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Illuminating Juan dela Cruz

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There appears to be a looming power crisis in the Philippines.

Meralco predicts an oncoming shortage in the next three years, an event that would no doubt trigger national outrage and much lamentation. But the Department of Energy (DOE) readily dispels Meralco’s worst fears, assuring the public it will provide 868 megawatts in Luzon’s power plants from 2013 until 2016. This year alone, the DOE plans to build five power plants in Luzon.

Meralco’s claim, however, seems accurate considering reports of frequent blackouts in Luzon and Mindanao in the past months. The government and the private sector are already scrambling for possible solutions, without settling on any particular course of action. Either hopes to produce enough energy for the country and, at the same time, promote conservation among the general public.

The perspective on the dire straights of local utilities changes when foreign firms envision their opportunities here. During the 4th Philippine Energy Efficiency Forum in July, Philippe Reveilhac, country president at Schneider Electric Philippines, claimed that Manila is all set to become a smart city.

Cities are ‘smart’ when they are able to sustain a high quality of life through investments in infrastructure such as transportation and IT, Reveilhac says. If Reveilhac’s assumption is correct, the Philippines will be on par with Hong Kong and China in the near future.

A possible solution for efficient power use cited by Fabia Tetteroo- Bueno, general manager at Philips Electronics & Lighting, is using light- emitting diodes or LEDs.

“The Philippines is wasting 40– 50% of energy because of old-fashioned lighting solutions,” she says. In a report Tetteroo-Bueno presented, LEDs enable electricity consumers to save 40% of energy, which can even go as high as 80% when partnered with smart controls.

The benefits of using LED include greater longevity compared to the usual incandescent lamps. The traditional lamp releases 90% more heat than light, unlike LEDs that produce and absorb heat at the same time.

“LEDs are also cheaper and easier to maintain,” she adds. Moreover, LED lamps provide a vibrant atmosphere with its exquisite lighting effect, lessening road accidents and fostering security.

LEDs produce a sophisticated lighting effect, Tetteroo-Bueno points out. Rizal Park uses LEDs, along with other cities and provinces in the country.

The lights installed in Rizal Park in June aim to enhance the national hero’s monument and its surroundings, aside from minimizing government spending.

Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr quipped, “The department doesn’t light up Rizal Park because they are scared of ghosts or the dark, but because it is sacred.”

Watt Matters
Studies done by NXLED, a manufacturer of LED, reports that given a base of Php11 per kilowatt hour, a 25-watt compact fluorescent lamp will consume Php11,000 worth of electricity in 40,000 hours. But an eight-watt LED bulb will cost only Php3,250.

Expand this computation to include the number of households and their spend in a specific area and the implications will take your breath away. But this sudden proliferation of LEDs will not happen any time soon. It seems the real challenge is making the public aware of the implications of their monthly electric bill. This idea is the reason behind Watt Matters. According to Energy Secretary Carlos Petilla, the website was created so that users will know how much they consume for each appliance.

Watt Matters provides the average Filipino electricity consumer with a brief analysis on the most affordable appliance depending on a consumer’s location. It also provides a comparison between two alternative appliances of your choice.

Although created by the Energy Department, the website does not take a ‘.gov’ extension. Petilla says they dropped the gov domain name to make a statement: It belongs to the people, not the government.

There actually exists a broad range of applications and practical hacks that can minimize electricity usage. The NGO My Shelter Foundation, for example, helps Filipinos in Manila’s slum areas own an open-source, recycled light source.

The invention, called the Solar Bottle Bulb, went viral last year. It can brighten the inside of a small room when placed above the corrugated roof of a shanty. The Solar Bottle Bulb is a mixture of bleach and water in an old soda bottle, which produces 55 watts of light when the bottle refracts the sun’s rays.

Innovations like these serve as makeshift solutions to a broader energy problem. But the truth is they are only a drop in a very large, problematic bucket.

A decisive breakthrough catering to the entire nation is needed. With innovations like solar panels and hydroelectricity, which can be funded by foreign investors, another question arises when it reaches the market. As Secretary Petilla points out, “What will be the end price when it reaches the consumers?”

While the government and society at large grasps at straws, it falls on the average Filipino to educate himself about his monthly consumption. And, perhaps, find a way to thrive in a modern world threatened by darkness.

Print ed: 08/13


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