The sun slowly lights up PHL energy sources

 

 

CALATAGAN, BATANGAS–The opening of Luzon’s biggest solar farm here recently ushers in the gradual rise of solar energy as a fuel source for tropical Philippines.

 

Last March 16, outgoing President Benigno Simeon Aquino III officially inaugurated a 63.3 megawatt solar farm in Calatagan’s

The solar farm in Calatagan, Batangas that Solar Philippines put upo is the country's largest to date (photo from Solar Philippines' Facebook page)

The solar farm in Calatagan, Batangas that Solar Philippines put upo is the country’s largest to date (photo from Solar Philippines’ Facebook page)

Barangay Paraiso, spanning 160 ha. and capable of generating enough power supply for the western part of Batangas province.

“Through projects like these, we are proving to the world that even developing countries such as ours can do their share in combating climate change,” the President said.

The inauguration in Calatagan was done just a day after former US Vice President Al Gore visited the country and called on Filipinos to end their dependence on coal. The vice president also predicted the Philippines, due to its “abundant sunlight,” can become one of the world’s “first 100% solar-powered economies.”

 

Heating up

But the month of March proved eventful given developments surrounding solar energy.

On March 3, Gregorio Araneta Inc. (GAI) and Soleq Holdings opened a P10 billion, 132.5 MW solar farm in Brgy. Tinampaan, Cadiz City, Negros Occidental. This is said to be Southeast Asia’s biggest solar plants and, says reports from international energy thinktanks, one of the world’s ten biggest solar farms.

Last March 2, Citicore Power opened a P1.6 billion solar plant that is expected to generate some 18 MB for the Luzon grid.

On March 10, the Sulu Electric Power and Light Philippines, Inc. and its partners opened its 50 MW solar power plant at a 70 ha. property in Palo, Leyte (one of the towns hit badly by super typhoon Yolanda in November 2013).

The Philippine Star reported last March 10 Bronzeoak Philippines, Inc. had completed four solar-powered plans that can all generate a combined 98 MW. All these plants had just been registered under the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM), and are awaiting the approval of the National Grid Corp of the Philippines (NGCP).

And why are these Philippine solar plants mushrooming?

Last March 15, a day before the Calatagan solar farm was inaugurated, the DOE gave renewable energy firms that day as the deadline to submit bids for their projects to receive an incentive from the government, called the FiT (feed-in-tariff).

FiT is an incentive given to power firms to construct more expensive renewable energy plants and facilities. If approved, these firms will get a FiT rate of P8.69 per kilowatt-hour.

While the March deadline had lapsed, there’s no stopping the Philippine solar energy craze. Originally set for completion this March 2016, Ecoglobal, Inc. is set to make the Zamboanga Economic Zone in Zamboanga City the site of a 100 MW solar plant.

Last March 28, Basic Energy Corp. announced it is teaming up with NV Vogt Singapore Pte. Ltd. to develop solar power projects in San Fabian and Bolinao towns in Pangasinan.

 

Enlightenment

The incentives for RE firms to open solar plants is part of the country’s renewable energy program which Malacañang claims after years of “inactivity” and which was “finally implemented under the Aquino administration.”

End-2015 data from the DOE show the Philippines remains dependent on coal energy, providing 5,893 MW of the total 18,695 MW installed energy capacity of the country. Solar is the lowest source of energy with only 165 MW installed capacity as of end-2015.

Coal, oil (3,610 MW), hydro or water (3,600 MW) and natural gas (2,862 MW) are the country’s top providers of energy. Luzon, for its part, provides 13,598 MW capacity, with Visayas and Mindanao way below Luzon’s MW capacity (thus explaining frequent power interruptions in areas of the said island groupings).

Renewable energy though, is making its presence felt in recent years. This is even if the combined capacities of geothermal, win, solar and biomass as energy sources are still below that of natural gas sources alone.

A DOE video explains when there is a shortage of cheaper power plants to fill up demand, oil plants that use imported, expensive fuel push up WESM prices and electricity bills.

DOE also hopes FiT renewal energy plants like solar plants, “that cost almost nothing to run,” may help bring down WESM prices and electricity rates “by pushing out these more expensive plants.”

The FiT charge of P8.69/kWh is “universal” and will be collected “to support these RE plants like solar plants.”

Yet estimated calculations in 2013 done by researchers from the German International Development Cooperation (GIZ) showed solar energy’s cost per kWh remains the most expensive among the four renewable energy sources, at P9.68/kWh.

Most renewable energy facilities, the GIZ report Renewable energy in the Philippines: Costly or competitive? by Hendrik Meller and Jens Marquardt wrote, may have higher capital costs than fossil fuels but these have lower generation costs.

 

Lighting it up

The Calatagan solar farm, developed by the RE firm Solar Philippines, is said to be the largest in Luzon. It consists of over 200,000 panels which will generate additional electricity and the company says that in 30 years, it will help offset over 1 million tons of carbon dioxide that is equivalent to planting over five million trees.

The Calatagan solar farm was the first to be developed, financed and constructed entirely by local companies. Those who funded the project were the Philippine Business Bank (a thrift bank owned by Zest-O manufacturer Alfredo Yao) and the universal banks Banco de Oro, Chinabank and Bank of Commerce.

Solar Philippines CEO Leandro Leviste, only in his mid-20s, said during the launch the firm will soon begin construction of other solar plants in Luzon and Mindanao, aiming to complete 500 MW of solar farms by 2017.

Before Aquino assumed office, Leviste said that the country’s installed solar capacity was less than two megawatts but in March alone, it has already exceeded the DOE’s 5 MW target thanks to the government’s renewable energy programs.

Because of the administration’s programs, Leviste said that the local solar industry has also gained economies of scale and had begun to develop efficiencies to decrease the cost of solar power.

“Already solar is cheaper than diesel and natural gas and soon enough will be cheaper that coal,” Leviste added.

 

 

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About MARLON ALEXANDER S. LUISTRO and JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO