FRESH VIEWPOINTS: A NEW PERSPECTIVE

By Brian James Lu

BRIAN JAMES J. LU, MMgt, is an entrepreneur, business adviser, government consultant, and is deeply involve in civil society organizations. He advocates good governance, ethical business practices, and social responsibilities. He is the President of the National Economic Protectionism Association (NEPA) and Chairman of the Foundation for National Development (Fonad). His broad experiences in the private and public sectors give him a unique perspective to advance his advocacies.

Last year, during his visit to Washington in the United States, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. stated that his administration is looking into the possibility of tapping nuclear power to address the energy needs of the Philippines. PBBM is not eyeing the likes of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP), but a “cutting-edge” micro-nuclear fuel technology that promotes the use of microreactors. According to the Department of Energy (DOE), microreactors are compact reactors that will be small enough to transport by truck.

Given that the Philippines is an archipelagic nation with more than 7,000 small and large islands, I believe this is both feasible and practical. Of course, the question here is the management of nuclear waste since nuclear reactors produce waste that is radioactive and lasts thousands of years. Therefore, nuclear waste disposal is a primary concern, which is a problem among nations utilizing nuclear energy.

But why is the President so keen to promote nuclear energy in addition to the various fuels the nation already uses? The answer lies in our country’s inability to solve its power crisis. According to the Asia Development Bank (ADB), the Philippines faces three energy insecurity problems: 1) electricity demand is growing fast; 2) the supply of electricity is often short of demand; 3) there is a discrepancy in the electrification rate between cities and rural areas. The enactment of the EPIRA law, or the Electric Power Industry Reform Act, seems to have failed to avert a power crisis. The much-vaunted reduction in power rates did not also materialize, as electricity rates in the country are still among the highest in Southeast Asia.

Remember that right after New Year 2024, Iloilo province was put into “crisis mode” as a power outage was experienced in Panay, Guimaras, and parts of Negros Occidental for more than 20 hours. The local government unit suspended classes, affecting work in various sectors. The restoration of electricity in all parts of the province took a week. The Iloilo City mayor was so infuriated that he called on both houses of Congress to conduct an investigation.

How about the power crisis in Occidental Mindoro? Since 2023, the province has been experiencing power crisis every day lasting for as long as 20 hours. This prompted the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (Provincial Board) to put the province under a state of calamity. The lone power supplier was only providing 12 megawatts (MW) to meet the power needs of the province, far from the demand of 30 MW. At its worst, the power supplier was operating at only 7.5 MW. The power supplier accused the National Power Corporation of not paying the fuel subsidy required for its other power plants.

In the case of Iloilo province, the power supplier and the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) were blaming each other for the massive power outages.

The economic effects of power outages are undeniable. According to the Philippine Independent Power Producers Association (PIPPA), for every five hours of no electricity, the country loses about 500 MW, which is equivalent to PHP556 million in economic losses. Combine this with that of traffic in Metro Manila and elsewhere, and you have a hefty amount of losses that are untenable for a developing country like the Philippines.

The Philippines is a net energy importer, although we produce oil, natural gas, and coal. Geothermal, hydropower, and other renewable sources account for a significant share of electricity generation. According to the United States’ Energy Information Administration (EIA), in 2019, the Philippines used the following in its energy consumption: petroleum and other liquids (45 percent), coal (36 percent), natural gas (7 percent), non-hydropower renewables (7 percent), and hydroelectricity (4 percent). The Malampaya gas field is coming to an end with its expected depletion this year. It is thus expected that, with its depletion, the Philippines will rely exclusively on imported liquefied natural gas in the following years. The depletion of the Malampaya gas facility is quite unfortunate since it has been the Philippines’ only source of gas since its operations started in the early 2000s.

The Philippines is far from utilizing renewable energy. According to recent data, renewable energy contributes approximately 26 percent of the country’s total energy consumption. This includes various sources such as hydropower, geothermal, wind, solar, and biomass.

The world is pushing towards renewable energy adoption. The Paris Climate Agreement marks a shift towards renewable energy use with the aim of limiting the rise of global average temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius. The agreement binds nations to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels to mitigate climate change. The Philippines is a signatory, together with 174 other countries, to the Paris Climate Agreement. As such, our country must conform to the agreement. Keep in mind that the Philippines lies within the Pacific typhoon belt, enduring an average of 20 typhoons annually.

In today’s quest for a sustainable source of energy, can we count on the current administration’s approach to tapping nuclear energy? Perhaps the answer lies in our desire for more alternative energy to power the growing economy. Nuclear energy may well be the key to our sustainable future.

It will take a lot of political will for the current administration to bring the country to nuclear energy levels. But in the interim, there is a need to develop renewable energy to conform with international agreements. For one, there is a need to prioritize investments in renewable energy infrastructure, including grid improvements and energy storage solutions.

An official from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) once stated that the main electricity highways from Luzon to Visayas are completely congested. I think that perhaps if these lines are not congested, just like the EDSA traffic, then we can see an improvement in the delivery of energy in every home and industry.