Sunday, September 04, 2005

Power of the Wind

Power of the Wind

By Rexcel John Sorza**
Iloilo City, Philippines
August 31, 2005

When gigantic rotor blades looking more like electric fans from afar started to generate electricity in the northern Philippine province of Ilocos Norte recently, Filipinos became the first people in Southeast Asia to harvest the power of the wind.

“The future of Southeast Asian wind power starts here,” said Ferdinand Dumlao during the farm’s commissioning attended by government officials and environmentalists. He sees a “huge potential for this technology in the Philippines and beyond.”

Dumlao chairs the Danish-Filipino consortium, NorthWind Power Development Corporation (NorthWind), which turned on last 18 June 2005 the US$44-million wind farm. It now lights up homes of the subscribers of Ilocos Norte Electric Cooperative.

Wind Lighting Up Asia

Forming a column of 15 wind turbines with a hub height of 70 meters and 41-meter rotor blades, the NorthWind project has an installed capacity of 25 megawatts.

NorthWind’s wind farm put the Southeast Asian region on the map of regions around the world using wind to generate electricity.

World Wind Energy Association data show that some 47,616 megawatts of electricity are currently produced from wind worldwide. Of this, 34,616 megawatts (73%) are generated by wind farms in European countries followed by those in America with 7,335 megawatts (15%), and then Asia with 4,726 megawatts (10%). Asia’s share, however, was derived only from India and Japan before NorthWind came into the picture.

Wind power development is also picking up speed in other parts of Asia. South Korea recently inaugurated its first wind farm. In February 2005, China passed a Renewable Energy Law to drive the government’s target of 20,000MW of wind power by the year 2020.

The international environmental group the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) says wind energy industry has boomed in recent years, leaping from producing 10,000 megawatts in 1998 to 40,000 megawatts in 2004, with the figure expected to more than double to 150,000 MW by 2012.

The main reason for this boom, WWF explains, is the relatively low cost of wind energy. “In fact, wind energy is the renewable technology whose costs come closest to those of fossil power production and for which there is a large expansion potential worldwide.”

An Economic Approach to Producing Energy

“Dirty and Expensive”?

Technological progress in producing wind energy has already cut production costs in half since 1990, and it is expected that the gap between the power production costs of wind energy and those of fossil energy sources will continue to narrow.

“Wind power takes us one crucial step closer to energy independence," said Lory Tan, president of WWF-Philippines.

Tan explained wind power “builds economic strength by stabilizing business costs, insulating us from pollution and the unpredictable prices of imported oil and coal, while preserving foreign exchange for other more critical needs.”

Philippine Energy Secretary Raphael P.M. Lotilla congratulated NorthWind for the landmark project, which, he said, shows the “government's persistence at tapping indigenous and renewable energy sources as a strategy to move away from dependence on imported oil, especially at a time of high oil prices.”

"We need a relentless effort to harness our own energy sources and not be forever held hostage by volatile international oil prices," he added.

WWF estimates that the Philippines could save US$2.9 billion in fossil-fuel imports over the next 10 years if the country’s vast renewable energy resources are tapped.

Liam Salter, WWF International's regional climate and energy program director, said, “Across Asia-Pacific the message is the same—spiraling coal and oil prices and dependency upon imported fuels, combined with health and environmental risks, are forcing governments to radically rethink the way they supply their people with energy.”

“Wind and other renewables are central to a new way of thinking—we predict the trend will continue,” Salter added.

Ferdinand Dumlao, special projects officer at the Ilocos Norte provincial government, said, "In terms of pricing, fossil fuels are subject to foreign market pricing and currency fluctuations. These two factors are risks in terms of pricing. Our leadership had analyzed that it is not to our advantage to have fossil fuel power plants."

The Ilocos Norte provincial government had received proposals from several fossil fuel companies. "There was an offer from a foreign company to put up a bunker sea oil power plant, but it was anti-environment and it was also not a guarantee for a stable power pricing," said Dumlao.


