End of the ‘coal boys’
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - October 16, 2019 - 12:00am

ROME – Currently taking place here is the three-day Biofuels and Bioenergy Green Energy and Expo 2019 in the capital city of Italy. It is a joint event on Global Experts Meeting on Frontiers in the search and development of environment friendly sources of renewable energy (RE). The “Green Energy” conference officially started last Monday, a few weeks after the just concluded sessions on Climate Change at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly held in New York.

While climate change concerns prompt the development of RE sources, the majority of global energy consumption continues to be supplied from refined crude oil products, otherwise called as fossil fuels.

International experts gathered here to share the latest technology advancements to bring about further reduction in global warming as a takeoff point from the UN Climate Change call to action for sustained cutting down of carbon emissions from coal power plants and other fossil fuels. The ultimate objective is global sustainable development by the use of only RE.

We are delighted to find out that The Philippine STAR along with our sister newspaper, the BusinessWorld, and two other Philippine national dailies were among the listed participants in this latest “Green Energy” conference being held this year in Rome. 

Also attending the “Green Energy” conference are two official delegates from our very own Department of Energy (DOE) sent here by Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi as part of the “capacity-building” program of the Philippine government. They are, namely, Romeo Galamgam, supervising science research specialist of the RE Management Bureau of the DOE, and Mercy Dio, science research specialist II of the DOE’s Biomass Energy Management Division also under the RE Management Bureau.

The use of biofuels is the current commercial solution to mitigate dependence on fossil petroleum was cited as one of the fundamental ways to transition to a low carbon economy. In the Philippines, an act of the previous Congress has enabled the country to tap biofuels – alcohols and biodiesel – that are derived from plant sugars or oils, mixed with gasoline and diesel, respectively.

There has been not much headway gained through these years in biofuels in the Philippines. But what is fast gaining traction, as far as the DOE noted, is investors’ interests in the use of biomass, or the waste-to-energy ventures in the Philippines. 

Biomass energy projects use agricultural waste to generate energy. The DOE has also classified waste-to-energy projects under biomass development, thus widening the sector’s scope.

The DOE has recently opened biomass energy development to full foreign ownership. This is aimed to encourage growth of the sector following the notable significant investors’ interests. This even after the feed-in tariff (FiT) scheme gave them a fixed, subsidized rate for their power output, the DOE noted.

Under the new guidelines, the DOE opened up the biomass sector to foreign corporations without being limited by the 60-40% ownership rule in favor of Filipinos as required by the country’s Constitution. Biomass development is among RE technologies for which the DOE had set an installation target in a bid to complete a project and qualify under the government’s new FIT program. 

The FIT is an incentive scheme that grants RE producers/developers priority connections to the power grid, priority purchase, and transmission of, and payment for, electricity generated. Eligible RE developers are guaranteed a rate for 20 years for each kilowatt (kwh) they produce. For biomass developers, the rate was set at P6.63 per kwh. 

The DOE’s guidelines signed earlier this month by Secretary Cusi will take effect as soon as the publication requirement is completed.

At the first day of the “Green Energy” conference, Koji Hashimoto, a professor emeritus of Tohoku University in Japan, talked about the successful results of working for 30 years for the supply to the world of RE in the form of synthesized natural gas methane, or “syn” gas for short. Hashimoto admitted there is no avoiding global warming for as long as humanity burn fossil fuel.

Hashimoto noted with concern the world average temperature increased 0.26% for ten years since 2007. This goes without saying the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration increased with industrial development around the world, he cited.

“In order to avoid the crisis of intolerable global warming and no fuels for combustion, we have to establish and spread the technologies by which the whole world can keep sustainable development only using renewable energy,” Hashimoto pointed out.

The Japanese professor is very confident of the fact there are “super abundant” RE sources on earth, proof of which are the variety of power generation systems now being used like solar and wind energy. However, he conceded, solar and wind energy are characterized by intermittent and fluctuating nature as sources of electric power.

These challenges can be best addressed by storing the surplus electricity by which to make up for a deficiency of intermittent power. “The most convenient and easily applicable technology to store the surplus electricity is the formation of methane. If we regenerate steady electricity from methane the whole world can keep the sustainable development only by renewable energy,” Hashimoto explained.

Now 84 years old, the Japanese professor proudly cited that his former students who have helped him develop and create “necessary key materials” in the prototype plant in 1995 are now the ones running a fully developed technology now being used in Germany.

Hashimoto batted for a transition period for the elimination or abolition of coal power generation and into the use of natural gas power generation without further delay. 

In the meantime, cogeneration of power and heat use will gradually phase down the reign of the so-called dirty “coal boys” as the ultimate goal of lowering the carbon emissions to help save us from severe consequences of global warming.

ALFONSO CUSI DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY
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