Coal imports in East Asia

I saw these interesting charts from Index Mundi. Data until 2013 only but useful nonetheless. Source is US EIA. The medium-users in East Asia — MY, TH and PH.


The medium users, TW and HK. VN is a small user but there was a huge uptick in importation starting 2005.


And the big coal users in East Asia — China, Japan and S.Korea.


So claims like “East Asia coal use has declined” are not true. Asia needs cheap and stable electricity supply.

Asia retains big coal use

There are many reports now saying that “Asia moving away from coal” or “Asia embracing more renewables, ditching coal” and similar stories. These claims are half-truths and hence, generally not correct. See these reports and stats below.
Why Is Asia Returning to Coal?
The fossil fuel is undergoing an unexpected renaissance in the region.
By Grace Guo
February 17, 2017

“For Japan, coal has emerged as the best alternative to replacing its 54 nuclear reactors, which are deeply unpopular with the population and seen as symbols of devastation after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster six years ago…

But why did Abe go with coal and not renewables or, say, natural gas? After Fukushima, Japan initially ramped up its imports of liquefied natural gas, but realized that LNG would be prohibitively expensive in the long-term…. Coal power already made up 31 percent of Japan’s energy mix in 2015 but under the current plan, the fossil fuel will become the country’s primary power source by 2019.”
U.S. Coal Miners Find A New Buyer In Asia 
By Dave Forest – Mar 23, 2017, 10:41 AM CDT

An Important shift is now underway in global coal trade. With a completely new export route opening up for U.S. producers over the last few weeks.

To South Korea.

Platts reported yesterday that coal buyers in Korea have seen a surge of bookings for U.S. thermal coal. With sources telling the news service that 1.5 million tonnes of total U.S. supply have now been arranged for delivery between July and September.…/coal-addiction-spreads-as

“Pakistan has begun to dig up one of the world’s largest deposits of low-grade, brown, dirty coal to fuel new power stations that could revolutionize the country’s economy.

The project is one of the most expensive among an array of ambitious energy developments that China is helping the country to build as part of a $55 billion economic partnership. A $3.5 billion joint venture between the neighbors will extract coal to generate 1.3 gigawatts of electricity that will be sent across the country on a new $3 billion transmission network.”

ch coal

In China, there were many reports of “China’s coal consumption has fallen for 3 years straight.” That is true, but not mentioned on those reports is the fact that China’s coal consumption is already at a very high level, almost 2 billion million tonnes oil equivalent (MTOE)/year from 2013-2016. Data below from 1966-2015. Basic data taken from BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy (annual report).

ch coal (1)Source:

India keeps ramping up its coal consumption. Data from 1965-2014.

in coalSource:

Asia needs cheap electricity and stable energy sources. Governments should respect this consumer demand and aspiration — industrial, commercial, residential consumers. It’s good that many Asian governments and private sector players realize this. The endless lobbying to “kill coal to save the planet” will never prosper. Asia’s many developed and emerging economies cannot afford frequent blackouts and expensive energy that can make their manufacturing and service sectors become less competitive, less reliable.

Five myths of solar-wind energy

* This is my article in BusinessWorld on March 20, 2017


Variable renewable energy (RE) like wind and solar are far out from giving humanity sufficient, stable, and cheap electricity to sustain growth and fight poverty. For the simple reasons that they are very intermittent and expensive. Below are five of the common myths that we hear and read about wind and solar.

  1. Solar, wind, biomass, and other REs will replace fossil fuels as major global energy sources in the near future.

Wrong. From the projections by the two of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies, these REs, which may also include geothermal, will produce only 8.5% of global energy demand (Exxon Mobil data) or 6% (British Petroleum data) by 2025.

  1. The share of coal, gas, and nuclear will further decline as the world moves towards implementing the Paris Agreement of 2015.

Wrong. From both EM and BP projections, there is no let up in global use and demand for fossil fuel and nuclear sources in the near future. This is for the simple reason that people anywhere dislike power interruption even for one minute, much more frequent and involuntary outages lasting many hours, daily or weekly.


  1. Solar and wind are cheaper than coal now, their overall costs will keep falling.

Wrong. The feed-in-tariff (FiT) rates or guaranteed price for 20 years for solar-wind keep rising, not declining. For first group of solar entrants, their FiT rates in Pesos/kWh were 9.68 in 2015, 9.91 in 2016, and 10.26 in 2017. For second group of solar entrants, their FiT rates were 8.69 in 2016 and 8.89 in 2017.

