COAL power plants are likely to end up as underutilized or stranded assets in 10 years, or even less, given the rapid pace of renewables, a top official of Lopez-led First Philippine Holdings (FPH) said.
Federico R. Lopez, chairman and CEO of FPH, First Gen and Energy Development Corp. said during the second Philippine Environment Summit that as more renewables come onto the grid, the shape of demand changes.
This is because renewable-energy (RE) technology, albeit intermittent, can adapt to these challenges unlike coal-fired power plants.
“Keep in mind that when someone tells you that renewable energy is intermittent and makes power grids unstable, know that there are many technically and economically feasible ways to handle these issues, and progressive grids are already incorporating them into their day-to-day operations,” Lopez said.
Solar power, for instance, can only be utilized when the sun is out. But when storage batteries get cheaper and more ubiquitous, households will start defecting partially, or even totally, from the electricity grid.
“The momentum for more solar PV’s [photovoltaic] installed and later on storage batteries will be unstoppable as the economics gets better in the coming years,” Lopez said.
He added that there are tools such as flex plants, HVDC transmission networks that expand the geographic coverage of wind and solar to smoothen out variability of sun and wind over wider areas.
“Coal-fired power plants can’t keep up with that kind of variability,” Lopez said.
He added: “Coal plants do not have the needed ramp up flexibility, they pollute more, have much higher carbon emissions and are now even more expensive than combined cycle gas turbines running on natural gas. It begs the question: Why do we even need to put up new coal plants? Plants that we already know will be underutilized, whose exorbitant costs will be saddled on to captive utility consumers.”
Lopez lamented that, just a year ago, policy-makers around the world, including the Philippines, were arguing that despite Global Warming concerns, coal was needed for economic development.
“What a difference a year can make. Coal is no longer cheap. It doesn’t have the flexibility needed for the inevitable penetration of RE sources into our lives. Even advanced coal plants have carbon emissions and pollutants double or triple that of the standard combine cycle gas turbines,” he said.
“Economically priced RE is here, will only get cheaper and in due time will permeate our lives whether we like it or not. There is no stopping that. What we need to do is prepare for its effects on the grid. The solutions are out there for progressive utilities and grid managers committed to finding solutions instead of problems,” Lopez added.