Redouble Efforts to Address Doubled Threats

A recent study revealed that the number of intense floods and storms could double within 13 years due to rising carbon dioxide worldwide, threatening the environment and the world’s socio-economic progress. In particular, the results showed that floods and storms are likely to increase by nine percent for every one percent rise in the carbon dioxide level.

The research, entitled “Impacts of Carbon Dioxide Emissions on Global Intense Hydrometeorological Disasters” used climate data from 155 countries, collected over 46 years from 1970 to 2016. The study concluded that the continuous increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide in the last 40 years was significantly correlated with the rise of extreme disasters.

The research also stressed that the Philippines could face more devastating natural disasters, particularly storms and typhoons. This is because the country faced roughly nine extreme hydrometeorogical disasters yearly, significantly higher when compared to the single disaster per year of other countries.

One of the authors of the study, Vinod Thomas, as quoted in an article in The Inquirer, warned that “One more extreme event in the Philippines, for example, one more Supertyphoon ‘Yolanda’, Typhoon ‘Pablo’ or Tropical Storm ‘Ondoy’ (Ketsana), would strain the country’s ability to cope.” The strain on the country’s infrastructure can be severe. We need to re-think on our resiliency strategies given this inevitable fact.

The authors concluded that the world needs more investments in disaster risk reduction and mitigation and the Philippines has to redouble its efforts in climate change adaptation. “But all the adaptation in the world will not be enough if we do not mitigate…The Philippines has to cut back on the use of coal and fossil fuels, and go all out for wind and solar power.”

This recently released study isn’t the first to call for more action on climate change mitigation and adaptation measures. We have all been at the receiving end of warnings telling us to limit carbon dioxide emissions by shifting to cleaner power or we’ll all suffer the wrath of natural disasters.

For example, David Eckstein, a Germanwatch policy advisor on climate finance and investments, has previously warned that “Countries like Haiti, Philippines, and Pakistan are repeatedly hit by extreme weather events and have no time to fully recover. That underlines the importance of reliable financial support mechanisms for poor countries like these not only in climate change adaptation but also for dealing with climate-induced loss and damage.” 

typhoon c:o reuters

Countries like the Philippines are repeatedly hit by extreme weather events and have no time to fully recover says David Eckstein, a Germanwatch policy advisor on climate finance and investments. Photo c/o Reuters

Yet, despite these dire warnings, coal remains the king of our local power mix. In 2018, coal made up 52.05 of our energy mix. On the other hand, renewable energy only contributed less than a fourth at 22.7 percent. This figure isn’t likely to improve since 80 percent of the committed energy projects are still coal power plants as a Greenpeace noted in a report. Naysayers will point out that any contribution in RE from the Philippines will amount to nothing. I think that view is very shortsighted. The sooner that we, as a country, learn the ways of sustainable energy, the better it is for our children and their children.

Our country needs to do its share in limiting the world’s carbon dioxide level. The Philippines is one of the countries that suffer the most from extreme weather events. Thus, we need to rely more on renewable power than coal. 

Paving the way for renewables to flourish in our country requires additional infrastructure, particularly, smart grids and distributed energy resource. Let us remember, that these two are key technologies in renewable energy development. 

It is also imperative for us to beef up on our energy resilience With all the warnings that the Philippines is one of the countries that suffer and will suffer most from extreme weather events. We need to put our money in putting up distributed generation systems and smart grids while we work harder on climate change mitigation and adaptation measures.

And we can make this shift if we also invest in smart grid and distributed energy. These two are key technologies in renewable energy development. 

The smart grid offers an electric power system capable of integrating the actions of all users from the power generators to users. This means integrations of higher levels of renewable energy is possible with smart grids, unlike the rigid and inflexible grids. Distributed Energy Resources or DERs, on the other hand, allow are small-scaled power generation or storage technologies that offer an alternative to the traditional electric power system. It allows for power generation near where electricity will be used. 

Plus, smart grids and DERs help in making our country more resilient to the impact of natural disasters. Let’s remember that power loss is rampant after we get hit by typhoons given our centralized energy system requires long power lines to deliver electricity. Weather disturbances often compromise power lines simultaneously, leaving thousands of countrymen without electricity. Thus, having smart grids and DERs will help decentralize power production where only a few will suffer power loss after disaster strikes.