For wind power first group of entrants, their FiT rates in Pesos/kWh were 8.53 in 2015, 8.90, in 2016 and 9.19 in 2017. For second group of wind entrants, their FiT rates were 7.40 in 2016 and 7.72 in 2017. Only the sun and wind are free but the panels, switchyards, cables, wind turbines, towers, access roads, etc. are not.

Current power prices in Mindanao are only around P2.80/kwh as many new huge coal plants compete with each other along with hydro and geothermal plants. No additional charges.

  1. Solar and wind have no social cost (SC) while the SC of coal is very high.

Wrong. Solar and wind are very land-intensive and, as a result, more areas for food, commercial, and forest production are diverted to accommodate more solar and wind farms. To have 1 MW of installed solar power, one will need about 1.5 hectare of land. So to have a 300 MW solar plant, one will need about 450 hectares of land; San Miguel power has a 300-MW coal plant in Mindanao sitting on only 30 hectares of land, or hectare/MW ratio of only 0.1 for coal vs. 1.5 for solar.

Since solar has a low capacity factor, only 18% of its installed capacity — from 450 hectares of land with installed power of 300 MW — can actually produce only around 54 MW.

Majestic solar, 66.3 MW in CEZA, Rosario, Cavite is not included here because it is a rooftop facility and hence, does not occupy extra land area.

  1. Carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution and emission from coal power plants will further warm the planet.

Wrong. CO2 is not a pollutant or evil gas. It is a useful gas, the gas that we humans and our animals exhale, the gas that our rice, corn, flowers, trees and other plants use to produce their own food via photosynthesis. More CO2 means more plant growth, more food production, more trees regenerating naturally, which have cooling effect on land surface.

The above five myths were among the topics discussed during the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC) “Roundtable on Philippine Energy Security and Competitiveness” last Friday, March 17 at UPSE in Diliman, Quezon City. The main speaker was Dr. Majah Ravago of UPSE and EPDP and she presented the main EPDP paper, Filipino 2040 Energy. The five reactors included Jose “Viking” Logarta of the ICSC and Dr. Christoph Menke of Trier University of Applied Sciences in Germany. Dr. Menke discussed the GIZ paper criticizing the EPDP paper.

201703201e1b5Governments should not create regulations that distort the energy market away from real competition. Insisting on dishonest claims like “carbon pollution” and “renewables to save the planet” only lead to more expensive and unstable energy supply, wasteful use of land and other natural resources.

Energy bureaucracy, electric cooperatives and NEA

* This is my article in BusinessWorld last March 08, 2017.


The Philippines experienced a seemingly energy revival in 2016 and 2017 with plenty of new power plants commissioned and running. Mindanao experienced an energy surplus after many years of frequent involuntary “Earth hours” or almost daily blackouts lasting for many hours.

So it is ironic that while new power capacity were added into the grid, Luzon including Metro Manila, still incurred occasional “yellow alerts” in power supply. This indicated near-brownout situations that took place a few weeks ago since several power plants went offline all of a sudden, coinciding with maintenance and repair shutdowns that were scheduled ahead of time.

Some groups blame “collusion” of some generating companies (Gencos) to stage an artificial power deficiency and thus, command higher prices for several hours on those “yellow alert” situations. However, they offer little proof and numbers to back up this claim.

o4_030817For me, the more plausible and visible cause is the undeclared “collusion” of various groups including many government agencies and environmentalist groups to delay if not stop the installation of more power capacities to have huge reserves that can (a) cover even huge unscheduled power shutdowns and (b) bring down electricity prices further as a result of intense competition. See table below as proof.

With only 700+ kWh/person/year in 2014, that puts the Philippines slightly higher than the electricity use of poor neighbors Cambodia and Myanmar, and only half the electricity consumption of Vietnam, 1/4 that of Thailand, 1/7 that of Malaysia and 1/13 that of Singapore.

Last Friday, March 3, I attended the forum on “Institutionalizing Energy Projects as Projects of National Significance” by Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, Chairman of the Senate Committees on Energy and Economic Affairs, sponsored by the Energy Policy Development Program (EPDP) held at the UP School of Economics (UPSE) Auditorium.

