Renewables for a new way of life

- Estela Banzon-De La Paz () - June 12, 2006 - 12:00am
It is often said that energy is the entry point of economic growth. As such, those living in remote areas that have not been energized have remained impoverished and have had little economic growth opportunities.

With this in mind, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) through its Capacity Building to Remove Barriers to Renewable Energy Development (CBRED) is pushing for the acceleration of the use of renewable energy especially for areas which are not connected to the grid. Such areas are called off-grid sites. These areas are usually five kilometers away from the last electrical post of the existing electric cooperative or distribution utility.

Francis Benito, UNDP Project Director for CBRED said "we want to accelerate the implementation of clean renewable energy through the formulation of policies that will support the industry." Right now, CBRED is pushing for the passage of the Renewable Bill.

Renewable energy comes from sources that renew and replenish themselves constantly such as wind, sunlight, moving water and heat from under the earth. Such energy is clean and therefore, environment-friendly. Other clean fuels include natural gas which is dubbed as the –bridge fuel of the future–as the cost of renewables will still need some form of subsidy to make it commercially viable.

According to CBRED, renewables are the energy of the future because it may be the answer to the depleting and environmentally-harmful fossil fuels like crude oil and coal.

Along with this, the US-AID through its Alliance for Mindanao Off-Grid Renewable Energy (AMORE) Program has used solar power to energize far-flung villages in Mindanao.

Tetchi Cruz-Capellan, Chief of Party US-AID Amore, said "we want to show that poor communities are bankable if they use renewables." In fact, based on their studies and experience, these communities experience a drop in their expenses for electricity-related costs. From an average of about P1,000 a month because of the need to buy kerosene, batteries,etc., for lighting and charging of cell phones, expenses have been trimmed down to P300 a month.

What is more touching, according to Capellan is the improvement in the lives of the people in these far-flung villages. The villagers now earn more as they can produce more of their craft or store their produce. Citing an example, before the village was energized, a rattan maker can make only one furniture in three days. With electricity, they can now actually make 10 units in a day.

The US-AID has partnered with several private firms to make its AMORE Project successful. It has tied up with Mirant Corp. for the solar panels used for energizing the villages; and Knowledge Channel which supplies TV sets in schools to improve the quality of education in these far-flung areas. Knowledge Channel is part of the Lopez Group.

So far, Capellan said AMORE has energized about 7,000 households in Zamboanga, Sultan Kudarat, and Davao since it started in Dec. 2002. As such, they are now starting on the second phase of Amore.

With the positive development in the use of renewables in remote areas, Capellan is hopeful that there will be more private firms supporting the drive to use this alternative energy to power areas that otherwise will remain powerless for a long time.
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