That climate change is upon us can no longer be denied.
Reports by experts and anecdotal evidence from communities around the world attest to the fact that the planet is warming, and that we are dangerously close to the runaway point where change is irreversible and impossible to slow down. Science has also established that fossil fuels and other “dirty” sources of energy, over centuries of industrialization, have been responsible for the drastic increase of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere. Most importantly, the manifestations of climate change are undeniable — extreme weather patterns that endanger people’s lives and livelihoods. The Philippines is now confronting the harsh reality of being one of the most vulnerable countries being hit by the destructive consequences of climate change.
This provided the impetus for a global movement to keep GHG emissions down by shifting to renewable energy (RE) sources. Different countries of the world, to varying degrees, have pledged to alter their consumption patterns to make good on their commitment to keep the change in overall global temperature below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
But the shift to RE is not just an environmental endeavor. It is likewise a strategic response to escalating energy demands that are specific to our country.
The pandemic dealt a serious blow to the Philippine economy. It exposed systemic weaknesses and gaps that need to be addressed. As we slowly make our way to recovery and, beyond that, to sustainable development for the benefit of our people, we acknowledge the need to upgrade our country’s energy infrastructure. This is especially true for key industries such as manufacturing, telecommunications, and digital services. I speak here not only for the immediate energy requirements, which are important in themselves, but also to set us onto a resilient, sustainable course toward a future characterized by economic growth, sustainable quality of life, and responsible stewardship of the environment.
The difficult energy situation we find ourselves in does not come as a surprise. The government itself admitted that some hydropower plants would face challenges and be unable to provide the power required by their serviced areas. We saw how the province of Occidental Mindoro was placed under a state of calamity: its difficult power situation had substantial negative consequences for households, institutions, and businesses alike.
We don’t want this happening to more areas in the country. We don’t want this happening, period.
To do this, we propose an RE-centric approach to achieving an optimal energy mix in the short, medium, and long term. By optimal, I mean a sustainable, reliable, and affordable energy mix, viably integrating renewable resources. This paradigm’s transformative potential is the result of the confluence of the continuing drive for economic progress that embraces environmental stewardship enabled by technological innovation.
This approach mitigates the risks associated with traditional energy sources, and in so doing, catalyzes economic growth. RE reduces our vulnerability to price fluctuations in fossil fuels, promoting predictable operational costs. A stable power supply is a key determinant of investors’ decision to infuse capital into the country. Unfortunately, we have the second-highest cost of electricity in Southeast Asia, next only to Singapore. While this is disheartening news, it also alerts us to the amount of work that is ahead of us. This makes a comprehensive upgrade of the energy infrastructure paramount. In the end, we set our sights on attracting — and keeping — long-term investments, which will foster sustained economic development. Such investments can be in numerous industries, ranging from manufacturing to technology, which can be made to thrive with a stable and cost-efficient energy supply.
Shifting to an RE-centric paradigm that would seamlessly integrate renewable sources will foster a more robust and stable power supply network. We can achieve this by being resolute and consistent in our efforts to comprehensively upgrade our energy infrastructure, specifically through smart grids, energy storage solutions, and grid expansion.
It is good to note that our energy officials appear to have a firm grasp not only of what needs to be done but, more importantly, how to do it. They have been aggressive in their policies promoting RE, such as feed-in tariffs and emission reduction targets. Solar and wind power, among the more common RE sources, have lately seen substantial cost reductions. Thus, they have become an increasingly attractive and cost-saving complement to traditional fossil fuels.
Another way to be RE-centric is by collaborating with international partners. Other countries can provide access to funding, transfer technology, and educate on best practices that may be applied to the local environment. Indeed, we can learn much from like-minded and similarly oriented counterparts. Our collaboration will pave the way for the Philippines’ stepping up to the challenge and blazing a trail in terms of sustainability.
The private sector has been exemplary in demonstrating how their stewardship of the environment positively impacts their operations and enhances the value of their enterprises. Businesses and industries have begun to tailor renewable solutions to their specific needs. Energy efficiency and cost-effectiveness, after all, are beneficial to their bottom line and brand reputation.
RE must be embraced as a vital complement to fossil fuel power generation, facilitating a balanced energy mix that ensures reliable power supply while mitigating the existential risk of global climate change.
Victor Andres “Dindo” C. Manhit is the president of the Stratbase ADR Institute.