The three reactors were Dr. Ronald Mendoza, Dean of the Ateneo School of Government, Dr. Alan Ortiz, President and COO of SMC Global Power Holdings Corp., and DoE (Department of Energy) Undersecretary Jesus Posadas.

The senator recognized the problem of low power capacity of the Philippines in general, and some big islands in particular. There are many big committed and indicative power plants lining up but they often encounter bureaucratic delays.

20170307a5df3A paper, “An analysis of time to regulatory permit approval in Philippine electricity generation” (2016) by Laarni Escresa of EPDP showed that on the average, power plant operators need to secure 162 clearances (MBC, 2014) and 102 permits.

So the Senator’s bill will prioritize these big power plants (P3.5B or higher in capitalization) for faster approval process. For instance, agencies are given 30 days to check the documents submitted; if they fail to act on time, it is deemed that the papers are approved and permits be automatically granted.

Alan Ortiz mentioned something that’s somehow a shocking figure: Boracay’s electricity needs rose from 8 MW just 10 years ago to 100 MW today. From 8 to 100 MW in just 10 years — that’s a lot.

Undersecretary Posadas gave a good assurance that the DoE is “agnostic” on the source of energy (renewable or not) and want to see more power plants coming in. He also said that the DoE will no longer issue a 3rd round of feed-in-tariff (FiT) for wind-solar. Good announcement.

Another factor that contributes to uncertainties in power generation are those inefficient and losing electric cooperatives (ECs). They just get power from the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) and distribute to their customers and do not pay the many Gencos that happened to supply their electricity needs.

From the Philippine Electricity Market Corp. (PEMC), here are the top three market participants or players which have unpaid energy settlement Amounts at WESM as of Feb. 27, 2017:

(1) Albay Electric Cooperative, Inc. (ALECO) P98.59M, (2) Abra Electric Cooperative (ABRECO) P63.97M, and (3) AP Renewables, Inc. P14.38M (source:

The numbers above exclude the unpaid amount of ALECO in their Special Payment Agreement with PEMC amounting to nearly P1B.

The National Electrification Administration (NEA) does not seem to properly discipline certain ECs under its belt. To have an old debt of nearly P1B and new debt of nearly P100M from one EC alone (Aleco) should be a red flag indicator that this type of prolonged and sustained inefficiency and losses have been tolerated.

The NEA should step back from this and other problematic ECs and force them to corporatize and be subjected to bankruptcy laws under the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The Philippines and its electricity consumers need stable and cheap electricity. They do not need the burden of being dependent on ECs that lose money and are unable to pay generation companies that further add uncertainties to bureaucratic delays.

Bienvenido Oplas, Jr. is the president of Minimal Government Thinkers and a Fellow of SEANET and Stratbase-ADRi.

Brownouts, ancillary services and transmission charge

* This is my article in BusinessWorld last February 23, 2017.


Rotational and scheduled brownouts for several hours about once a month, then unscheduled short brownouts from time to time, have become a regular experience in the two provinces of Negros island. Despite the installation of many huge solar plants in recent years.

I am currently in Sagay hospital in Negros Occidental to visit my seriously sick father. Last night, there was brownout for about 10 minutes, the hospital’s generator set immediately takes over to supply electricity to their patients and staff.

The Facebook page of the Central Negros Electric Cooperative (CENECO) gives frequent advisory of power interruption that lasts for nine hours (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) until this month.

Stories and testimonies of frequent brownouts in many cities and municipalities of Negros Oriental in 2016 are also reported in

In June 2016, the Department of Energy (DoE) said that line congestion is building up in Negros Occidental due to many solar power plants operating in the province. The abrupt influx of solar power plants is causing the main line, transmission and interconnection lines to congest (Sun Star Bacolod, June 10, 2016).

This month, Negros Occidental Electric Cooperative (NOCECO) explained that one of the main reasons of higher electricity is the increase in the transmission charge from P1.0538/kWh in January 2017 to P1.1777/kWh in February 2017 or an increase of 0.1239/kWh. The transmission rate hike is due to the increase in the ancillary service charges of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP).

There are at least two issues here. First is the presence of more brownouts in Negros island despite its having the most number of installed solar power plants per sq. km. of land in the whole country, more than 300 MW.

