The archetype of flexible energy supply

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DURING a Distributed Energy Resources (DER) forum hosted by WeGen Philippines on September 17th – the event was a “deep dive” session ahead of Saturday’s 2021 Renewable Energy Congress – I finally got the chance to hear the details of the innovative work of the Romblon Electric Cooperative (Romelco), which has established itself as a model for developing sustainable and flexible electricity production and supply. I had heard of it before, but Mr. René Fajilagutan, Managing Director of Romelco and President of the Association of Isolated Electric Cooperatives, was on hand to fill in the many blanks in Romelco’s fascinating history.

Romelco is a non-profit, non-equity electrical cooperative (EC) classified as “large EC” by the National Administration of Electrification; it serves around 31,400 customers in the seven municipalities of the six islands that make up the province of Romblon. Peak energy demand in the Romelco franchise area in 2020 reached 5,843 kilowatts, but daily demand typically ranges from about 1,450 kW to 2,800 kW.

To meet Romblon’s electricity needs, Romelco relies on a combination of sources, the two most important of which are an onshore diesel plant and a bunker-fed electric barge, both owned by the National Power Corp. (NPC), with a capacity of 7,100 kW. However, Romelco’s own energy sources are almost entirely renewable energy and include a mini hydropower plant, a diesel-solar hybrid plant, three wind power plants, four large rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) plants and a small biomass gasification plant. Renewable / hybrid sources have a combined capacity of 2,600 kW and can produce almost all of Romelco’s typical peak demand, but in practice, at least for now, they provide around 30% of the electricity. from Romelco, the rest coming from the NPC installations.

Romelco aims to change that though, and is working to shift the current mix of renewables and fossils from 30 to 70 to a 90 to 10 ratio. The main tool he uses to do this is making the history of Romelco interesting.

In virtually every barangay (village) in the Philippines, and Romblon is no exception, there is the familiar “indoor court,” a structure that partially encloses a basketball court and community gathering space. Because these structures are typically erected “through the efforts” of local politicians as personal monuments of their own greatness, most of them tend to be remarkably overbuilt and sturdy steel frames with roofs capable of withstanding heavy loads. substantial charges. Not so long ago, the people of Romelco noticed the “covered courtyards” dotting their own landscape and said to themselves, “Hey, you know what would look good on those huge, solid rooftops? A bunch of solar panels.

So far Romelco has built four large rooftop photovoltaic solar systems, each with a capacity of 50 kW. The experiment went so well that she plans to build at least eight and up to 14 more on Romblon Island alone, including above the Romblon District Hospital and the Provincial Capitol. . Once the entire project is completed, the solar installations will provide nearly 2,000 kW of power.

From a cooperative perspective, the solar photovoltaic option solves a large number of operational challenges. Land use is not a problem, as roofs are already available. They are also located in easily accessible places, avoiding the need for an extensive support infrastructure such as additional power lines to connect them to the Romelco grid. According to Fajilagutan, a team of five can build a 50kW solar PV installation in a matter of days, while it could take months or even years to build another energy source.

Once the current four solar PV installations were operational, Romelco made another useful discovery: the production profile of four separate 50 kW installations is much more uniform than a single 200 kW installation. This greatly facilitates the management of electricity distribution throughout the day, which ultimately reduces operating costs.

From the point of view of the local authorities (UGL) which host the solar installations, this is only an unexpected windfall. Not only do they have access to a little more energy, but the rent paid by Romelco for the use of the roofs (P 17,500 per year for each covered court) also provides a modest additional income for the LGUs. In addition, the need to perform regular maintenance on solar equipment means that Romelco takes care of the maintenance of the buildings where they are located, saving LGUs additional money.

The inevitable reaction one gets when hearing the details of Romelco’s solar initiative is: why isn’t it happening all over the country? It is rare for an idea, especially in an industry as complicated as energy, to be as blatantly cheap, easy and efficient as this one. Naturally, this is not without challenges – Mr. Fajilagutan cited the country’s heavy regulatory environment, the absence of a policy to support the development of production by electricity cooperatives, and the lack of training facilities. and support for capacity building for the development of renewable energies as the biggest obstacles Romelco had to face. These are problems that can and should be overcome, however, if the government sincerely intends to put its money where its mouth is with regard to its broader renewable energy goals.

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Twitter: @benkritz


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