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Philippines, ASEAN must tap solar, wind to meet rising electricity demand — report

Countries in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines, must ramp up solar and wind capacities to meet the rising demand for electricity and avert more carbon emissions from the power sector, according to a new report.

Despite its huge potential for renewable energy sources, Southeast Asia continues to lag behind in the energy transition, analysts said in a report released Thursday by climate and energy think tank Ember.

Southeast Asia is one of the world’s fastest growing regions in terms of economic growth and power demand. It is also among the world’s most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as increasingly intense typhoons, droughts and rising sea levels.

The report showed that five of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) make up 89% of the region’s total energy generation, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Total electricity demand in these countries grew 22% from 2015, rising more than the global average at 17%.

Vietnam and the Philippines recorded the highest growth in the past seven years.

But clean power has failed to keep up with this rising demand, Ember’s analysis showed. Only 39%, or less than half, were powered by renewables, such as solar, wind and hydropower.

Countries instead turned to fossil fuels, such as coal, resulting in a 21% rise in carbon emissions from the power sector, the report said.

In the Philippines, only 12% of the electricity demand was met by clean energy sources from 2015 to 2021. Coal power steadily grew in the country even with its ratification of the Paris Agreement, a climate pact that aims to reduce emissions and limit global temperature increase, in 2016.

Lagging behind

The Philippines also trails behind its peers and the rest of the world in terms of solar and wind generation, making up only 2.6% in the power mix in 2021.

This is below the 4-percent average in the ASEAN and the 10-percent global average last year.

According to the Philippine Energy Plan, the country plans to install an additional 0.76 gigawatts (GW) of wind and 18.5 GW of solar power capacity by 2030, which will push the share to 16.5%.

With the second highest demand growth in the region, however, this increase would only meet 38% of the country's electricity needs in the next decade.

While this would mark a significant growth compared to current figures, Ember analysts said more ambitious deployment plans for solar and wind are needed as the current clean electricity plans in the region could not keep up with the rapidly rising demand for power.

Current solar and wind plans would only bring the share in the region up to 11% of total generation.

Aside from raising ambition, countries should also reconfigure their electricity systems and improve their grid infrastructure to ensure that it can absorb power from renewables, said Achmed Edianto, Ember’s Asia electricity analyst and a lead author of the report.

“In most of the countries in Southeast Asia, energy security is an important issue,” he said. “We have to make sure the reliability of the supply is also maintained well.”

Unreliable, high costs

Energy and climate experts have previously stressed the unreliability of coal for power, as well as the rising economic and social costs of burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas.

In the past few weeks, the Luzon grid has been placed in a series of yellow grid alerts following recurring unplanned outages of coal-fired power plants.

Electricity prices in the Philippines are among the highest in Southeast Asia at roughly P10 per kilowatt hour.

Kickstarting the renewable energy development program in the country would ensure energy security that is not dependent on global price shocks, said Jephraim Manansala, chief data scientist of the Manila-based climate and energy policy group Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities.

“An urgent action that can be done by our current administration is to affirm the immediate need of additional renewable energy capacity in the grid and encourage government banks to fund renewable energy projects,” he said.

Solar projects have a lead time of about a year, while wind projects have about 2 years, he added.

“Within the first half of this administration, we could have additional renewable energy capacity in the grid that could support a cleaner, more affordable and more secure electricity for the Filipino people,” said Manansala, who was not involved in the study.

Ember’s Edianto said the challenge for the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations is in the implementation of current policies and plans.

“There needs to be long-term policy planning,” he said. “We have to ensure that whoever is the head of the department of energy, we have a long-term strategy.”

As of writing, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has yet to appoint a secretary for the Department of Energy. — LA, GMA News