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Renewable energy: Future source of power

Leila Noel left the Philippines when her hometown Bansalan in Davao del Sur did not have electricity yet. “This was in the late 1970s when the country had to grapple with the oil crisis,” she recalled. “I practically grew up without electricity. When I was in high school, I remember using the kerosene lamp while studying. It seemed to be a way of life then.”

In 1980, she met and married Wim Rispens, a Dutch national whom she met in the Netherlands. The two were blessed with two kids. When she brought them to her hometown, electricity was still unheard of.

“It was only in the 1990s that Bansalan started to have a good supply of electricity,” she said, adding that technology also came simultaneously with electricity. “It was a great relief and delight when many homes finally had electricity. It propelled the economy. People were able to watch television programs, have their own refrigerators and other amenities, which made life simpler.”

Looking back, she cannot help but compare her life in the Netherlands, where she lived for three decades, to her life in the Philippines. “Throughout my stay in the LNetherlands, I can only remember a few times when there was a power outage,” she said. “It happens only when the government is conducting routine electrical checkup, constructing roads or when it renews electrical wiring. There were also instances during severe typhoons when a few street lamp posts were struck.”

Bansalan

Five years ago, the Rispens couple decided to retire in Bansalan.  That was when she realized that life is really different from what she used to have in the Netherlands.

“Since we arrived here in Bansalan, I remember there were only a few days without electricity,” Rispens-Noel disclosed. “But summer is different; we had several hours without electricity and most of the time it happened during night time.  Modern life is now highly dependent on electricity. In this town, if there is no electricity, there is also no water as the pump is dependent on electricity. And since we rely so much on electricity, we cannot use computers after the batteries run out.”

This problem of power shortage has been with us since the 1990s.  In a lecture convened by the Press Foundation of Asia for community journalists in 1994, then undersecretary of the Department of Energy Rufino Bomasang aptly pointed out: “Our shortage of electricity is a real, serious problem that we cannot downplay.  But if we focus exclusively on it, we run the risk of seeing just the trees and not the forest.”

Without electricity, progress will not prosper.  “Power outage is a great setback for the development in Mindanao,” Rispens-Noel deplored. “Economic progress is dependent on adequate supplies of electricity. For as long as this problem is not addressed sooner, we cannot expect some robust economic activities in this region.”

CHALLENGES

But Mindanao is the not the only one facing the dilemma.  It is happening in almost all parts of the country.  “Two challenges face us in the energy sector in this country,” Bomasang said.  “A short-term challenge is to be able to address this power shortage once and for all.  The longer-term challenge is to find a solution to our continuing dependence on imported energy.”

Renewable energy seems to be the answer. Renewable energy is the power that is derived from natural processes that are replenished at a higher rate than they are consumed.  “Renewable energy can produce energy in the form of electricity, heat, and transportation fuel,” wrote H. Steven Dashefsky, author of “Environmental Literacy.”

There are four reasons why renewable energy is being pushed as the future’s power source.  For one, the sources are abundant; they can be found everywhere: air, water, oceans, land, underground and even from the outer space.

For another, the sources are considered to be inexhaustible, even if continuously used by man.  “The resources used are able to quickly replenish through time, unlike the dependable fuel of conventional energy sources,” stated the briefing paper on renewable energy.

Another reason: it complements with other energy sources.  This is very important, the briefing paper said, “to ensure energy demand is met reliably and consistently, and helps diversify the energy mix to take advantage of the benefits of each source of energy.”

ENVIRONMENT-FRIENDLY

But most importantly, renewable energy is environment-friendly as the sources are usually non-polluting and produce no hazardous materials.  “Lower environmental footprint and greenhouse gas emissions help preserve the environment to ensure sustainability,” the briefing paper explained.

Currently, the reason why renewable energy is still not fully utilized is because of its high cost.  Dashefsky begged to disagree.  “Many renewable sources are already cost-competitive to fossil fuels and will become even less expensive when used on a larger scale,” he pointed out.

Janet Sawin, a senior fellow at the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, D.C. and an expert on international energy and environmental policy, seemed to support the idea.  “Renewable energy technologies are now ready for use on a large scale and have the potential to meet world energy demand many times over,” she said.

The Philippines has a wide array of available renewable energy sources. These are geothermal, solar, wind, biomass, and hydropower. Geothermal energy is derived from the heat that is given off the Earth, or steam, to spin turbines.  Solar energy is harnessed from the energy of sunlight via photovoltaic or solar panels.  Wind energy is harnessed from conversion of kinetic energy from the wind to mechanical energy to turn wind turbines.

RENEWABLE SOURCES

Biomass energy, on the other hand, is produced from organic materials like plants and animals; the most common sources are wood, crops, manure (biogas is an example), and some rubbish (garbage).  Hydropower is derived from the movement of water, such as water running through turbines in a dam or by diverting the flow of water from rivers to spin turbines.

In the Philippines, the installed capacity of renewable energy as of last year was about 6,859 megawatts (MW).  The sources can be broken down into as follows: hydropower, 3,618 MW (52%), geothermal, 1,916 MW (28%), solar, 865 MW (11%), wind, 427 MW (6%), and 233 MW (3%).  These figures were based from a report released by the Department of Energy.

According to the energy department, 32% of the total installed generation capacity of the country is renewable energy.  About 116 renewable energy facilities currently exist in the Philippines.

In the last decade, the Philippines has seen about 45% increase in the installed renewable generation capacity.   Based on the 2030 targets, 40% of the total installed capacity in the country will be renewables.  “Our renewable energy capacity is constantly increasing,” the briefing paper said.

The country’s renewable sources are varied and diverse, the briefing paper pointed out.  A closer look will give this idea: hydropower (3,104 MW from 54 units of 16 large hydro facilities and 513 MW from 84 units of 32 run-of-river facilities), geothermal (1,916 MW from 51 units of 10 facilities), solar (756 MW from 35 facilities), wind (427 MW from 7 facilities), and biomass (233 MW from 41 units of 16 facilities).

The Philippines is now at par with other countries in terms of power generation from renewable energy.  In 2012, the electricity generated from renewable energy was 21,979 gigawatt hours (GWh).  That made the country to be ranked 31 in the International Energy Statistics of the US Department of Energy.  (GWh is a unit of energy representing one billion watt hours and is equivalent to one million kilowatt hours.)

The continuous growth of renewable energy in the Philippines was due to the support of the government in terms of development and uses.  The Philippine Energy Plan 2012-2030, for instance, sets a framework for the development of energy resources in the country.

LIMITATIONS

Despite the surging popularity of renewable energy, it still has its own limitations.  The briefing paper cited six constraints: intermittency, scalability, lack of storage capability, higher generation costs, high tariffs, and permitting issues.

Intermittency are natural factors that may affect the availability of energy source, such as weather conditions, season and location.  Scalability happens when renewable energy sources cannot generate large quantities of electricity (large infrastructure and land requirements are also needed to install bigger capacities).

High tariffs, the briefing paper said, is due to FIT, passed on to the cost of electricity paid by consumers.  On permitting issues, the briefing paper explained: “Acquiring all the necessary permits takes a lot of time, especially when projects span multiple municipalities and barangays.”

Whether the Philippines experience another power crisis, renewable energy is here to stay.  “The Philippines will continue its progress in developing renewable sources of energy, following its current roadmap through the Philippine Plan 2012-2030,” the briefing paper said.

“These efforts will help ensure the environmental sustainability of the country’s energy mix as it continues to address concerns on energy security and energy equity,” the briefing paper concluded.

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