Bernardo M. Villegas
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Electrifying and Digitalising Remote Areas

          Those in the hospitality sector who can take a long-term view (five to ten years) have reason to be optimistic, despite the carnage that some five-star hotels have suffered.  Once the pandemic is put under reasonable control three years from now, the Philippines will be one of the first countries in Asia to enjoy a boom in international tourism.  Recently, an international magazine on travel and tourism ranked Palawan as the best island resort in the world, outshining such more famous islands as Bali and Hawaii.  If one considers that the Palawan cluster has more than 2,000 islands and that there are hundreds of other islands all over the Philippines that can compare with the attractions of Coron, El Nido, San Vicente and others resorts in Palawan, it is not being overly optimistic to project a very bright future for Philippine tourism over the next decade or so.  As long as the Government and the private sector persevere in implementing the Build, Build, Build program over the next decade or so, especially in the construction and renovation of airports all over the Archipelago, we can expect to be a destination of choice among the hundreds of millions of Chinese, South Koreans, Japanese, and Taiwanese who will be leading international tourism in East Asia. We can aspire to be what Spain has been to the Northern Europeans as a preferred tourism destination because of its sun and sand.  When I resided in Spain for a number of years at the beginning of this millennium, I was extremely impressed with the figures on international tourism.  In any given year, there were more international tourists than the entire population of Spain.

         There is a problem we have to solve, however.  Most of these paradise islands do not have access to electricity.  They are off grid.  That is why I was overjoyed when I learned of a project located in Sabang, Palawan where the famous underground river is.  It is a renewable energy hybrid power project being implemented by WEnergy Global Pte Ltd, a Singapore-based engineering and investment company that has technological partners in the Netherlands and Japan.  The project I am referring to is the Sabang Renewable Energy Corporation (SREC), which is the first 2.6 MW solar-diesel hybrid in the Philippines with a solar PV of 1.4 MWp, a durable tesla battery pack of 2.3 MWh and 1.2 MW of diesel generators.  SREC has a 14-km distribution grid, and currently supplies power to 559 small, medium and large sized off-takers in Barangay Cabayugan, Puerto Princesa City, Palawan that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Nature Protected Area.  It is providential that this first project is located in Puerto Princesa which hosts one of the three international airports in the main island.  Two other international airports will be in Coron and San Vicente, making Palawan the most accessible island resort  in the entire Philippines (not to mention the private airports in such exclusive resorts in the same island as El Nido, Lio, and Amampulo).

         SREC is the first Qualified Third Party (QTP) microgrid in the Philippines allowed by the Department of Energy and the Energy Regulatory Commission through a 20-year waiver by the Palawan Electric Cooperative (PALECO). It began operations in August 2019.  SREC operates and is prepared to supply sufficient amount and quality of electricity to satisfy the increasing demand in the next 20 years at ERC-approved tariff at a fraction of the previous cost n the area supplied by intermittent fossil-fuel generation.  This project also contributes to addressing the climate change problem by achieving an energy mix in its micro-grid that optimally uses renewable resources available in the area in a cost-effective and commercially viable way.  The percentage of solar in the energy mix was over 85 percent, while diesel contributed only 15 percent to the mix.  The system is also equipped with a remote energy and performance monitoring system to ensure transparency, reliability, and real-time responses.

         Since most of these attractive tourism destinations are in remote rural areas where there is high poverty incidence (sometimes as high as 40 to 50 percent), the SREC can be a model for international investment, sustainable development and a catalyst for inclusive growth.  With 24/7 clean, reliable, and affordable energy, this allows more small and medium-scale entrepreneurs to set up employment-generating businesses.  The availability of electricity will also redound to the welfare of both enterprises and individuals who can now benefit from the digital world as internet connections are enabled by the availability of electricity.  I am especially thinking of school children in these remote areas who can now more effectively participate in the blended learning methods that will surely be part of the new reality post-pandemic.  Small farmers and fisherfolk, among the poorest of the poor, can now preserve and store their produce contributing to the most important goal of food security which has been highlighted as a great national concern during the pandemic.   Those who are interested in getting more details about this solar-diesel hybrid of WEnergy Global can get in touch with their local office through +63 28395 3465 or email info@wenergyglobal.com   For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.