The Philippines should shun away “dirty and expensive” energy sources.
Melvin Purzuelo of Green Forum


He further said, "Before the establishment of our wind farm, there was also another proposal to put up a coal plant. It was a bit inviting because it was cheaper compared to the oil-based power plant. But again, the people of Ilocos Norte rejected the idea for similar reasons.”

The Philippine government has set a goal of doubling the renewable energy base capacity for power generation by 2013, lessening the country’s dependence on imported energy sources such as diesel and coal, and broadening the resource base with an indigenous and environmentally desirable option.

This will add another 4,700 megawatts of clean energy mainly from geothermal, wind, solar, hydro and biomass resources to the country’s power generation capacity, and will bring its share in the nation’s energy mix to nearly 40 percent.

The government plans to gradually reduce the country’s dependence of imported fuel such as oil and gas. Imported oil ate up 39.2 percent of last year’s total energy sources.

According to an analysis done by WWF's PowerSwitch! campaign, the wind resource potential in the Philippines could be as much as 7,400 megawatts, enough to power 19 million homes.

Sustainable energy campaigners welcomed the government’s new thrust. Melvin Purzuelo of Green Forum, an environmental advocacy group, said the Philippines should shun away “dirty and expensive” energy sources. Instead, he said, it should exploit its sustainable and renewable energy potentials.

Putting Natural Resources to Good Use

In a study done by the United States’ National Renewable Energy Laboratory (US-NREL) using Geographic Information System technology on the wind resource of the Philippines, over 10,000 square kilometers of windy land areas in the Philippines have been estimated to exist with “good-to-excellent” wind resource potential.

Using conservative assumptions of about 7 megawatts per square kilometer, this windy land could support over 70,000 megawatts of potential installed capacity, the report said.

The wind mapping results also showed many areas of good-to-excellent wind resource for utility-scale applications or excellent wind resource for village power applications, particularly in the northern and central regions of the Philippines.

Considering only the areas with good-to-excellent wind resource, there are 47 provinces in the Philippines with at least 500 megawatts of wind potential and 25 provinces with at least 1,000 megawatts of wind potential.

Cleaner sources of energy are slowly making its round in the Philippines, which is currently the biggest producer of geothermal energy with a 1,983-megawatt capacity, second only to the United States.

WWF-Philippines asserts that renewable energy systems make economic sense as they can generate jobs and save the country’s dollar reserves from buying imported fuel.

Renewable energy sources like wind also keep global warming from getting worse. According to WWF’s PowerSwitch campaign, “Generating electricity through the burning of carbon-rich coal has a greater impact on the atmosphere than any other single human activity.”

Green Forum’s Purzuelo said wind energy is produced by the wind, so “it's definitely a clean source of fuel.” Wind energy does not pollute the air like power plants that rely on combustion of fossil fuels, such as coal or natural gas. Wind turbines don't produce atmospheric emissions that cause acid rain or greenhouse gasses, he said.

Ferdinand Dumlao, special projects officer at the Ilocos Norte provincial government, said they welcomed the NorthWind project because they know the ill effects of fossil fuel power plants. “They emit carbon dioxide that harms our environment. Coal power plants also emit dust that destroys our crops," he said.

The United States Department of Energy (USDE) said, “Wind energy relies on the renewable power of the wind, which can't be used up. Wind is actually a form of solar energy; winds are caused by the heating of the atmosphere by the sun, the rotation of the earth, and the earth's surface irregularities.”

It stressed that wind energy “is one of the lowest-priced renewable energy technologies available today, costing between 4 and 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, depending upon the wind resource and project financing of the particular project.”

Purzuelo said the Philippines, as the rest of the world, has many options where to source the electricity needed by industries and people. But for him, it’s best to pick the “power of the wind. It’s free, safe, clean, sustainable and renewable.”


** Rexcel John B. Sorza is a journalist from the Philippines and a Bachelor of Arts in Broadcast Communication and Management. He was recently the runner up in the Water Media Network Journalists’ Competition and received his award at the Third World Water Forum in Kyoto, Japan.Your emails will be forwarded to him by contacting the editor at: