Avoiding brownouts due to gensets, not solar battery

This story contains half-truths and hence, can be considered as fake news.


Five reasons why:

(1) “Leviste to bring cheaper, more reliable power to areas poorly served by utilities”

–> Solar + battery will never be cheap in the short-term. Long term perhaps. I think Leviste’s current cost of solar + battery is at least P5.90/kWh (higher than P4/kWh for coal, natgas, others) and it cannot produce electricity 24 hours straight especially when it is cloudy and raining for many hours during daytime.

(2) “project utilising 2MW of PV panels… 2MWh of Tesla’s Powerpack battery… and 2MW of diesel backup.”

–> Imagine that?  solar PV + Tesla battery + diesel genset, that cannot be cheap. With higher diesel prices because of TRAIN, gensets would cost at least P10-15/kWh. They will need the genset to run every night, 365 nights a year because there are days and weeks where the Sun doesn’t shine (monsoon season, 1-2 weeks, sometimes 3 weeks, of rains and thick clouds non-stop).

(3) “supply reliable power 24 hours a day, over the entire year, at 50% less than the full cost of the local electric supply”

–> Partly true because islands that run on power barges and huge gensets and hence, run on 100% oil really have high electricity cost, between P10-25/kWh depending on the remoteness of the island. But they are not mentioning this comparison.

(4) “This includes a 5,000MW proposal to replace all planned coal plants with solar-plus-storage.”

–> Outright disinformation and dishonesty. To have 1MW of installed solar PV will need about 1.2 to 1.5 hectare of land. So if one targets 5,000 MW installed solar, one will need 6,000 to 7,500 hectares of land, zero crops, zero tree because solar hates shade from any tree. And with only about 18% capacity factor (36% day time, zero at night), a 5,000 MW solar plant can actually produce only 900 MW on average, not 5,000 MW.

(5) “Mindoro, while particularly badly affected, is by far the only part of the Philippines where brownouts impair productivity and quality of life.”

–> Wrong. Many islands and provinces still have regular “Earth Hours” until now. Palawan, Masbate, Romblon, Marinduque, etc.

Mindoro island, composed of two provinces Mindoro Or. and Occ. is growing very fast because of the RORO system where hundreds (or thousand plus?) of cars, motorcycles, buses and trucks traverse daily from Manila/Batangas to Panay island (4 provinces of Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Iloilo) and vice versa. A number of big tourism areas like Puerto Galera, Abra de Ilog. Mindoro does not have its own power plant. It is time that it must have its own, at least a medium-size 100 MW coal or hydro plant.

A more appropriate title would be “No more brownouts! Philippines town hails arrival of diesel genset.”

A genset will give electricity 24/7 even if the Sun does not shine for weeks due to monsoon rains and daily thick clouds. Just put diesel continuously and have regular maintenance. The cost though will be 3x to 5x or more than that of a coal plant or hydro plant. Mindoro has lots of rivers because the island has plenty of big and tall mountains. Big and small hydro, run-of-river hydro should be feasible in some areas.


Solar can replace coal power in the PH?

There is a funny claim by the President of Solar Philippines, also son of Sen. Loren Legarda, Leandro Leviste. Reported in BWorld today.

Look at his claim: solar at P5.39/kWh vs average generation cost from different sources at P8.17/kWh.

These numbers seem like jokes. Here’s why.

1. The average generation charges of Meralco were P4.85/kWh in May and P4.37/kWh in June 2017, which already includes the more expensive peaking plants. These are almost half of Mr. Leviste’s P8.17/kWh data. Where did he get that number, perhaps from one of the inefficient electric cooperatives in the country?

See table below. These power plants are mostly coal and natural gas. #7 “Others” are mostly peaking plants from TMO, Panay, Toledo and 1590 Energy Corp., see their low dispatch rate of 13.3% and low energy share of only 1.4% of total, meaning they run only during peak hours, few hours a day.

mer gen
Source: http://corporate-downloadables-rates-archive-generation.s3.amazonaws.com/1498532289.cc4df9f40e1e8a8e42127b9ad1c5f0de.pdf

2. Mr. Leviste’s P5.39/kWh solar price is cool, if true. Because solar feed in tariff (FIT) or guaranteed price for 20 years is almost double that price. Solar plants that were granted FIT in 2015 would be getting P10.26/kWh this 2017.

3. Solar has low capacity factor, only about 18% (about 36% day time, zero at night time). When it’s day time but cloudy and raining, solar output will be low, capacity factor below 30%. If the solar plant will divert part of this for storage in battery so that it can produce power at night, then the already low solar output will become even lower. Plus the cost of huge batteries, they can quickly raise the price of solar to perhaps 2x of what Mr. Leviste claims.

So to answer the question in the title, the quick answer is NO. Intermittent, expensive solar energy can not replace stable, predictable and cheaper energy like coal and natgas.

Government should step back from price control in energy via assured, guaranteed high price for solar-wind-biomass-ror hydro. Also step back from priority and mandatory feed of variable renewables like wind-solar in the grid that contributes to grid instability due to intermittent, easy-come-easy-go energy sources.