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100% Renewable Electricity: Is It Possible Right Now?

By Roberto Verzola

Most national 100%-renewable electricity scenarios target the 2030-2050 period, which is still a long way off.

More easily attainable today is a highly focused intermediate goal: 100%-renewables for new demand, that is, for future demand over and above what is already covered today by existing or committed power plan. Meeting all new demand with 100% renewables means tolerating fossil-fuelled and nuclear plants that exist today but excluding them from all future planning – a real game-changer.

How soon can countries meet this intermediate goal?

Let us take the case of the Philippines, which has a conservative goal of 30% renewables by 2030.

The Philippine Energy Plan 2012-2030 “business-as-usual” scenario expects peak demand to increase to 23,158 MW by 2030. To cover the peak demand plus the required reserve margin, a capacity of at least 25,788 MW must be ready by that year. With 1,767 MW of capacity additions already committed, the plan still requires new additions of 11,400 MW over the planning period,2 to bring the total capacity by 2030 to 27,714 MW. This is 1,926 MW above the necessary supply of 25,788 MW, presumably to cover for the retirement of aging power plants. The plan’s highlights are summarized below:

Table 1. Business-as-usual Philippine scenario, peak demand and planned supply, 2012-2030

philippine-renew

What if we scaled down the demand using energy efficiency measures, and then covered the scaled down demand with renewables only?

The 2012-2030 energy plan refers to the Philippine Energy Efficiency Project (PEEP), which is designed to save around 200 MW per year, or 3,600 MW over the 18-year planning period. This scales down the 2030 peak demand to 19,558 MW. Adding the required reserve margin translates to a minimum capacity requirement of 22,044 MW.

The same energy plan also refers to a National Renewable Energy Program (NREP), with planned RE capacity additions of 8,240 MW over the same planning period. Of these, 210 MW are already listed under the 1,767 MW of committed projects above, and should not be counted again. Also, derating the contribution of wind to its typical capacity factor (30%) and excluding the solar additions (zero output at night) will bring down these RE capacity additions for nighttime peak purposes to only 6,400 MW.6 This will result in a total nighttime peak supply by 2030 of 22,714 MW, which still exceeds the minimum capacity requirement by 670 MW. The highlights of the energy-efficient, 100% renewable (for new demand) plan, buried within PEP 2012-2030, are summarized below:

Table 2. Energy-efficient 100% renewables scenario, peak demand and planned supply, 2012-2030

philipp-renew

This is a remarkable result. If the Philippine authorities had taken their 2012 energy projections and plans seriously and resolved to implement them – specifically the energy efficiency project to cut down peak demand by 200 MW per year, and the 8,240-MW renewable energy program – then all new electricity demand could be covered with 100% renewables, starting 2012.

Then, the Philippine electricity demand and supply scenario for the 2012-2030 period would have looked like Figure 1, with the peak demand rising more slowly than usual and the renewables-only additions sufficing until 2030 to cover the peak demand plus reserve requirements with 670 MW to spare, based purely on existing government plans in 2012.

100-re-philippines

The worst thing that can be said about this scenario is that the reserve margin by 2030, although still above what is required, will be uncomfortably small. But this problem, if it does materialize, is still 15 years down the line. The matter can be revisited in 2020 and again in 2025.

In fact, the Philippine NREP has a lot of room to expand. Its wind plans were based on an old 2001 study. A 2014 U.S. National RE Laboratory study had estimated 2.5 times the wind potential found by the older study. Other parts of NREP are even less ambitious: only 1 MW/year of mostly utility-scale solar and zero biomass for the 2016-2030 period; zero hydro and wind for the 2025-2030 period too. Thus, it would not be hard to attain higher supply-side RE targets. The NREP 2011-2030 version, though an earlier one, actually set a higher target of 9,865 MW for a period that was only a year longer. With wind, solar and energy storage prices declining steadily every year,  we should in fact expect explosive growth in these sectors towards the latter part of the planning period.

From the demand side, a more ambitious energy efficiency program can also reduce peak demand by more than 3,600 MW. A 2014 document by the Department of Energy refers to an “Energy Efficiency Roadmap for the Philippines 2014-2030” and states one of the objectives of the government’s roadmap: “savings of … 1/3 of current demand by 2030).” The actual peak demand in 2014 was 11,822 MW.8 One-third of this is 3,941 MW, 341 MW better than the 2012 plan’s target.

A plan for attaining even larger demand reductions can rely for its backbone on two complementary programs that were not in the 2012 plans: 1) a rooftop solar program involving low-cost financing, true net metering, and the removal of all utility barriers against distributed generation; and 2) an LED lighting program to shift away from less efficient incandescent and compact fluorescent lamps (CFL). The rooftop solar program will cut down the daytime peak, while the LED lighting program will cut down the nighttime peak The costs of both are declining so fast every year, that the decreasing demand for grid electricity will become essentially market-driven. Other energy efficiency measures as well as cheaper batteries and other energy storage devices can help reduce demand further.

Sadly, the Philippine government went instead on a construction binge of 23 coal plants that is scheduled to go on until at least 2020,9 squandering a golden opportunity for the country to show the world how to make an early energy transition to renewable electricity.

If the energy plans of other countries were similarly scrutinized using this simple change in perspective, we may likewise find a remarkable conclusion lurking within these plans – that some countries can already cover all new electricity demand with 100% renewables. Right now.

Roberto Verzola is the Executive Director of the Center for Renewable Electricity Strategies (CREST).

 
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