Energy independence

>> Friday, June 16, 2017

Ike Señeres

While it is true that we have been politically independent for over a hundred years now, there is still a lot of debate whether we are really economically independent or not. I choose not to take sides regarding that issue, but as far as I am concerned, I am very, very sure that we are not yet energy independent and there is no point in debating that either.
We are all entitled to our own opinions, but again as far as I am concerned, a hundred years is too long to be dependent on fossil fuels and more so if it is beyond that and more so if these dirty fuels are imported from foreign sources. That might actually sound redundant, but I meant it that way, to stress my point that we are not energy independent because we are dependent on foreign energy inputs. Just in case you missed it, there is actually a double meaning here, because we are not only dependent on dirty fossil fuels; we are also dependent on foreign supplies.
 Importing and using fossil fuels is not only bad for our economy, it is also bad for our environment. It is bad for our economy because we have to pay for these imports in American dollars that is in turn reducing our foreign exchange reserves. It is bad for our environment because it not only pollutes our air; it also weakens our ozone layer.
If for some reason these negative impacts are not enough to convince us to stop using fossil fuels, then perhaps the positive impacts of using renewable energy sources would convince us, because the positives far outweigh the negatives. Firstly, renewable energy is practically free, that is after the initial infrastructure costs are recovered. Secondly, renewable energy does not pollute our environment because it is clean. Thirdly, it creates local jobs. Fourthly, it strengthens our national security because there is no more threat of losing our raw materials in the event of an oil crisis.
You might want to call it common sense, but I would rather call it an obvious reality that most of the renewable energy sources could be found here in the Philippines, while most of the fossil sources could be found abroad. Of course ordinary logic would tell us that it would be more practical to use raw materials that are already here instead of using raw materials that are not here and therefore should be imported. Simple as that logic may be, it simply does not happen simply because global geopolitics is not as simple as it seems, and big business simply has to survive even if it makes money at the same time that it is destroying the environment. If only we could understand the logic of big business, we could understand why the United States would withdraw from the Paris Accord as if climate change is not really that real.
Had I not seen the actual success stories, it would have been difficult for me to believe that it is possible for entire countries to become one hundred percent independent from foreign imported fuels. But I have seen that some countries have already done it, notably Iceland. Some might argue that Iceland has done it because it has lots of geothermal sources, but we do have lots of geothermal sources too, plus many other renewable sources that Iceland may not even have.
For example, Iceland may not have that many arable areas that could produce biomass in the form of planted wood species and a variety of giant grass species such as King Grass, Bana Grass and Napier. Although these biomass sources may already be good sources of renewable energy in the form of dendro thermal power, it would also be practical to tap our other sources such as hydropower, geothermal, wind, solar, wind and tidal.
Nowadays, it does not take a rocket scientist to produce renewable energy, because most of the technologies needed are already in the commercial market. It also does not take a genius economist to figure out that no matter how much money is needed to build the infrastructure needed to produce renewable energy, we could always recover these costs because of our savings from the importation of coals and petroleum fuels.
Aside from the savings however, we could also gain from more productivity because there would be more investors that would come to the Philippines because of cheaper power costs. Of course, there are other econometric gains to consider, such as the possibility of having higher longevity among our people because of cleaner air.
I have no question in my mind that it is possible for the Philippines to achieve energy independence in the future. As it is now, it is no longer of “how”, because it is now a question of “when”. It is also no longer a question of technological knowhow, because it is now just a question of political will.
The question of “when” could be answered by setting a national goal that has a timeline or a deadline, if you please. Whatever that timeline is, it could come sooner than later, but really, really it should not take us another hundred years or so to make that happen. Actually, it has been said connectivity is the lifeblood of the new economy. I will not debate that, but I will ask what good is connectivity if there is no electricity?

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