Governments around the world are wasting no time harnessing
sustainable energy—mostly because they do not have much of a choice anymore
As economies teeter on the brink and the maddening pace of technology races ahead, the UK, Canada, and several European countries are banking on more specific goals and regulations regarding carbon dioxide emissions.
America, on the other hand, seems to leave its green power initiatives to individual states and communities, while finding ways to provide financial incentives for going green.
Climate change has long been a significant social issue but is now losing its fashionable appeal as emerging economies position themselves for the onslaught of a new world order. To offset the eventual backlash, reducing emissions by curbing pollutant energy is the focus of various governments who wish to remain globally competitive.
As the world continues to progress, mankind continues to explore different sources of energy. However, not all of what has been created is valuable. It’s high time to sort out which viable energy sources will really help the environment—especially in the Philippine setting.
Let the Sun Shine
From a communist dictatorship to a hyper-market economy, China has gone through a spectacular transformation in less than 30 years. Its goal of quadrupling GDP by 2020 compels the government to intensify its effective use of renewable energy and achieve the low carbon holy grail.
Recent developments in China indicate that the government is taking steps to make solar power-generated electricity more economically viable for everyone. Aside from strides toward setting feed-in tariffs, China recently forged an agreement with the world’s largest photovoltaic cell manufacturer to construct a 2,000-megawatt photovoltaic farm in Mongolia—targeting a solar generation capacity of 300 megawatts by 2012 and 1,800 megawatts by 2020.
Reports show that China may far exceed its 2012 target and have 1,000 megawatts of solar power generation capacity by the end of this year. China is even set to expand its market to include willing customers in Asia and Africa.
In the Philippine setting, national development depends highly on the availability of adequate energy. However, there is no question that the supply of conventional power in the country is limited and insufficient to sustain the rapid growth of development. Other energy sources are being tapped even for a portion of the escalating fuel demand.
In 2005, the latest statistics from the National Statistical Coordination Board showed per capita consumption of energy estimated at 3.4 barrels of fuel oil equivalent (BFOE). Based on projections made by the Department of Energy (DOE), energy demand per capita is expected to be at 3.01 BFOE in 2010—61.5% of which is from local sources such as oil and oil products, natural gas, coal, geothermal, hydro, biomass, solar, and wind.
From the list, many believe that solar has the most potential. Although we often complain of discomfort during hot and sweaty summer days, energy conservationists regard 36°C of blistering sunlight as favorable weather.
Solar energy actually accounts for more than a third of the Philippines’ total energy demand. Its absolute contribution is predicted to rise from 0.6 million barrels of fuel oil equivalent (MMBFOE) in 2003 and 1.7 MMBFOE in 2007 to 3.0 MMBFOE in 2012. This is especially true now that the Philippine government is working double-time on implementation to invigorate the market for solar water heaters and locally fabricated solar dryers and wind pumps.
Senator Edgardo Angara, author of Renewable Energy Act of 2008, also believes solar is the way to go. Angara is proud to disclose that ADB is planning to invest US$2.25 billion in financing solar projects throughout the country. This new investment is expected to give the country 3,000 megawatts by 2013.
But one rampant issue among solar users here in the Philippines are misconceptions that negatively reflect on the renewable power source. Many people think that the most critical component is the PV module but, in reality, the heart of the system is the battery. Unaware of this fact, there has been a tendency to over-use the battery, thereby reducing its operating life. Add to that the fact that a lot of Filipinos think solar electricity is the same as electricity from electric utilities, where you can use all types of electric appliances.
Water Is Power
Blessed with large reserves of water resources, hydropower is another thing that has made it onto China’s priority list. Statistics show that, by the end of 2005, the installed capacity of China’s exploitable water power resources was 117 million kilowatts, or about 24% of its potential. However, the Chinese government hopes to boost its capacity to 300 million kilowatts by 2020.
China’s hydropower development can be compared to a roller-coaster ride. After peaking in the 1980s, the industry slowed down after some concluded it required too many heavy investments and long construction periods compared to other resources like coal.
