SINO ANG TUNAY NA MIRON? Debunking Pnoy’s Disbelief in Renewables as Baseload Power Source

CURRENT SOCIETAL CONCERNS
Elpidio V. Peria
27 July 2013

President Noynoy Aquino’s recent State of the Nation Address (SONA) before the opening session of the 16th session of the Philippine Congress showed his antiquated mindset regarding renewable energy saying in this SONA:

Kung maganda ang mungkahi, handa naman po tayong makinig, pero sana naman ay makuha ng mga miron ang kabuuang konteksto ng situwasyon. Halimbawa po ang planta sa Redondo, Zambales. Pina-TRO dahil mas maganda raw ang renewable. Sinabi rin po ba nilang mas mahal itong ipatayo, at mas mahal din ang magiging presyo ng enerhiya? Sinabi po kaya nilang hindi nito kayang tugunan ang baseload, o ang kapasidad na kailangang laging nariyan para hindi mag-brownout? Magtatayo ka ng wind; paano kung walang
hangin? Kung solar, paano kung makulimlim? Lilinawin ko lang po: Naniniwala rin ako sa renewable energy at suportado natin ito, pero dapat ding may mga baseload plant na sisigurong tuloy-tuloy ang daloy ng kuryente sa ating mga tahanan at industriya. Mag-iingay pa rin po kaya ang mga kumokontra, kung busy na sila sa kapapaypay dahil nag-brownout na? [Applause] Ang sa akin lang po: makiambag sana tayo sa paghahanap ng solusyon

President Aquino or Pnoy, as what he wants to be called, belittles the “miron” in this portion of his SONA – “miron” actually a street language usually understood to mean “by-stander” or “kibitzer” who have nothing to do but comment unnecessarily on issues of the day.

But perhaps Pnoy may be listening to a different set of “miron”, those promoters of coal-fired power plants and baseload power advocates who do not believe the potential of renewable energy as a steady supply of power for our needs.

An Australian Parliamentary inquiry back in 2008 (http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp0809/09rp09, retrieved 27July2013) however stated that “the term baseload has no relevance in discussion of the supply of electricity. Assessment of the viability of electricity supplied from any source needs to be conducted in terms of the essential requirements for reliable and continuous power, with flexibility of output to match diurnal and seasonal fluctuations in demand”.

The same inquiry referred to “baseload” as the term “commonly used to describe the amount of electricity demand required on a continuous basis, i.e. 24 hours a day all year round, to power continuous industrial processes, and essential services such as traffic lights, hospitals etc. Baseload represents the minimum continuous level of demand in a grid system, and thus requires reliable supply sources without the risk of output dropping below the baseload level.”

The same inquiry stated that “overall, there is no theoretical impediment to the use of renewable energy as a reliable power source” and the issue of intermittency, the supposed unreliability of renewable mentioned by Pnoy in his SONA 2013 speech quoted above, can be remedied through the following approaches, also coming from the same Australian Parliamentary inquiry:

• a mix of generating capacities to reduce reliance on daylight hours, sun, wind , or waves;
• incorporation of renewables in the mix which are not subject to intermittent energy, i.e. biomass and geothermal hot fractured rock;
• back-up generation utilising sources which can respond quickly to demand fluctuations and which are less polluting in CO2 and other greenhouse gases than conventional coal technologies; and
• technologies to store excess energy to be used when primary generation does not match demand.

Furthermore, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests that all renewable energy sources except solar electricity are already less expensive than the projected cost of coal-fired electricity incorporating capture and geosequestration of CO2 emissions.

With renewable energy having the above-mentioned advantages, coal-fired power plants have their own challenges, such as the following, 1) they are inflexible in their power output, as in, they have limited ability to vary output to match short-term demand fluctuations, including variations in demand during night-time; 2) extraction of energy from coal by burning releases only around 30% of the coal’s chemical energy; 3) conventional coal-fired power plants have the highest greenhouse gas emissions of all power generation technologies.

The “miron” surrounding Pnoy promoting coal-fired power plants may argue that the current generation of coal-fired power plant technologies will solve all the problems relating to coal-fired power plants but the Australian parliamentary inquiry has indicated that while clean coal’ technologies promise to substantially decrease the level of greenhouse gas emissions, the resultant levels would still be about 10 to 100 times higher than for renewable.

So, the real “miron” on this issue of baseload power to meet the needs of the country are the promoters of these coal-fired power plants who may be correct now in saying that coal is the cheapest option so far to provide for our current energy needs. Just the same, if we go all-out for coal-fired power plants now, we are locking out the entry of renewable energy sources for the Filipino masses since the usual power sales agreement for coal-fired power plants last up to 25 years. While renewable energy sources may be expensive at this time, its outlook for the next 25 years is that it will become much cheaper than these currently inexpensive coal-fired power plants.

Pnoy should stop listening to these “miron’ and take the long view on these things and not just be concerned with what he will do until 2016.

oOo

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