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Energy conservation isn’t just about switching off the lights anymore

The plan is as simple as your high school economics class: lower energy demand, and you lower power rates.

The implementation—in this case, reducing energy consumption without having to shut down power by entire grids—is not so straightforward. Beyond the household tip of switching lights off when not in use, we have answered the why of energy efficiency, but not quite the how.

Real estate developers have begun constructing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (Leed) certified green buildings, but there are no Philippine standards on eco-friendly buildings yet. This means that unscrupulous developers can simply plant trees around a building to capitalize on the Go Green trend.

A Philippine Green Building Council (PhilGBC) has already been formed and is coordinating with other professional organizations to come out with a local standard for green building. The United Architects of the Philippines, a PhilGBC alliance partner, is doing the same thing for architecture.

The Philippine Society of Ventilating, Air-conditioning, and Refrigerating Engineers Inc. has already done its part, launching the 2010 PSVARE Standards for Energy Efficient Building and Rating System in April. The book on standards gives specifications on windows and glass panels to raise the energy efficiency of a building. The PSVARE has also put down in writing the standards for mechanical systems like ventilation and lighting.

Fernando Guevara, the engineer who chaired the PSVARE’s technical working group on standards, says the local standards were partly based on the California Energy Code because of the US state’s experience in balancing electricity demand and GDP growth. “It all starts with their code,” he says, speaking at the launching of the PSVARE’s book of standards.

While it starts with a code, the effects are expected to be far-reaching. With more energy efficient buildings, our aging power plants will not have to struggle to provide the country’s energy needs. The Philippines may even have enough reserves to stave off rotating brownouts when a power plant breaks down.

Energy efficiency will also mean the monthly power bill will not hurt the wallet as much. With people getting by on less electricity, even if power generation rates don’t go down, we’ll be paying less for better service.

The benefits are not just financial, Guevara says. He shows a satellite image of Semirara Island in Antique province, the northern tip of which seems to have been ravaged by an angry god. “This was caused by coal mining,” he says, a phenomenon he has seen happen in his own home province of Marinduque.

It is hoped that the PSVARE Standards, and the Philippine green building standards it contributes to, will prevent further destruction of the environment. With more energy efficient buildings, industries will need less fossil fuels to keep running. This means we may not have to mine as much of our country to feed the country’s—or just as likely, another, more developed country’s—energy needs.

Power Tweaks

Unfortunately, a Philippine green building code may still be years away, and will have little effect on the energy efficiency of structures that have already been built.

This is where energy management firms like Schneider Electric come in. Once a weapons manufacturer, Schneider is now in the business of ‘intelligent energy’ with subsidiaries that provide everything from circuit breakers and UPS units, to motion detectors and solar panels.

Schneider country president for the Philippines Philippe Reveilhac says that the country faces two challenges: how to provide the energy needed, and how to keep the cost of electricity down.

With Philippine power plants breaking down often, solving the first will take massive investments in infra- structure. In the meantime, Schneider can offer ways to keep energy costs down while also lessening productivity and equipment losses because of power failures. Our blackouts have even led Schneider subsidiary APC to design a UPS specifically for the power fluctuations particular to the Philippines.

Reveilhac says an energy audit can point out tweaks that can drastically lower office energy consumption. Lessening the light bulbs in a room, say, or installing a motion sensor that will adjust air conditioning to the number of people in a room. Even just isolating a win- dow with an insulating glass panel could mean a leap in energy efficiency. He says that existing buildings will not need drastic remodeling, but “we have to modify the way we used to do it.”

He says Schneider’s energy solutions require a large initial investment, something that may make companies shy away in an era of cutting costs. That’s why, Reveilhac says, “When we sell solutions, we tell [the client] how much they are going to save.” The marketing strategy seems to be working.

Energy efficiency is just one facet of combating climate change. We need to shift to renewable energy eventually, but as a short-term solution, conserving energy is the best—and the least—we can do.

Print ed: 06/10


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