Orlando Oxales, Fellow of the Stratbase ADR Institute and Convenor of CitizenWatch Philippines
Environmental activist Greta Thunberg’s “How dare you?” speech during the United Nations Climate Action Summit demanded real action from world leaders to avert what she passionately described as “the beginnings of a mass extinction.”
This speech has gone viral in social media platforms and global news networks, punctuating what is a complex, emotional and serious problem.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a U.N. -supported initiative composed of 1,300 independent scientists, concluded in its Fifth Assessment Report that there is a more than 95 percent probability that global warming has been driven by human activity. The report stated that Industrial activities that developed our modern lifestyle have almost doubled the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide levels from 280 parts per million to 400 parts per million in the last 150 years. The scientists also concluded that “human-produced” greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, are the main causes or rising Earth temperatures over the past 50 years.
Developing nations like the Philippines are seen to be most vulnerable to the environmental and economic repercussions of climate change. There is now a multi-sectoral clamor for real action to develop resiliency to the increasing amid the increasing frequency of extreme weather hits and changing weather patterns. This will certainly threaten the world’s food supplies followed by instability on a global scale. The message of Thunberg is clear, but we, like all developing economies, are heavily dependent on fossil fuels to supply the power and energy to fuel economic sustainability.
This environmental dilemma was an underlying issue in the recent Association of Electricity Supply Industry of East Asia and Western Pacific (AESIEAP) CEO Conference where delegates discussed how to reduce the region’s carbon footprint and the impact of the latest energy practices on sustainability and inclusive growth. The conference was attended by power industry players who shared various environmental sustainability and inclusive development advocacies in the power sector.
“This is a gathering of influential CEOs and government leaders who are in the position to come up with transition plans for the adoption of energy efficiency, renewable energy and information communication technologies,” said AESIEAP Secretary and Meralco Powergen Corp. (MGen) president General Rogelio Singson.
Meralco president and chief executive officer Ray Espinosa said, “We must develop and implement our energy transition plan. We should leverage on technological advancements of renewable energy (RE) and energy efficiency that can be adopted in the whole region.”
“In our minds, we have set an agenda whereby as we contract stable sources of power, our minds are actually focused on basically moving ourselves from a high-carbon to low-carbon footprint and hopefully to a zero-carbon electricity, which is tapping renewables.
The issue in the Philippines is the abundance, whether it can actually substitute fully for fossil fuels. That’s a big question,” said Espinosa.
The Philippines leads the region with renewable energy sources supplying 32 percent of total power requirements which is already well above the regional goal of 23 percent and 4 years ahead of target.
Cognizant of the rising demand for affordable and reliable electricity, the government is right to implement a balanced and technology neutral power mix policy to ensure that there will never be a repeat of debilitating the power crisis of the ‘90s.
Department of Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said, “We really need to develop energy security…we’re still building our capacity that’s why DOE adopted technology neutrality. We need to fill up our capacity to sufficient reserves.”
Consistent with this policy is the Energy Regulatory Commission’s (ERC) recent approval of the country’s first coal-fired power plant using High Efficiency Low Emission (HELE) technology.
Replacing the country’s old and inefficient power plants with commercially available HELE technologies is a big step towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 20 percent. Emission tests have proven that HELE power plants have greater efficiency and lower carbon and non-carbon emissions passing the strictest emission regulations and now seeing increasing adoption in Asia and Europe.
The International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) Clean Coal Center in its 2016 report “An overview of HELE deployment in the coal power plant fleets of China, EU, Japan and USA” ranked J-Power’s 600 megawatt Isogo Thermal Power plant station in Yokohama Japan as the cleanest coal-fired plant in the world with levels comparable to a natural gas-fired combined cycle plant.
General Electric (GE) is pioneering ultra-supercritical technology at the RDK 8 coal-fired power plant in Karlsruhe, Germany with considerable success. Operated by German utility EnBW, the plant achieves 47.5 percent net thermal efficiency while producing 912MW of electricity, making it one of the world’s most efficient hard coal-fired steam power plants.
Nordjylland power station located in Northern Jutland, Denmark is touted by its owner Vattenfall as holding the world record for most efficient coal utilization since it was commissioned in 1998.
Independent consumer advocacy group Philippine Business for Environmental Stewardship (PBEST) welcomed the swift decision of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to issue the Provisional Authority to Operate (PAO), giving the go for the country’s 1st HELE power plant, San Buenaventura Power Ltd. (SBPL) to begin operations and supply crucial 500 MW of baseload capacity to the Luzon grid.
This is indeed great news anticipating scheduled maintenance shutdowns that would affect Luzon’s biggest power generation suppliers cutting about 600 to 1500 megawatts in the months of October to December 2019.
The country’s biggest natural gas facility, Malampaya, will likewise temporarily shut down on October 12 until October 15, 2019. Malampaya supplies more than 40 percent of Meralco’s power requirement, and provides natural gas fuel for Sta. Rita, San Lorenzo, Ilijan, San Gabriel and Avion.
Considering this scenario, it looks like the government should move triple time on operationalizing more HELE power plants. Giving more incentives is not a bad idea as the economic payback will be very positive for all sectors.
This article was originally published in Manila Standard.