THINK ON THESE: On renewable energy

THINK ON THESE by Henrylito D. Tacio“We are a country rich in renewable energy, the amount of sun and wind is more than enough to power our entire country many times over, and we must take greater steps to harness these abundant natural resources to ensure a sustainable future.”

That was what Senator Loren Legarda said in her keynote speech during the Forum on Making Renewable Energy a Vehicle of Inclusive Growth some years back. And during the recent Convergence for 100% Renewable Energy Philippines, a symposium on Challenges Faced by Stakeholders in Advancing Renewable Energy in the Philippines, she again reiterated her call to scale up green initiatives and investments in renewable energy (RE) as part of a long-term solution to the growing power needs of the country and to mitigate the effects of environmental degradation and climate change.

“We cannot claim energy independence for as long as we rely on imported fuel. Unless we are willing to embrace the reality that RE is a global phenomenon that is beginning to replace coal and fossil fuels as a cheaper fuel source, our energy policies will continue to waver, reflecting the lack of political commitment that will consequently drive investors away,” she pointed out.

RE 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,” stated the briefing paper on renewable energy.

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 help 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.

The 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.

Legarda quoted a report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) which said that with deceleration of the cost of renewables, all renewable energy technologies should be competitive on price with fossil fuels by 2020.

According to IRENA, the cost of generating power from onshore wind has fallen by around 23% since 2010, while the cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity has fallen by 73%.  Other estimates even indicated that solar-powered electricity costs have declined by 90%, while the cost of wind-powered generation has fallen 50% since 2009.

Price comparisons by IRENA and recent results of Philippine auctions showed that onshore wind schemes are now costing an average of $0.06 per kilowatt hour (kWh), solar at a range of $0.05 to $0.10 per kWh, while electricity generated by fossil fuels typically falls in the range of $0.05 to $0.17 per kWh.

“For the country to enjoy the benefits of the rapid advancement and increasing affordability of renewable energy, the right decisions need to be made. There is a need to broaden the country’s energy options in ways that will allow us to integrate RE into the power system,” Legarda said.

Researchers at Stanford University and with other United States and European universities concluded in their study that “most of the world’s countries could run on 100% renewable energy by 2050.”  But based on the 2017-2040 Energy Plan of the Department of Energy, “clearly, the Philippines will not be among these countries,” Legarda deplored.

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.

“The Philippines was one of the first countries in the region to adopt an RE Law,” Legarda said.  But quoting the words of the late Senator Edgardo Angara, the principal sponsor of the RE Act, “It was a remarkable piece of legislation when it was passed … years ago; however, it remains remarkable only on paper.”