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Public, private sectors seek indigenous and sustainable energy for PH

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By Alithea De Jesus

The call for the Philippines to achieve energy security and independence has been one of the national issues that has been pushed to the forefront. As the energy industry is faced with the challenge of supplying steady power to communities across the Philippines given the fact that the pandemic has been affecting all the industries everywhere.

Benchmarking from other environmentally-conscious nations, the Philippines is gearing up to the bandwagon as it sees the necessity and wisdom to adapt from fossil fuel to renewable energy (RE), by developing our own indigenous energy resources to create a more sustainable, independent industry that is not dependent on imports.

Realistically speaking, the challenge to achieve the transition to renewable energy is beyond reach if there would be no collaboration between the private and public sectors. This was the consensus reached during the virtual forum, “Philippine Energy Transition: A Race through Economic Disruption, Technology Shifts and Innovation,” held by the Philippine Energy Independence Council (PEIC) in partnership with the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP) last January 21 with valuable input from various speakers to present the bigger picture of how the country can advance and achieve the indigenous energy and sustainability goal.

For Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, Chairperson of the Senate Energy Affairs Committee, he cited a Bloomberg report showing that from 2004-2020, industries around the world have invested US$4.569 trillion in investing in alternative sources of energy: hydrogen; carbon capture and storage (CCS); energy storage; electrified transport; electrified heat; and RE.

The Senator, who has authored such bills as the Murang Kuryente Act and the Electric Cooperatives Emergency and Resiliency Fund Act, affirmed that the Philippines can be successful in this endeavour through targeted regulations and the passing of related laws. The Philippine Congress has augmented the Department of Energy’s (DOE) budget by PHP40M to effect the change, and research into the kinds of policies that will manage the process without affecting the consumers negatively. In exploring other energy sources such as nuclear and geothermal, he said that the government “can assist the private sector in developing certain technologies. We can come up with different models where we can share the risks.”

Meanwhile, DOE Usec. Jesus Christino Posadas affirmed that his organization is “seeking development of all indigenous energy resources while working to increase the effectiveness of the country as an energy destination.” One of its priorities over the next two decades is to realize the target of 34,000MW by the year 2040. The opening of the geothermal sector to foreign investment is a step towards this direction. About 22 predetermined areas covering geothermal resources had been identified and presented to stakeholders. 

Sharing his thought was PEIC President Don Paulino, who pointed out that the campaign for a clean secure energy future should integrate the diverse aspects of the industry ecosystem to make them “more aligned, integrated, and complimentary to one another.” At the same time, the learning of the industry players will become broader, empowering them to adapt with greater agility. That integration can prove pivotal to the PEIC’s Philippine Energy Plan which is aiming for 44,671 MW of RE, or 42.9% of the industry production,  by 2040. 

PEIC Director Amor Maclang posed her challenge by venturing beyond industry alignment into engaging a wider audience, describing it as “the bridge between the industry, government, and the public. How do we make ideas of energy efficiency more snackable for a generation that is very detached? How do we engage the youth, academe, and millennials, because right now, discourse about this issue remains insular?”

For starters, PEIC Chairman Lt. Gen. Rozzano Briguez (Ret.) revealed that the organization is strengthening its links with the DOE and the University of the Philippines to come up with data that can build up public interest, and especially draw in more investors.  He stressed, “We must work hand in hand with decision-makers to find sources and to realize our goal of energy for all. A robust and resilient energy system will enable us to bounce back during unforeseen scenarios.”

Michael Velasco, Vice President of Business Development and Industry Affairs of Vivant Energy Corporation, said that his company is exploring the combination of  renewable and conventional energies with the overall objective “to improve livelihood, and the adaptation of RE in offgrid, poor, and remote communities.”

Jon Russell, Chief Commercial Officer and Executive Vice President of the First Gen Corporation, added that energy security can reduce the widening gap between the rich and the poor. He recommended studying natural gas as its development on a “flexible basis can help decarbonize the Philippines.  Gasoline has lower cost and can be implemented quicker. It can switch on and off quickly, and can support renewables. Gas is a transition fuel. Other technologies such as hydrogen will help to decarbonize gas.”

Industry leaders from Mindanao see energy independence as crucial to harnessing the potential of the region.  Romeo Montenegro, Asst. Sec. and Deputy Executive Director of the Mindanao Development Authority, said that the region’s 7.1% growth rate, which is higher than the national growth rate of 6.7%,  will require the electrification of all its towns and cities. He shared, “We are targeting 100% electrification all over Mindanao by 2030. Right now, there are only 12-18 hrs of power in the capital towns of Tawi-tawi, Jolo, Sulu, and Basilan. But some areas only enjoy 4-6 hours. Transition to cleaner energy will have to start in these very areas.”

Jaime Jose Aboitiz, Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer of the Aboitiz Power Corporation, expressed his belief that technology over time will resolve these issues and effect the transition the country needs:  Rooftop solars can bring in more power stability. Digital simulation of a power plant is a tool both for monitoring efficiency as well as workforce training. Anton Perdices, COO of the Aboitiz Distribution Unit, added the need for a “self-healing network which basically takes care of itself. It automatically switches off and does reroutes.”

At the end of the forum, Aboitiz captured the sentiments of the speakers viewing both the potentials and challenges that will present themselves during transition:  “It’s really an all-nation, all-hands-on-deck type of deal. There’s so much that’s required from the private sector and academe. We have to work really hard to remove roadblocks so opportunities open up for us to go forward into a renewable and more sustainable energy.”

The Philippine Independence Energy Council (PEIC) is composed of business leaders and private individuals who share the vision of an energy-independent Philippines that is able to produce enough of its own energy to meet its own demands and substantially decrease dependence on other countries. It continuously initiates public discourses on what must be done to move government decision-makers to beef up our energy reserves and trigger discussions that can lead to concrete steps towards the goal of energy independence. For more information about PEIC – activities, membership — pls follow their facebook page or email at energyindependenceph@gmail.com

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