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Saturday, April 13, 2024

‘Days in the sun’

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SUMMER is fast approaching, and with it comes a surge in electricity consumption due to rising temperatures.

According to the Manila Electric Company (Meralco), a typical household’s electricity consumption goes up by around 30 percent from January to June.

Based on Department of Energy (DOE) data, Luzon could register a peak demand of 11,841 megawatts (MW), up 6.6 percent from the 11,103 MW recorded on March 9, 2020, and 4.3 percent higher from 11,344 MW in June 2019.

“For Luzon, [peak demand] would still be around summer months,” said DOE Assistant Secretary Redentor Delola in a text message. Power peak periods in Luzon are expected within the months of March, April and May, with the rising summer temperature prompting a spike in demand.

Meanwhile, daily demand in the Visayas and Mindanao could peak at 2,394 MW and 2,098 MW, respectively. The figures are higher by 8.8 percent and 6.1 percent, respectively, in 2020 and also up from 2,224 MW and 2,013 MW, respectively, in 2019.

Delola added that the Visayas and Mindanao peak demand could follow the 2019 data recorded in May or it may go back to before, which was toward last quarter of the year.

System operator National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) hopes that peak demand in all three regional grids don’t occur on the same months of the year so as not to strain the transmission facilities. Otherwise, the country’s transmission system could be put under greater stress.

Recovery from the pandemic

DOE Secretary Alfonso Cusi said electricity demand is recovering as government eases lockdown restrictions.

“We are seeing increasing demand for electricity as we put the economy back to life. People will be partying and going out a lot to make up for the lost time. Establishments will restart and their electricity consumption will go back to normal levels,” the energy chief said in a text message.

This year’s numbers would also depend on the country’s economic growth. Historically, when the Philippines experienced an expanding economy, or a positive GDP growth rate, that expansion was directly proportional to electricity consumption.

“We see an increase in the demand due to the upcoming summer months and the relaxation of the quarantine rules. This is also due to the government’s bullish perspective on the country’s path to economic recovery,” commented DOE Undersecretary Felix William Fuentebella in an interview.

Bracing for the power crunch

This summer, a number of power plants are also scheduled to go offline.

The DOE expects around 2,500 MW of capacity will not be available for Luzon from February up to June this year.

Five power facilities that supply electricity to the country’s largest distribution firm are expected go on scheduled shutdowns in the summer.

Sual coal plant Unit 2 (647MW) would not be operational until May 8. Ilijan gas plant Unit 1 (600MW) will be out from March 27 to April 1 and on May 8 to June 15. Unit 1 (135MW) of South Luzon Thermal Energy Corp. (SLTEC) is on scheduled outage from February 19 to March 20. The 455-MW supercritical coal plant of San Buenaventura Power Ltd. (SBPL) will not run for five days until April 8. Module 10 of the Santa Rita gas plant will not deliver power from February 18 to March 25.

With the expected stoppages, some 1,800 MW will not be available for Meralco alone.

Several other power facilities which do not have contracts with Meralco are also scheduled to shut down: Pagbilao 1 (367.5MW), from May 1 to 31; Calaca 2, up to July 1; and some hydro plants such as Kalayaan (180MW), Angat (100MW), Ambuklao (35MW), Magat (360MW) and San Roque (145MW).

Using the forecasted demand and average supply of around 15,000MW, which is inclusive of 2,500 MW outage, market prices for the summer months may range from P2.28 per kilowatt hour (kWh) to P3.69/kWh, according to the Independent Electricity Market Operator of the Philippines (Iemop), which runs the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM).

Contingency measures

The DOE once again assured the public that power supply in Luzon is adequate despite the scheduled preventive maintenance shutdown of some power plants.

“We have to be ready and make sure that our power plants are operational and reliable to answer for the demand,” said Cusi.

Delola, meanwhile, said that supply is sufficient for as long as there won’t be any huge levels of forced outages.

Should major power plants unexpectedly shut down, the DOE said contingency measures are expected to kick in.

“We always advocate for our consumers to shift to more energy-efficient ways of doing things. We also have our ILP (Interruptible Load Program); Malaya plant can also help us and there is supply coming from the Visayas which can also help. We also expect additional capacities to come online,” added Delola.

State-run Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Corp. (PSALM), which owns the Malaya plant, will build up the required fuel inventory and, as part of preventive maintenance, heat run tests will be conducted on the thermal plant.

Delola said the additional capacities will come from new solar, coal and diesel power projects. “We have around 180MW of solar capacity for Luzon, GN Power Dinginin plant at 668MW and Ingrid diesel plant at 150MW coming in during the second quarter,” he said.

In case there are forced outages by the power generators and the Luzon grid is affected, Meralco has put in place contingency measures to ensure continued, reliable service to its seven million customers.

Meralco’s ILP

Joe Zaldarriaga, Meralco vice president for corporate communications, said the utility firm will activate its ILP and encourage consumers to practice energy efficiency to manage the demand side.

Under the ILP, Meralco will ask big-load customers to serve their own power needs by using their own generator sets in the event that all available mechanisms implemented to ensure supply are not enough to cover the demand for electricity.

“In the past, when needed, Meralco had asked our partner establishments to turn on their power generators whenever a shortage in supply is experienced, instead of drawing power directly from the grid,” he said.

Stricter ERC rules

To promote accountability among power plant operators and the transmission grid operator, the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) has issued stringent rules on planned electricity outages.

For instance, power plants that run on pulverized coal are allowed to have 27.9 days of planned outage and 16.8 days of unplanned outage, while circulating fluidized bed coal plants should not be out of service for 15.4 days (planned outage) and 16.9 days  (unplanned shutdown).

Those that run on gas should not be out of service for more than 29.2 days, including 6.5 days of planned outage and 22.7 days of unplanned outage.

Diesel plants’ planned outages are allowed for up to five days and unplanned outage for 22 days. Geothermal power plants should not be out of service for more than 19.7 days, including six days of planned outage and 13.7 days of unplanned outage.

“By setting and giving specific parameters on the standard planned and unplanned outages, the generation companies are obligated to ensure that the generating plants are properly maintained and, thus, lessen the unplanned outages,” ERC Chair Agnes VST Devanadera said.

Power firms welcomed this. They are prepared to work with the rest of the energy sector, to monitor the power supply situation, especially during summer, and to make the necessary preparations. They maintained, however, that sudden shutdowns of their power facilities are out of their control especially when these are caused by natural calamities.

“As they say, the most expensive electricity is having no electricity at all. We should not point fingers. What everyone should do is prepare,” the energy chief emphasized.

Image credits: Michael Edwards | Dreamstime.com
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