Renewable energy: Future source of power

Senator Loren Legarda, who co-authored and co-sponsored the Renewable Energy Law, said those words in 2013.

In a press statement sent to various media outlets, the senator called for more investments in renewable energy as part of a long-term solution to the growing power needs of the country.

At that time, Mindanao was facing with rotating brownouts due to deficit in electricity supply. “Mindanao has an agriculture-intensive economy,” Legarda said. “We need to be able to harness the agricultural wastes of Mindanao to fuel biomass facilities. Hydropower, geothermal, and biomass are undoubtedly cheaper than the diesel-fired power facilities. The generator sets and power barges that are being mobilized in the interim will not provide a sustainable solution to the power woes of Mindanao.”

With the problem of climate change and the consequences it brings (food insecurity, floods, droughts, sea level rise, and coral bleaching to name a few), the international community is batting for renewable energy as possible solution to the problem of power crisis.

Renewable energy is the power that is derived from natural processes that are replenished at a higher rate than they are consumed.  “Renewable energy can produce energy in the form of electricity, heat, and transportation fuel,” wrote H. Steven Dashefsky, author of “Environmental Literacy.”

There are four reasons why is renewable energy is being pushed as the future’s power source.  For one, the sources are abundant; they can be found everywhere: air, water, oceans, land, down under and even from the outer space.

For another, the sources are considered to be inexhaustible, even if continuously used by man.  “The resources used are able to quickly replenish through time, unlike the dependable fuel of conventional energy sources,” the briefing paper stated.

Another reason: it complements with other energy sources.  This is very important, the briefing paper said, “to ensure energy demand is met reliably and consistently, and helps diversify the energy mix to take advantage of the benefits of each source of energy.”

But most importantly, renewable energy is environment-friendly as the sources are usually non-polluting and produce no hazardous materials.  “Lower environmental footprint and greenhouse gas emissions help preserve the environment to ensure sustainability,” the briefing paper explained.

Currently, the reason why renewable energy is still not fully utilized is because of its high cost.  Dashefsky begged to disagree.  “Many renewable sources are already cost-competitive to fossil fuels and will become even less expensive when used on a larger scale,” he pointed out.

Janet Sawin, a senior fellow at the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, D.C. and an expert on international energy and environmental policy, seemed to support the idea.  “Renewable energy technologies are now ready for use on a large scale and have the potential to meet world energy demand many times over,” she said.

T

he Philippines has a wide array of available renewable energy sources.   These are geothermal, solar, wind, biomass, and hydropower. Geothermal energy is derived from the heat that is given off the Earth, or steam, to spin turbines.  Solar energy is harnessed from the energy of sunlight via photovoltaic or solar panels.  Wind energy is harnessed from conversion of kinetic energy from the wind to mechanical energy to turn wind turbines.

Biomass energy, on the other hand, is produced from organic materials like plants and animals; the most common sources are wood, crops, manure (biogas is an example), and some rubbish (garbage).  Hydropower is derived from the movement of water, such as water running through turbines in a dam or by diverting the flow of water from rivers to spin turbines.

In the Philippines, the installed capacity of renewable energy as of last year was about 6,859 megawatts (MW).  The sources can be broken down into as follows: hydropower, 3,618 MW (52%), geothermal, 1,916 MW (28%), solar, 865 MW (11%), wind, 427 MW (6%), and 233 MW (3%).  These figures were based from a report released by the Department of Energy.

According to the energy department, 32% of the total installed generation capacity of the country is renewable energy.  About 116 renewable energy facilities currently exist in the Philippines.

In the last decade, the Philippines has seen about 45% increase in the installed renewable generation capacity.   Based on the 2030 targets, 40% of the total installed capacity in the country will be renewables.  “Our renewable energy capacity is constantly increasing,” the briefing paper said.

The country’s renewable sources are varied and diverse, the briefing paper pointed out.  A closer look will give this idea: hydropower (3,104 MW from 54 units of 16 large hydro facilities and 513 MW from 84 units of 32 run-of-river facilities), geothermal (1,916 MW from 51 units of 10 facilities), solar (756 MW from 35 facilities), wind (427 MW from 7 facilities), and biomass (233 MW from 41 units of 16 facilities).

The Philippines is now at par with other countries in terms of power generation from renewable energy.  In 2012, the electricity generated from renewable energy was 21,979 gigawatt hours (GWh).  That made the country to be ranked 31 in the International Energy Statistics of the US Department of Energy.  (GWh is a unit of energy representing one billion watt hours and is equivalent to one million kilowatt hours.)

China, with 1,065,337 GWh in 2014, ranked first, followed by the United States, which had 590,501 GWh also in 2014.   Brazil came in third as it had 451,476 GWh in 2012.  Above the Philippines were two other Asian countries: Vietnam, ranked 18 with 52,995 GWh in 2012 and Indonesia, 30th place with 22,266 GWh in 2012.

The continuous growth of renewable energy in the Philippines was due to the support of the government in terms of development and uses.  The Philippine Energy Plan 2012-2030, for instance, sets a framework for the development of energy resources in the country.

The Republic Act 9513 or Renewable Energy Act of 2008 was passed giving way to the development, utilization and commercialization of renewable energy resources and for other purposes.

RA 9513 provides incentives to renewable energy producers, including tax holidays, special tax rates, duty-free importation of equipment, and special Feed-in Tariff (FIT) rates. FIT are guaranteed electricity rates given to qualified renewable energy producers that are meant to incentivize the development of renewable energy technology.

For another, RA 9513 legislated the creation of Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), a Renewable Energy Market (REM), and a Green Energy Option (GEO) system.  In RPS, minimum percentage of energy generation must come from renewable energy sources.  REM is a market of trading electricity from renewable sources.  GEO is a proposed program that will allow consumers to choose and directly contract renewable energy sources as their sources of energy.

Despite the surging popularity of renewable energy, it still has its own limitations.  The briefing paper cited six constraints: intermittency, scalability, lack of storage capability, higher generation costs, high tariffs, and permitting issues.

Intermittency are natural factors that may affect the availability of energy source, such as weather conditions, season and location.  Scalability happens when renewable energy sources cannot generate large quantities of electricity (large infrastructure and land requirements are also needed to install bigger capacities).

High tariffs, the briefing paper said, is due to FIT, passed on to the cost of electricity paid by consumers.  On permitting issues, the briefing paper explained: “Acquiring all the necessary permits takes a lot of time, especially when projects span multiple municipalities and barangays.”

Whether the Philippines experience another power crisis, renewable energy is here to stay.  “The Philippines will continue its progress in developing renewable sources of energy, following its current roadmap through the Philippine Plan 2012-2030,” the briefing paper said.

Not only that. It has been seen that more new and existing generation companies will continue develop renewable sources of energy.  New projects and development will help boost the renewable energy portfolio of the country, it added.

“These efforts will help ensure the environmental sustainability of the country’s energy mix as it continues to address concerns on energy security and energy equity,” the briefing paper concluded.

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