Diversify energy sources, says Cabanilla

“There has to be other sources of energy.  We have to diversify.”

This was the main argument of Dr. Liborio S. Cabanilla, a retired professor and former dean of the College of Economics and Management (CEM), during his talk titled “Renewable Energy Development: A Good Political and Economic Agenda” on Thursday, June 27 at the Institute of Cooperatives and Bio-Enterprise Development (ICOPED) Auditorium, CEM, University of the Philippines Los Baños.

Though electricity in Mindanao which originates mostly from hydropower energy is low cost, its stability is uncertain and it is sensitive to any climatological changes, as explained by Dr. Cabanilla.

“Pag walang ulan, wala ka ng supply ng electricity. At lalo pang masama ‘yan, kung ‘yan lang ang pinanggagalingan ng electricity.”  (If there’s no rain, then there will be no supply of electricity. What’s worst is if that is the only source of electricity).

Dr. Cabanilla stated that the Philippines’ access to electricity is low compared to Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.   According to news reports, the Department of Energy (DOE) targets the country’s electrification level up to 90% by 2017.

From the issues raised during the seminar about the limited energy sources, Dr. Cabanilla pointed out the importance of the agriculture sector in the development and expansion of renewable energy sources particularly the use of biomass –an energy source derived from biological materials such as waste products, plants, and other raw materials like rice straws or dayami and bagasse or the extracted pulps of sugarcane.  Biomass could potentially produce approximately 235 megawatts.  Philippines can harness the production of biomass through the consolidation of the raw materials which can be converted into bioenergy such as biofuels.

“Energy is very important.  It is important likewise that we should not depend solely on very few sources of energy.  It makes sense to expand and diversify the sources of energy and energy from agriculture is important,” he emphasized.

Dr. Cabanilla argued that renewable energy sources in the Philippines should be diversified in order to have stable electricity access.  Economically, consumers tend to demand more in a limited energy supply.  He considered the case of Mindanao which is affected by rotating blackouts.

“As demand expands, supply has a limit.  The price of electricity will be forced to increase but, because the government regulates it, the price stays there.  Result…blackout,” said Cabanilla using the supply and demand graph pertaining to the limited energy sources.  He compared this graph with the one pertaining to diverse energy sources in which demand compensates with the supply.  Aside from hydro, Luzon and Visayas have more diverse stable energy sources –wind, geothermal, solar and fossil fuels.

“Mindanao is still suffering from rotating brownouts as much as 8-10 hours in some places,” he added.

Limited energy source also affects the level of electrification in the Philippines.  Dr. Cabanilla stated that the average electrification level in the country is about 80%.  Lower than 80% signifies the lack of electrical distribution which is evident in some areas in Mindanao like ARMM, Region 9, 11, 12 and Region 4-B in Luzon.  In contrast, the average cost of electricity per kilowatt-hour is close to 8.6 to 8.7 pesos.  In Mindanao, the cost of electricity plays at about 6 pesos. (Don Q. Castillo)

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