Solar Power Disrupts Grid and Proponents Must Be Responsible for Solutions

David Celestra Tan
26 June 2016

Solar proponents have been waving the clean energy and climate change flags. They got a hefty rate of P9.68 in the first FIT round and P8.68 in the 2nd. Now they want 7.68 for the 3rd round. These mean subsidies from consumers of P2.68 to P4.68 or billions every month. And the DOE seems bent on doling out these consumer subsidies instead of subjecting them to competitive bidding.

Yet Solar proponents are not taking responsibility for providing solutions to the disruptions that solar creates in the power grid. Mainly because the Department of Energy, the ERC, the NREB, and NGCP are not requiring these solar plants to provide solar systems that are grid-compatible. That means power generation supply that smoothly connects to the grid and does not disrupt it.

Solar power is already known to be intermittent which means the power output is not consistent and can change abruptly when the clouds pass and shield the sun. This happens several times in the seven (7) hour optimum solar time of 10am to 5pm. Whenever clouds pass the output of these plants drop 40 to 60% for 1 to 5 minutes depending on the velocity of the clouds.

The problem is more acute in the Visayan grid where there is a concentration of 300mw of solar on the island of Negros. Electric coops are already complaining of the brownouts that occur whenever the solar power that connects to the grid drops in output.

NGCP reportedly claims that they duly cautioned the Department of Energy of such disruption and the DOE still allowed the concentration of solar in one island. To their horror, the DOE approved another 200mw solar for Negros on top of the 300mw.

Currently the responsibility for stabilizing the system is being dumped on the Grid operator, NGCP, who has the job to secure hyper-reacting reserves that can instantly replace that solar power drop within seconds. NGCP Visayas claims to have temporarily solved the problem by assuring such standby reserve from the Luzon Grid where there are hydro plants. For the long term they propose to contract for 100mw of reserve power from the Luzon Grid by reserving power flow from its HVDC line from Luzon to Visayas. This means the HVDC line must always have 100mw flowing from Luzon and guess who will be paying for that? Consumers. That’s 100mw of power capacity that will be paid for continuously by the national consumers for the benefit of solar for 1 to 5 minutes several times in daytime hours.

Geothermal energy is also a suitable provider of frequency reserve to support solar. However, we understand the ERC did not approve the right of the geothermal provider to charge for steam energy. So they refused to provide the service.

The significant costs to the system and consumers of these stabilization services and the extra costs of special transmission lines are issues that Solar lobbyists do not wish to be talked about and our generous government officials seem not concerned about. From their point of view evidently, solar is great but the consumers need to pay a premium and the responsibility and cost of making the grid-compatible is the government and the consumers. The cost of true frequency regulating reserve service will probably be P0.15 per kwh charged nationwide. That will be more than the current FIT subsidy of P0.12 per kwh.

This same transient output drops will be true with roof-top solar especially when they start populating the commercial buildings and large residences. They too will be subject to this cloudy disruption and destabilize the distribution grid.

The question is why the government is not making these solar producers provide grid-compatible systems in the same way all other generating technologies are being asked before they can be allowed to synchronize to the national grid? Why is it the job and the cost of consumers to solve their output instability problems? Technologies are available and with their hefty prices they want to charge to the consumers, they should be able to pay for it. If they say the appropriate battery storage technology for output stabilization is not ready or too expensive, then we have to wait until the solar proponents are ready to supply grid-compatible systems at reasonable rates. Yes we all want to ride in luxury cars and live in airconditioned homes but can our people afford it?

Solar proponents must take responsibility for building solar energy that is grid-compatible. The cost and challenge of managing solar intermittency should be their own.

Once again, to the solar proponents, consumers are not against you. We all want clean energy. But please provide us the suitable system at a fair price.

Matuwid na Singil sa Kuryente Consumer Alliance Inc.