transition but leveling the playing field for all types of technology will ultimately tip the scale toward renewable energy.

About the author

Climate Reality Leader Paula Valencia is an energy transition professional currently working as a program consultant for New Energy Nexus, an international non-profit that supports clean energy entrepreneurs with funds, accelerators, and networks. She is presently a candidate for Masters of Arts in Philosophy at the University of the Philippines Diliman with a specialization on environmental ethics and social justice.

 
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