Solar power is very unstable and intermittent, zero output at night and very low output when it is cloudy, or power fluctuates wildly if clouds come and go in minutes. So there should be more ancillary services or standby power plants, usually natural gas or diesel plants, that should quickly provide power when thick clouds come and when evening comes. Still, this causes power fluctuations that damage machines, engines and appliances running on electricity and the leadership of Negros chamber of commerce and industry have pointed this out to the DoE and NGCP last year.

Second, how is the NGCP regulated and accounted in its transmission charge pricing and assets management?

Power generation is deregulated and hence, the extent of competition among many players is the main regulator of the generation charge. Distribution charge is regulated by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) because distribution utilities (DUs) like Meralco and the roughly 119 electric cooperatives (ECs) nationwide are all monopolies in their respective franchise areas.

So while there are 120+ distribution monopolies composed of private DUs and ECs, the NGCP is a single, national monopoly in power transmission.

There are 12 different charges in our monthly electricity bill. The top six in the table below, and these five charges with lesser rates: (7) universal charge, (8) cross subsidy charge, (9) lifeline rate subsidy, (10) senior citizen subsidy, and (11) feed in tariff allowance (FiT-All). No. (12) are value-added tax (VAT) and other government taxes, these are huge too but not included in the table because they are unrelated to the electricity system.

Of these 12 different charges, subsidies and taxes, the smallest is #10 while the fastest growing is #11, FiT-All: P0.04/kWh in 2015, 0.124/kWh in 2016, and set to rise to P0.23-P0.25/kWh this 2017, the ERC still has to decide on the Transco petition for FiT-All hike (see table).

Notice in the table above the following: (1) In 2013 vs. 2017, all five charges have declined in rates in 2017 except transmission charge which has remained practically the same at P0.91/kWh. And (2) In 2014 vs. 2015, a similar pattern where all five charges have declined in rates in 2015 except transmission charge which has even increased to nearly P1/kWh.

The possible explanations why the transmission charge by NGCP seems to be the odd man out among the top six charges are (1) rising cost of more ancillary services as more intermittent solar-wind power are added into the grid, (2) it passes its own system loss to the transmission charge, (3) it simply behaves like a typical monopoly, revenue-maximizing as consumers and other players have zero option of other service supplier/s.

20170222be0f6Brownouts and expensive electricity, these are ironic events in our modern world. We should have stable and cheap electricity, no brownouts even for one minute except after heavy storms and typhoons that knock down electrical posts and power lines.

Government should step back in some heavy regulations like forcing intermittent solar-wind into the grid which can discourage some developers who can build stable and cheaper power like coal and natgas plants. And giving high price guaranty for 20 years to renewables like wind-solar is wrong and punishing the consumers. Technology changes very fast, the costs of solar and wind equipment are falling fast, so why lock the high price for 20 years? This is wrong.

Electric cooperatives and unstable power supply

* This  is my article in BusinessWorld last February 08, 2017.

Almost everything we do now requires energy and if we stay in non-mobile structures like buildings and houses, everything requires electricity. Energy precedes development so unstable and expensive energy means unstable and poor economy.

Given the technological revolution the world has experienced in recent decades, it remains a tragedy that many countries still have low electrification rates and very low electricity consumption per capita.

Unfortunately, the Philippines is among those countries with still not-so-high electrification rates until today and its electricity use is among the lowest in the ASEAN (see table).


Electricity consumption in kWh per capita is high for the following developed and emerging Asian economies: Taiwan, 10,460; South Korea, 10,430; Brunei, 9,550; Singapore, 8,840; Hong Kong, 5,930; Malaysia, 4,470 (6.5x of PHL); China, 3,770; Thailand, 2,490 (3.6x of PHL). These countries and economies also have 100% electrification rate except perhaps China.

There are two reasons why the Philippines has a relatively low electrification rate and low per capita electricity use.

First is due to its archipelagic geography.

Many municipalities and villages are located in islands that are off-grid and, as a result, their residents rely on biomass like firewood for cooking and gensets running on diesel for lighting although some do use solar.

Second is due to politics.

There are not enough base-load power plants that can provide electricity 24/7 even in major islands like Luzon and Mindanao. This is because of political opposition by certain groups to cheap and stable fossil fuel sources like coal. Also, there are many bureaucracies (national and local) that discourage the quick construction and commissioning of new power plants. There are also weak, inefficient, and even corrupt electric cooperatives (ECs) that are given monopoly privileges to serve certain provinces and municipalities.