As we rally for a greater share of renewable power in our energy mix, we should also invest more in smart grids and distributed energy. Replacing coal with renewable power while slowly moving away from the traditional way of transmission and distribution is key to fighting climate change and increasing our energy resilience.

References:

PH faces disasters ‘others haven’t seen’

Smart Grids and Distributed Energy for Disaster Resilience

Typhoon Ursula hit during Christmas time and left several provinces devastated. Its impact includes damaged power supply structures, leaving many many Filipinos without electricity for weeks.

In Aklan, power yet has to be restored three weeks after Ursula made its landfall. According to the Aklan Electric Cooperative or Akelco, the firm is targeting normalization of power supply in some parts of the province by January 25, almost a month since Ursula’s arrival.

Unfortunately, despite round-the-clock efforts to restore electricity, only 60 percent of 381 villages’ power supply has been restored. Power restoration is a massive undertaking in the province given Ursula’s destruction. There were 1144 electric posts either damaged or destroyed. “Several of our primary and backbone lines were destroyed or damaged, that is why full restoration is taking time,” an Akelco engineer was quoted in a news report.

Naturally, being without electricity is hurting the businesses in the province. According to the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) the micro, small and medium enterprises are the ones suffering most from the lack of electricity in the areas as generator sets needed to power their businesses cost a lot of money to operate.

ursula

Electric posts felled by Typhoon Ursula in Capiz. Photo c/o inquirer.net

Similarly, electric cooperatives in other parts of Visayas are also begging consumers for patience as restoration of power takes time. An executive from Samar II Electric Cooperative is appealing to consumers for more patience and understanding. The cooperative is being criticized for its inability of the cooperative to bring back electricity. The linesmen have been at the receiving end of harsh comments, too, prompting the executive to explain that the cooperative has to also look out for the safety of linemen as well.

“These are stories that sometimes never made it in the news. We don’t want to make grandstanding, what we want is for people to know how our linemen risk their lives just to get the power back to your respective houses and properties.” 

Unfortunately, we are a country that is and will be repeatedly hit by extreme weather events. The Philippines will always experience the wrath of natural disasters. This means that Filipinos will have to endure the effects of natural calamities like being without power. If we can recall, it took almost six months for power to be restored after Super Typhoon Yolanda devastated the Visayas region in 2013. It was reported that six linemen died in the restoration process.

For the power sector, this means investing in infrastructures such as distributed generation and smart grids. 

The traditional model of power supply and distribution is proving to be detrimental and even deadly for us Filipinos. Let us keep in mind that central power production means that energy has to be carried via power lines spanning long distances. This means any damage to a single line leaves thousands of homes without power.

In extreme weather disturbances like typhoons, dozens of power lines are compromised simultaneously. The transmission company and distributors then work double-time to determine which lines are affected and which broken ones should be fixed first. Only then can the crews and linemen start the physical side or power restoration.

This is where smart grids and distributed energy come in. Since power is produced in many places, only a handful will be affected if the facilities of a power producer are badly damaged. Even then, those being supplied by the affected power producer may not even experience a power loss. Thanks to the smart grid, electricity can be sourced from another generation node so those affected by the compromised line or power generator can be supplied by another generator.

This is the advantage of moving away from the traditional way of power transmission and generation. Distributed energy along with smart grids can make an area extremely resilient from the wrath of natural calamities.

The traditional model of central production, transmission and generation are slowly being replaced by distributed energy and smart grids. And rightly so, as explained by Josiah Nelson, Chairman, and CEO at Trolysis, a renewable energy company producing on-site, on-demand hydrogen power from aluminum and water.

“Not many people realize this, but in the majority of the country, if there’s a compromised line or a power outage, the power company has no way of knowing until customers pick up the phone and tell the utility that they’ve lost power. This is a horribly backwards way of detecting outages and is a perfect example of the decades-old technology our grid is built on.”

Aside from smart grids and distributed energy, our government should also consider underground conduits that can carry power and even telecommunication cables. Naturally, underground conduits are more unlikely to be damaged during typhoons.

We cannot change our geographical location, nor can we prevent typhoons or other natural disasters from happening. Neither can we change the fact that power restoration with our existing facilities is a dangerous task. What we can do is increase the country’s resilience against natural disasters. This means shifting away from decades-old technology and making way for new ones. Doing so requires acknowledgment of our need for such, proper regulation and more investments.