RE preferences seen needed to ensure industry takes off

The Department of Energy (DoE) needs to declare renewables a preferred energy source if it wants to grow the industry, a former official of the National Renewable Energy Board (NREB) said Wednesday.

“How do we push for more renewables? We should declare that renewables to be the preferred energy resource, (and) not (adopt) a technology-neutral policy… We should declare that our policy should be more pro-renewables,” Jose M. Layug, who previously served as NREB chairman, said during a virtual BusinessWorld Insights forum on “Energy’s Sustainable Future in Renewables and Nuclear.”

Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi has said that the department initially pursued a technology-neutral policy, but its “periodic assessment of our country’s energy requirements is paving the way for innovative adaptations in its policy direction.” The department has since declared a moratorium on new coal-fired power plant construction.

According to Mr. Layug, who also leads the Developers of Renewable Energy for AdvanceMent, Inc. (DREAM) industry association, technology neutrality is one of the main obstacles to the development of RE (renewable energy) projects in the Philippines.

The DoE estimates that RE installed capacity between 2009 to 2020 declined from 34% in 2009 to 29% last year. Meanwhile, coal accounted for 27.4% and 41.7% shares over the start and end of that period.

He said the department must also make it easier for distribution utilities and electric cooperatives to conduct their competitive bidding process for power procurement; establish a one-stop shop for renewables; simplify rules for the deployment of personnel, vessels, machinery, equipment, spare parts and materials for RE projects; and form a task force dedicated to resolving inter-agency issues.

Eric T. Francia, president and chief executive officer of AC Energy Corp., said that gas is the “most viable” transition fuel as the country embarks on achieving a higher share of RE in its power mix.

“Our point of view is that over the short to medium term, we still need the transition fuel and that would be gas… given that we already have a moratorium on coal, and there’s less support for coal from financial institutions and the broader investment world,” he said during the forum.

He added that battery energy storage systems must be considered a mid-to-longer term solution, while technologies which generate power from green hydrogen must be on the table over the much longer term, or after around 10-20 years.

Meanwhile, Philippine Nuclear Research Institute Director Carlo A. Arcilla said that “nuclear energy should not be seen as competition for renewables, but as a help.”

He said that pursuing nuclear energy can bring down electricity prices, as the fuel source is estimated to be a fraction of the cost of coal.

“If the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) were operating, the (uranium) fuel would last for 18 months. The cost will be $20 million and all the fuel will fit inside a jeepney. If the BNPP on the other hand were a 620 MW (megawatt) coal plant — for the 18 months it would operate, it would require 50 Panamax ships of imported coal (valued at) $600 million. This, alone, (is) why we should at least consider nuclear power,” Mr. Arcilla said.

This article was originally published by Business World / Angelica Y. Yang.