Power struggle: Solar, wind challenge coal as more affordable energy source

In Photo: The Pililia Wind Farm not only provides renewable source of energy but also attracts local and foreign tourists.


The Philippines’s renewable- energy (RE) potential is 200,000 megawatts (MW). But it needs a lot of power from cash to unlock such potential.

Ocean current, admittedly, requires a huge investment, pegged at $5 million, according to Greenpeace Philippines climate and energy campaigner Reuben Muni. As for wind, the investment requirement is around $1.3 million for each megawatt.  Muni added that for solar, the cost is $1 million per MW. Almost the same amount is needed for that in coal, he explained.

“We now reached what we call parity for solar,” Muni said. “In some cases, the cost of constructing solar is lower than the cost of constructing coal-fired power plants.”

Solution sought

ENVIRONMENTAL-solutions provider World Wide Fund-Philippines (WWF-Philippines) recognizes the role of RE and energy efficiency in strategically altering the country’s overreliance on fossil fuels as the best ways to cut carbon emission and achieve
energy security.

“As a global organization, we have a target of achieving a 100-percent RE by 2050,” WWF-Philippines Energy Project Officer Raphael B. Dorilag said.

Dorilag said his group’s goal “is to attain a just transition toward a decarbonized global energy system and to provide universal energy access.”

“In the midterm [2025], RE will provide 40 percent of global energy demand, supported by improved energy efficiency and fossil-fuel phaseout,” explained Dorilag, who worked at the  University of the Philippines-Department of Science and Technology projects on RE assessment and deployment of RE technologies. “There is so much potential and opportunity for RE, especially in energy-poor areas.”

WWF-Philippines works closely with the Department of Energy (DOE), local government units (LGUs), business sector, academe and other organizations in developing campaigns and policies to put more RE in the country’s energy mix and encourage more efficient energy use.

The group is also developing knowledge products and information materials to highlight the benefits of RE to the country, to the environment and to the community.

Four years ago, the WWF launched a global campaign called “Seize Your Power”. The campaign aimed at major financial institutions and governments worldwide to divest from dirty fossil-fuel projects and support clean renewable-energy projects.

Dorilag said in the Philippines, the campaign focused on Palawan and sought to stop a planned 15-MW coal-fired power plant there.

The WWF-Philippines was also involved in crafting the Palawan Island Power Development Plan, which helped craft an alternative energy scenario for the island province. This initiative is being continued in other off-grid islands in the country.

Three years ago, the WWF-Philippines commissioned a study, titled “Building Momentum for Low Carbon Development in the Philippines”, which found that the country can reduce its total emissions significantly between 2010 and 2050 relative to business-as-usual (BAU). The group said the country can achieve this by harnessing the Philippines’s huge RE resources, through energy efficiency and increasing its carbon sink potential.

Tech boost

THE WWF continues to push for RE technologies with its “Seize the Wind”, “Seize the Sun” and “Seize the Flow” campaigns through multisectoral engagements and information education campaigns.

“Through these campaigns, the WWF develops information materials on wind farms and solar farms, and explains RE to the public,” Dorilag said.

He added his group also holds environmental education sessions in communities and schools and teach people the basics of climate change and energy.

“We are also bringing in adaptive technologies and build capacities for sustainable food, water and energy in off-grid communities and help them improve their lives.”

Currently, the WWF-Philippines launched an energy-efficiency initiative called “UPfront”, which includes the planned “solarization” of its office rooftop.

The latter, Dorilag said, would enable the group “to walk our talk in promoting RE and energy efficiency and, of course, save on operation cost.”

Huge potential

THE WWF-Philippines said the country has huge RE potential waiting only to be tapped.

They estimate energy potential from wind is pegged at 76,000 MW mainly due to the country’s prevailing monsoons, Dorilag said. It also has a whole year-round of good solar irradiation estimated to generate 5 kilowatt-hour per square meter (kWh/m2) per day in almost all parts of the country, he added.

Meanwhile, mountainous tropical landscape provides a good source of hydropower estimated at 10,500 MW.

The Philippines also has many volcanic islands rich in geothermal resources with an estimated 1,200 MW total power-generating capacity and vast oceans that could be tapped for ocean energy that could generate 170,000 MW of electricity, according to Dorilag.

He explained that the National Renewable Energy Program (NREP) 2011 estimates the Philippines can triple its RE capacity from 2010 level to 15,304 MW. The upcoming update from the National Renewable Energy Board estimates there could be more, Dorilag said.

Greening time

ACCORDING to Dorilag, it is also high time that the country invest in RE, especially with the cost of technology continuously decreasing.

Wind-energy cost has fallen 50 percent since 2009 and the cost for a solar PV module has fallen 80 percent since 2008, he said. Citing Bloomberg, Dorilag said the cost of solar energy has gone down to as much as $2.99/kWh in Dubai and wind has gone down to $0.3 cents/kWh in Morocco.

He added that solar developers in the Philippines have declared they have reached grid parity with transactions in the utility scale reaching P5.39/kWh.

According to the DOE, the new solar facility in Tarlac is expected to offer solar energy at a price lower than that of coal.

Energy security

ACCORDING to the WWF-Philippines, the main motivation to pursue RE is that it provides energy security to the country.

“Renewable energy is an indigenous source of energy, meaning the resource is available locally and not prone to foreign influences and fuel-price fluctuations,” Dorilag said. “RE can be used to power remote islands with distributed energy systems, saving us the delivery of fuel to remote islands.”

He added that RE also delivers quick alternative power in times of natural calamities, as well as empower energy-poor areas and increase economic activity.”

“Globally, investment on RE has reached $286 billion in 2015,” a document by the WWF-Philippines said. “This is more than double the investment in new fossil-fuel generation.”

Citing a study by the United States Agency for International Development in 2013, the WWF estimates the Philippines will need $25 billion in debt and equity investments to achieve the planned 15.3 gigawatts of additional capacity.

“Presently, new renewable energies, which include solar, wind, biomass and run-of-the-river hydroelectricity, has a total installed capacity of more or less 1600 MW,” Dorilag said, adding that this will be equivalent to about $4 billion of new investments since the passage of the RE law.

Investor confidence

ACCORDING to Greenpeace, there is growing investors’ confidence in RE in the Philippines.

Muni said the Philippines now has its own local manufacturers of solar panels and battery that can supply needed materials, including components, for the construction of solar-power plants or even mini power plants on rooftops.

“All solar panels, including battery for storage, are locally produced,” Muni said.

This means, the Philippines do not only has the potential but the technological capacity to make the shift in investment from coal to RE  like solar power, he added. Muni, however, explained the government should undertake a geographical assessment of the RE potentials.  “Given the limited areas in the Philippines, what is viable is rooftop solar energy,” Muni said. “Metro Manila alone, he said, has a 270-MW capacity, enough to supply the entire energy requirement in the National Capital Region.”

Image Credits: Nonie Reyes