Renewables are booming but coal is still king in PH

(First of two parts)

The Philippines, along with other countries in Asia, can meet its power needs with the plummeting costs of renewable energy technologies while reducing emissions and addressing the climate crisis.

Just over the week, the German-based Climate Analytics released its latest analysis on decarbonization of South and Southeast Asia pointing out that renewable energy (wind, solar, geothermal, biomass) is now cheaper than fossil-fueled generation in most of the world.

However, coal is still king in the Philippines. Last year, coal-fired power plants provided the largest generation share in the country with a whopping 51,932 gigawatt hours (Gwh) from 23,301 Gwh power generated in 2010, according to the 2018 Power Statistics report of the Department of Energy. Looking at the statistics, coal use in the country continues to increase, followed by the use of oil, natural gas and renewable energy.

In fact, the DOE’s latest data show that between last year and 2019, the Philippines may expect 5,687.53 megawatts of new capacity, at least 63 percent of which will be provided by coal-fired power plants.

Around half of the Philippines’ electricity generation is provided by the 8 GW of operating coal power plants. The government is planning to keep the dominance of coal in the energy mix and is promoting new coal exploration and development contracts, as started in Coal Roadmap 2017–2040 of the Department of Energy.

The Energy Plan also stated that by the end of that period over 35 percent of energy will be sourced from oil, almost 30 percent from coal, 12 percent from gas, 9 percent from biomass, and only 13.7 percent from renewable energy sources. The total energy production for 2040 is predicted to be 137.8 millions of tons of oil equivalent (Mtoe). To satisfy the fast-growing electricity demand, the Plan assumes that almost 44 Gigawatts of new generation capacity would be needed—almost three times the existing installed capacity.

Based on the latest analysis of the Climate Analytics, the lack of access to modern energy remains a problem in the Philippines. Overall, 91 percent of the population had access to electricity in 2016, with about 97 percent in urban areas compared to only 86 percent in rural areas, leaving about 9 million people without access.

“The Philippines is planning to build new coal power plants. This is worrying as it would lock it into a carbon-intensive pathway for decades, and would be a huge missed opportunity to build a carbon-free, climate-resilient energy system,” said report author Paola Yanguas Parra, policy analyst at Climate Analytics.

She said that national energy planning should factor-in other national priorities, such as energy independence, reliability and affordability of power supply, and sustainable development goals. “The current expansion of coal is at odds with these priorities but scaling up its renewable energy targets would go a long way to address this,” Parra said.

The Climate Analytics analysis also said that Philippines’ coal-fired expansion plans amount to nearly 78 percent of the current capacity. This accounts for nearly 3 percent of the global expansion plans. All of the existing capacity, and a large proportion of the planned capacity is sub-critical. These plants have relatively high emissions intensity; despite the shift to super—an ultra super—critical power plants with low emissions intensity, the coal-fired expansion has significant emission implications.

“The Philippines has a huge potential for developing renewable energy sources.  Their low, and ever decreasing, costs and distributed character is the best way to provide electricity even to the most remote islands. If the coal expansion plans go ahead, the Philippines government would need to consider the cost of reducing emissions in other sectors to compensate for the new coal emissions, to meet its national climate pledge under the Paris climate agreement,” Parra explained.

Rapid shift

A transition to renewable energy, according to the Climate Analytics report, could contribute to reducing energy security concerns and public expenditures on fossil fuel imports, freeing resources for other investments. The increasing reliance on fossil fuel imports comes at a significant cost—3.5 percent of the country’s GDP or US$11 billion in 2017 were spent on fuel imports.

The report also mentioned that the Philippines can benefit substantially from a rollout of renewable energy also in terms of reducing air pollution and related health impacts. The Philippines could benefit from reducing external costs from air pollution with annual average air pollution cost savings in 2025 amounting to about US$1.1 billion with regard to reduced outdoor air pollution.

Francis dela Cruz, partnerships and advocacy advisor of the international policy group Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (iCSC), said that the new report confirms that shifting from coal and diesel to renewables can provide not only more affordable and more reliable energy but also lead to more jobs and savings.

“Our government must take developed countries to task for their failure to provide leadership on climate action, but it must also walk the talk on renewable energy and energy efficiency,” Dela Cruz said. “With a greater sense of urgency, Philippine economic managers can and should bake into our long-term development plans the country’s climate vulnerabilities as well as our wealth of clean energy sources.” 

(Continued tomorrow)

Imelda V. Abano is president of the Philippine Network of Environmental Journalists.

Topics: renewable energy , coal , coal-fired power plants , climate crisis
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