Today, however, enthusiasm for hydropower seem to be on an upswing as some proponents argue that the high cost and long construction periods are due to the multi-functional nature of using hydropower energy. Experts say costs are low if calculated on an overall and long-term basis. With this, China immediately announced the construction of facilities on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, representing a capacity of 18.6 million kilowatts. The country’s evaluation work also resulted in the identification of 13 large hydropower bases across China—together accounting for 67% of the nation’s total exploitable water resource.
Until today, the development of hydropower remains controversial. Concerns largely related to environment, security, and social impact continue to rise, but proponents argue that such problems could be solved by improving regulatory and management efforts. They cite countries like the United States, Japan, France, and Germany having a 73–84% exploitation ratio. China’s rate is expected to be around 70% when it attains its desired goal in 2020.
As in China, the mountainous region of Northern Luzon has long tempted dam builders, especially now that the Chico River (said to have a potential of bringing 140 megawatts of energy), has been fully developed. Locally, it can be pointed out that hydroelectric power plants usually bring two great benefits to the host community—first is road improvement; the second is the economic impact during construction.
Currently, the country has a total 134 hydroelectric power plants in operation. Plans to double its existing hydropower capacity from 2,518 megawatts in 2002 to 5,468 megawatts in 2013 through the indicative capacity addition of 2,950 megawatts is underway.
But while the Philippines boasts over 420 principal rivers and watershed areas, ranging up to 25,000 square kilometers, opposition on the construction of hydropower dams has severely displaced a lot of people, mostly indigenous groups who make their home in ancestral lands. Worse, incidents of indigenous people being murdered over the issue have been reported.
The Philippines is not the only country in the Southeast Asian region that is rich in geothermal energy. As one of the countries situated in the Pacific Ring of Fire, the country has approximately 4,500 megawatts of proven geothermal reserves.
Neighboring countries within the Coral Triangle Region—particularly Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea—are not only abundant in marine resources but also possess huge geothermal energy potential.
In the region, Indonesia is the undisputed leader in the world with 27 gigawatts, while the United States and the Philippines are the largest geothermal energy producers with 2,958 and 1,931 megawatts, respectively.
Currently, 17% of the Philippines’ electricity needs is generated from geothermal energy. The government has set a goal to increase this figure from the current 2 gigawatts to 4.5 gigawatts in 2020. The Philippines has also set its sights on 10 potential geothermal sites in Cagayan, Oriental Mindoro, Ben- guet, Palawan, Laguna, and Surigao Del Norte.
Despite benefiting over 3.3 million households (or an estimated 7.6 million people) since its development in 1978, the Philippines still has a lot of untapped resources for geothermal energy, according to Mitchell Stark of Chevron Philippines.
Stark cites some problems in using geothermal energy such as exploration risks, high initial capital cost to build the plants, logistical hindrances, and the need to locate the plant near the resource. “However, the advantages still outweigh these disadvantages,” he says. He has advised the energy department to double its efforts to fully take advantage of this abundant and clean energy source, especially in light of the global financial crisis, fuel shortage, and environmental concerns.
Answering the challenge, the DOE recently unveiled a road map to increase the country’s share of renewable energy supply to 50% or 15,000 megawatts by 2030. To hit the target, the DOE created a task list to develop various renewable energy sources. The list includes preparing maps for wind energy sites, determining the balance between biomass feedstock needs and food supply, and encouraging private-public sector partnerships.
Based on current records, the renewable energy supplies satisfy just a quarter of the what the Philippines needs. The country’s total installed capacity as of the first quarter of 2010 is 15,896 megawatts, led largely by coal-based power plants with an installed capacity of 4,523 megawatts.
What these figures suggest is that the many streams and rivers coursing through the Philippine archipelago are but veins supporting a massive natural infrastructure, so far insufficiently tapped. Harness them and whole cities are reborn. Harness their energy and, soon, a new age will commence.
Print ed: 7/11