LIKE many countries around the world, the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) have realized that fossil fuels are outdated. They cause many problems, with serious impacts on economics, global politics and the environment. Indeed, new approaches need to be taken and the technologies for doing so are well understood and available.
Asean energy business forum
Asean is on the right track judging from the recent 2017 Asean Energy Business Forum and the Powertrends international exhibition on directions for energy, power and electricity annually hosted by our energy department. Both activities were held in conjunction with Asean@50 with the objective of strengthening public-private partnership that could enhance the region’s energy sector towards common target achievements.
Renewable energy (RE) technologies were tackled by Asean experts with detailed experiences and best practices to the extent of, among others, the development and commercial maturity of battery storage systems as “coupling technology” to variable renewable energy generations.
Surprising is the availability of Asean member state companies with flagship projects on power generation, transmission and distribution. Services offered range from solar streetlights to solar pumping installation for household water system and irrigation system to off-grid PV solar systems for areas with no access to a stable power source.
In short, from connection to grid areas, the lack of access to energy in off-grid areas is now possible in the region. In the latter instance, offer is for both hybrid and off-grid systems designed with battery inverters and an assortment of storage types all designed to match the needs of the end user. Of all renewable sources available, solar is the most attractive alternative due to the abundance of sunlight in Southeast Asia.
Philippine RE projects
In the Philippines alone, RE projects worth a total of P35.4 billion, expected to help address the power demands of the government’s “Build Build Build” program, have been approved by the Board of Investments (BOI). Some of the projects are the Currimao-Talisay (Camarines Norte) project and the Talim (Rizal)-Calatagan (Batangas) projects which involve wind power and the San Jose City (Nueva Ecija) power plant that will use rice husk, a feedstock.
According to data from the BOI, renewable energy plants (geothermal, hydro, wind, biomass and solar) accounted for 7038 MW of installed capacity in the country as of June this year, about a third of the national capacity of 21,621 MW.
Since the ongoing infrastructure program involves construction and modernization of airports, and the laying out of more roads, railroads and transport networks all over the country, demand for power continues to go up.
The Philippine private sector is active too in renewable energy projects. A progressive Filipino businessman is into an 800 MW hydropower plant project in Pangil, Laguna. At one time, the solar farm built by Gregorio Araneta Inc. with partner Soleq, one of Southeast Asia’s largest solar independent producers, was No. 1 in the Asean region. SM Supermalls, on the other hand, will install electric charging stations for electric vehicles with the first outlets in some malls to go online by February 2018.
RE infrastructure vis-à-vis migratory species and their habitats
The race is on. Which Asean country could be the first to be completely powered by renewable energy? In the past three years, the share of renewable energy in the Asean power mix has already risen to an appreciable degree due mainly to the fast-paced solar and wind power use. A target of 100 percent is ambitious but the governments are determined to achieve at least 50 percent sometime after three decades or so. In fact, the Asean landscape is ever changing with some inland areas abloom with solar panels and wind turbines in strong windswept coastal zones.
Be that as it may, the requirement of numerous pylons and cables to transmit energy from renewable sources should be approached with caution because of detrimental effects on wildlife habitats and migration routes of bird species. One solution in use in Spain is the “shut-off on demand” technique requiring turbines to be deactivated during the most sensitive time for wildlife, such as the migration season or during periods with low wind speeds. It was also revealed that as the turbines are also at their least productive during such times, the amount of electricity lost is insignificant.
Indeed, designing the location, route and direction of power lines based on national zoning maps or land use codes avoiding, where possible, waterbird habitats, protected areas (usually wetlands of importance to migratory birds, e.g. tidal flats, marshes, etc.) and other critical areas is now a paramount concern in the management of migratory species and their habitats.
And what is the significance of renewable energy infrastructure vis-à-vis migratory species? Expanding infrastructure threatens birds and their habitats. Migratory species play a major role in the conservation of resources. They act as pollinators and seed dispensers, helping safeguard biodiversity which benefits food security for people. They regulate the balance of ecosystems by hunting their prey along their migration routes. They are also a source of revenue for many communities. Yet, fatal collision of birds with electricity power lines is most common. The magnitude of bird-power grid conflict is still poorly understood in many countries, including those in the East Asia-Australasia Flyway.
Due to its location in the Pacific and by the South China Sea, Asean countries, except for landlocked Laos, have excellent conditions for solar and wind power generation. With an estimated 350 days of sunshine and varying year-round wind speeds which, if effectively harnessed, could very well provide the needed energy, it is safe to conclude that the target could be reached, taking into account environmental considerations.
Global alliance to phase out coal
It should also be mentioned that at the UN climate change conference 2017 in Bonn (Germany), an alliance of 27 countries and states pledged to phase out coal-fired electricity by 2030 and end all domestic and international investment in coal in favor of renewable energy use. Called “Powering Past Coal Alliance,” it aims at accelerating clean growth and achieving rapid phase-out of traditional coal power.
Among the initial members are Austria, Costa Rica, France, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Finland, Mexico, El Salvador as well as five Canadian provinces and the US states of Washington and Oregon. The alliance also brings together a wide range of businesses and civil society organizations that have united for climate protection. It intends to expand to more than 50 members by the next UN climate conference in Poland in 2018.
According to the International Energy Agency, coal-fired power plants produce almost 40 percent of global electricity, making carbon pollution from coal a leading contributor to climate change. All burning of coal causes severe respiratory disease and has many other damaging health effects, in addition to being a driver of climate change.
With all renewable plants—hydro, geothermal, biomass, solar and wind around—would wave power or underwater current energy not be far behind in the Asean?