There are 119 ECs in the country from Luzon to Mindanao plus private distribution utilities like Meralco and those in PEZA/ecozones. All ECs are supervised and regulated by the National Electrification Administration (NEA).

Of the 119 ECs, some remain financially weak and problematic until today, like the Abra EC (ABRECO) and Albay EC (ALECO). These two ECs are so deep in debt they are unable to provide stable electricity to their customer-members and have arrears with power generating companies (gencos) that supply them electricity at the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM).

According to National Electrification Administration (NEA), from 2004 to 2014, it has released subsidies to ABRECO worth P56.6 million for the implementation of the Sitio Electrification Program (SEP), Barangay Line Enhancement Program, and its procurement of a modular generator set.

For ALECO, it was badly managed and was on the brink of bankruptcy that local business and political leaders proposed and supported its corporatization and take over by more established energy players.

In January 2014, ALECO was acquired by San Miguel Energy Corp.’s subsidiary Global Power Holdings Corp. (SMC Global) and renamed it as Albay Power and Energy Corporation (APEC). ALECO then was the first EC in the country that was corporatized.

Upon takeover, SMC Global and APEC inherited a P4-billion debt by ALECO including overdue payments at WESM of nearly P1 billion.

More than two years after the takeover, the debt ballooned to P5.6 billion, mainly due to low collection efficiency. APEC said its database of customers has been sabotaged since about 80% of its customers are not on the database.

APEC resorted to disconnecting some big customers that do not pay but disgruntled ALECO employees and officers have resorted to reconnecting them.

The ball and accountability is in the hands of NEA. Why are these things allowed to continue for years, to the detriment of paying customers and generation companies that are not paid on time.

In 2015, NEA reported that it lent a total of P2-billion loans to 51 ECs to finance their capital expenditure projects, rehabilitate their power distribution systems, among others.

NEA should perhaps consider slowly stepping out of the sector and push all the ECs to move towards full corporatization with full exposure to expansion or bankruptcy. The sector that needs protection should be the electricity consumers, not the ECs.

Consumers should be protected from expensive and unstable electricity as well as disconnection because the DU or EC has been disconnected by gencos and WESM for huge unpaid accounts.

The NEA, along with other government agencies in the energy sector, should look at the above table again, and try to find out why our electrification rate and electricity use are at the level of Pakistan and Mongolia instead of at the level of Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia.

Bienvenido Oplas, Jr. is the President of Minimal Government Thinkers and a Fellow of SEANET and Stratbase-ADRi.

Thailand’s bright nights

My Mumbai-Bangkok flight (Jet Airways) was delayed last February 12 due to some mechanical problems, delayed by about 3+ hours, it landed at Suvarnabhumi/Bangkok airport evening already. My co-participant at the Asia Liberty Forum (ALF) in Mumbai, Mai Tansakun from Thailand, was with me in that flight, I asked her to take photos of Thailand as our plane was descending because my cp was low-batt that time.


Mai took good photos of the areas around the airport, her camera phone is also more modern than my old Samsung phone. Thanks for these pics, Mai.


I am always fascinated by bright cities at night which for me is a good indicator of the material wealth and prosperity of a city or country. And Thailand’s bright Bangkok and nearby cities is among them.


The main roads are easy to see, dotted with bright yellow lights for many kilometers. The secondary roads are also dotted with bright lights, not as bright as the main roads though.


Thailand has electricity output 2x that of the Philippines and they rely more on natural gas, followed by coal. Their natgas is mostly domestically sourced?


There is also better zoning in TH compared to the PH. The roads are generally more straight.
Meanwhile, I was lucky that I have a long lay over in Bkk airport so I was able to catch my Bkk-Manila flight that night.

This is from ADB’s Key Indicators 2016. The most natgas-dependent ASEAN countries are Brunei (it is a big nat gas exporter), Singapore and Thailand. The more coal-dependent countries in the region are Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia.


When I arrived Manila from Bacolod last Sunday night, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Manila is much brighter at night than a few years ago. Thanks to more stable, more reliable and cheaper power sources like coal. Also, energy efficiency is also kicking as more houses, offices and buildings are using brighter but lower electricity consumption lights and bulbs.