Electricity from the Earth

KIWI PERSPECTIVE - Reuben Levermore (The Philippine Star) - March 27, 2014 - 12:00am

Recent visits to Manila by New Zealand Minister of Civil Defence Nikki Kaye, and former Mayor of Christchurch Sir Bob Parker, were opportunities to share with the Philippines our respective experiences in preparing for, and responding to, major natural disasters.

Although the Christchurch earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 did not claim anywhere near the human toll inflicted by Typhoon Yolanda, it is said to be the fourth largest insurance event in history and requires a rebuild of the business district in our second largest city. Authorities in both countries have faced similar challenges: relocating communities from disaster zones, returning to business as usual, putting in place a recovery plan, and building back more resilient communities. Time, patience, and a good deal of determination and coordination is required. But as Sir Bob Parker told a recent conference organised by the Asia Society, “tragedy equals opportunity.”

At the very same time as these visits took place, a renewable energy delegation of some 18 companies from New Zealand also visited Manila — a reminder that the same geological attributes that make both New Zealand and the Philippines vulnerable to earthquakes can also be harnessed for electricity generation.

New Zealand and the Philippines have a long and proud history of energy cooperation. In the early 1970s, as the world sought alternative sources of fuel to oil, technical assistance funded by the New Zealand Government helped contributed towards the development of the first geothermal energy fields in the Philippines, at Tongonan and Palinpinon.

Nearly 40 years on, and the Philippines is the world’s second largest generator of electricity from geothermal steam. New Zealand is also a major geothermal player, with our companies looking for opportunities offshore. New Zealand companies provide consulting services and technical support to partners in the Philippines and scholarships provided by the New Zealand aid programme have included those for post-graduate study at Auckland University’s geothermal institute including, in recent times, an official from the Department of Energy’s geothermal energy division.

I recently made a day trip to Biliran province in the Eastern Visayas to visit a geothermal site that is under development which includes New Zealand participation. Biliran is one of the smallest provinces in the country, with an economy heavily reliant on basic agriculture and fishing. Thankfully it escaped most of the worst effects of Typhoon Yolanda. But like neighbouring Leyte province, it sits atop an area of geological and volcanic activity that can be harnessed for energy production and, in so doing, the creation of local jobs.

The opportunity is not only in geothermal. The same engineering expertise that supports the hydro-electric sector in New Zealand is working to restore dams to full capacity in the Philippines. New Zealand produces 75% of its electricity needs from renewable sources — hydro, geothermal, wind, solar, and biomass. The figure is also high for the Philippines at around 40%.

With the Philippines in need of greater energy generation capacity in order to meet growing demands, my hope is that collaboration with New Zealand will be part of the solution.

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(Reuben Levermore is the Ambassador of New Zealand.)


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