Power generation efficiency, energy conservation can help avoid brownouts

In a media briefing last week, Department of Energy (DOE) Undersecretary Rowena Cristina Guevara said that the Luzon grid could be distressed with 12 incidents of yellow alerts for eight months this year, a condition in the power system entailing insufficiency of power reserves. This forecast is based on a projection that forced outages would range from 500 to 600 megawatts for the entire year, along with the operation of existing power plants and committed power plants.

What was left unsaid was that this level of forced outages in the Grid Operating and Maintenance Program (GOMP) of 500 to 600 megawatts is way below the actual incidents of unplanned shutdowns of power plants through the years that have been hitting as high as 2,000 to 3,500 megawatts, especially during the summer months. In this scenario, red alerts that could trigger rotational brownouts could occur.

It was also pointed out in the briefing that with just one large plant that would fail suddenly, the grid will already be hammered into a red alert state. Currently, the biggest generating unit in the Luzon grid is 668 megawatts, which is the capacity of one unit of the Dinginin coal-fired power plant in Mariveles, Bataan.

A vital point raised in the briefing was that the yellow alert incidents in the grid, as well as the planned shift to diesel-fired generation, will precipitate increases in power rates. In turn, such tariff spikes will be reflected as increases in the electric bills of Filipino consumers.

The DOE official said that “running diesel power plants is very expensive and it will mean an increase in cost per kilowatt-hour; thus, we suggest demand-side management.” She said that end-users should embrace energy conservation as a lifestyle choice, and that they should deploy energy-efficient equipment and appliances in their homes and businesses.

The foregoing narrative provides a capsule view of the current Philippine energy situation. During the past three years, there was reduced demand for electricity as the country was placed in alternating episodes of enhanced and general community quarantine. This resulted in business shutdowns and an overall slowdown in economic activity that triggered a deep recession. Although there were few red alert episodes recorded in 2022, these were of short duration and did not significantly affect overall power supply.

This year’s scenario could be significantly different. Previously shuttered schools have fully reopened, even as some higher education institutions continue to implement both face-to-face and virtual learning methods. Factories and businesses are moving toward higher and full capacity operations. Transportation and mobility are on an upward trajectory.

It is imperative that our energy policymakers should reassess the situation and work closely with business and industry in attaining optimum efficiency in power generation. This should be complemented by appropriate demand-management strategies — especially those that foster an energy conservation mindset among the citizenry.