A new order in the Philippine Energy System | Inquirer Business

A new order in the Philippine Energy System

Written by Emmanuel Rubio, President and CEO of Aboitiz Power Corporation
/ 09:00 AM April 29, 2023

Part 2

In my previous piece, I talked about how providing reliable, affordable, and sustainable electricity are not competing priorities. The demands of each can be met without significantly disadvantaging one over the other. While an aggressive, shift-at-all-costs to renewable energies (RE) is appropriate for some countries, it is not the case for developing nations like the Philippines. Ours should be a gradual and methodical shift that reflects our differentiated responsibility, our financial capability, and our need to pay more than the average country related to natural catastrophes and climate change.

For this article, allow me to talk about the RE tipping point. It is quite obvious that the Philippines aspires to place RE sources in a more prominent position in power generation and distribution in consideration of climate-related concerns and the availability of indigenous sources. However, the elephant in the room is always the insurmountable, but not impossible, task of ensuring a continuous flow of electricity due to the intermittent nature of most RE. While the energy mix for both on-grid and off-grid are heavily dependent on thermal capacities for their base load, I maintain a sense of optimism for the future of RE in the country, especially in light of new inventions and innovations. I look ahead to a new order of the Philippine energy system; one where intermittent RE can work seamlessly with different technologies. At that point, I think we will have a better chance of balancing the need to provide reliable, affordable, and sustainable electricity.

I can say that we are definitely already making our way towards the tipping point. According to the Energy department, the private sector already has 37,948.70 megawatts (MW) of indicative RE projects slated for 2023 to 2037 and 3,180.63 MW of committed RE projects for 2023 to 2026. This signifies that there is indeed a shift to building a greener energy system, giving weight to the government’s target of having 50% RE on the power generation mix by 2040. As the Philippines adds more RE while just maintaining its current stock of thermal capacities to meet its growing energy consumption, it will reduce its deep exposure to fossil fuel imports and its supply and price volatilities, as well as give more spotlight to energy sources in its backyard like solar and wind.

 “Indeed, technology can only get us so far. Solutions are still generated by people.”

With the country diversifying its energy mix with different forms of energy capacities (a significant chunk being RE), different types of energy storage must also keep pace. Periodic interruptions that are inherent in wind and solar installations need to be balanced with fast acting energy storage systems like lithium-ion batteries or mechanical flywheels to compensate for the variability. Furthermore, if we also hope to elevate the capability of RE to shoulder the base load (or at least a portion of it) to displace fossil fuel, longer duration energy storage like pumped storage hydropower and green hydrogen & ammonia supply chains can also be considered for more development.

Philippine Energy System Aboitiz Power Corporation

The 49-MW BESS (left) in Maco, Davao de Oro is connected to Therma Marine, Inc. It is AboitizPower’s first BESS project in the country, and the first to be built on a floating platform in all of Southeast Asia. (Photo of BESS by Benedicto Dejan, Jr.)

Greater consumer participation in generation is also something we can look forward to in the new order of the Philippine energy system. When awareness and, subsequently, the use of the net metering program picks up, more consumers who own roof-mounted solar (or even wind and biomass or biogas energy systems) will be able to export their excess power to the grid and earn credit. This not only helps overall electricity supply through the democratization of energy generation, but it also directly eases the electricity prices of customers who utilize net metering. With this kind of development, the grid will have to be “smarter”, using digital and other advanced technologies to ensure the technical and commercial viability of this new dynamic once it becomes (hopefully) more mainstream. God willing, more smart homes or maybe even electric vehicles (EV) will also follow, acting as additional power loads and energy storage.

However, while the establishment of new greenfield coal plants is unlikely in the foreseeable future, I think it is still necessary to reinvest in our existing thermal power plants to help ensure energy security. Liquified natural gas (LNG)-to-power, in particular, requires reinvestment, especially as it is considered a cleaner base load capacity that is a natural partner to variable RE generation given its capability to quickly increase or decrease its generation. Energy security will require all hands on deck and, as I have said, energy reliability is not negotiable. It is important that our existing thermal capacities undergo the proper maintenance procedures and programs so that it can be of use to society for the duration of its operational lifetime. Moreover, it should be coupled with modern technologies such as artificial intelligence and data analytics systems so that its availability, efficiency, and reliability are further improved.

I think that countries will have different roles in trail blazing, which entails my belief that the transition will occur at different places and at different paces. In that regard, the Philippines should aspire to be world leaders in whatever type of RE technology it adopts for its energy system. I am excited in this great journey of discovery, especially since it not only spells potential for technological advancement but also for the emergence of future Filipino scientists and engineers who will take on the mantle. As a long-time industry professional and an engineer myself, I am enthusiastic to witness the fruition of years of hard work and collaboration in the coming decades. But more than the technological advancements, I am more eager at the prospect of seeing how the next generation of scientists and engineers can better transform our energy system for fellow Filipinos and perhaps even beyond. Indeed, technology can only get us so far. Solutions are still generated by people.

Part 1: https://business.inquirer.net/397571/earth-day-and-the-philippine-energy-future


TAGS: Aboitiz Power Corp., battery energy storage systems, BrandRoom

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