Erle Frayne D. Argonza
Good morning from the Philippines suburban boondocks!
Erecting energy grids is the main thing in energy distribution and could be so for some decades to come. The Philippines has been among the most notably advanced in building a grid infrastructure in its large islands (Luzon, Mindanao), a precedent that has been emulated by other developing countries.
Observably, power production had somehow followed the course of grid infrastructures. That is, it had been facile to install and operate energy production plants for many countries, including island republics, following the distribution lines of energy grids.
The dilemma in power production comes with the hinterlands of developing countries. Situated too far distant from grid lines, energizing hinterland villages had proved to be a daunting task particularly for island republics.
Ironically, the Philippines has been one of those countries where many hinterland villages remain without power. The key reason is that tapping power along the grid lines for the hinterlands is simply un-feasible from a marketing sense, and so the solution is to build small-scale power plants in or near the villages themselves.
Even that option—of installing micro-power plants in situ—proves to be un-feasible using standard yardsticks of economies of scale. The solution adopted by RP’s energy experts is to innovate on hybrid technology, with clean technologies such as solar power on the frontline.
Two (2) years ago, the state’s energy department pronounced that merely 900+ barangays (villages) out of the country’s over 42,000 barangays remain without electricity. The regime of the previous president Gloria Arroyo promised to energize the said villages before her term ends in May 2010.
Alas! Arroyo’s term had already ended and a new president—Noynoy Aquino—has been installed to power, but the electrification of the said villages is nowhere in site! Just exactly what ‘barriers to entry’ continue to hound the hinterlands electrification program seems to be kept as tightly guarded secret by the energy department, a fact that is tainted with transparency questions (the mass media is a bit silent about the matter).
I do recall that the contemporary hinterlands electrification program in RP began yet with the incumbency of then Secretary Vince Perez, an investment banker, who sat in the post for four (4) consecutive years. He was later replaced by Popo Lotilla, a laywer and economist, with similar pronouncements made by his office regarding the matter. Angelo Reyes, former defense secretary, then replaced Lotilla as energy secretary, and heralded the same pronouncements about electrification targets for the hinterlands.
Secretaries Perez and Lotilla are brilliant minds no less, as I recall both gentlemen pretty well during our freshmen years at the University of the Philippines (Diliman, the flagship campus). They were my former dorm mates at the Kalayaan Residence Hall for freshmen, we were then the first batch of residents, and at that time I could already sense the aura of brilliance in the two gentlemen.
The energy sector surely grew more robust and dynamic during the incumbency of the energy secretaries Perez and Lotilla, and the patterns they set were then followed by those who replaced them later. I just hope that the visions and program targets their respective offices have set will be followed without reserve, as time had already elapsed since they left their respective offices (they are now back to their private practice).
With a new president now sitting in power, the question remains the same: will the 900+ villages see the electric lights at night very soon? Or, will the same villages continue to wallow in the ‘dark age’ of zero electricity?
Meantime, let us hope that the situation for other island republics isn’t as bad as it is in RP that leads the world in grid technologies yet is lackluster in electrifying the hinterlands. What sayeth New Zealand and its development experts concerning the matter? [NZ is an island republic too, and it seemed to have made enormous mileage in total electrification.]
[Philippines, 31 August 2010]
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