Years ago, restaurants and shops in Barangay Cabayugan, Puerto Princesa City could not offer ice water to thirsty tourists. Cabayugan is home to Puerto Princesa City Subterranean River National Park (PPSRNP), one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Fishers also found it hard to preserve their catch because ice was unavailable. Due to the lack of refrigeration and storage facilities for food, most of the products were sourced from the city proper, which is 67 kilometers away.
Fortunately, residents no longer have to deal with these problems after a solar microgrid project started its operation in the area.
The project of Sabang Renewable Energy Corp. (SREC), which is composed of 1.4-megawatt photovoltaic solar energy, 2.3-megawatt battery pack and 1.2-megawatt diesel generator, has been powering a 14-kilometer smart grid since 2019.
The power plant, considered the country’s first hybrid microgrid project, provides electricity to public and private establishments, and houses in Cabayugan in a “close to carbon neutral manner,” SREC said in a statement.
The solar microgrid project paved the way for economic opportunities that significantly benefited local communities and tourists visiting the Underground River. The tourism destination draws an estimated one million visitors every year.
“The project boosted the tourism industry since electricity became available in the area. The products and commodities that were not previously available are now accessible to both locals and tourists. Like ice,” said Gualbert Manaay, communications, education and public awareness officer of the PPSRNP-Protected Area Management Office.
Changing locals’ lives
Because of the availability of electricity, the operating hours of business establishments increased, allowing residents to earn even during nighttime.
“[The power plant] really uplifted the situation of the locality especially now that they are energized and clean energy is available to them 24/7. The power plants’ operation also does not generate noise,” Manaay said.
Public school teachers in the village used to travel for more than an hour just to have learning materials photocopied in the city proper. This time, they can reproduce documents in their schools with ease and convenience.
Teachers also noticed improvements in the academic performance of students following the electrification of Cabayugan.
Celestino Santander, a tourist boat operator, said before SREC offered services in their locality, all houses had their own portable generators. Today, they no longer have to endure loud noises from generator sets.
“SREC is our way of fulfilling our mission to combine emerging and existing technologies to provide adaptable and innovative energy solutions that improve the economy and way of life of Cabayugan,” SREC chairperson Emil Garcia said during their company’s opening program.
According to SREC owner WEnergy Global, around 21,514 tons of carbon emissions may be reduced in 20 years through the utilization of the power plant. That figure is equivalent to approximately 9.1 million liters of gasoline saved.
SREC’s consortium Vivant Energy Corp., Gigawatt Power Inc., and WEnergy Global are planning to provide stable power supply to over 10,000 more households and businesses across 22 villages in Palawan through mini grid projects.
In a report released in 2017, the International Renewable Energy Agency noted the archipelagic nature of the Philippines makes providing electricity in many isolated islands and remote communities a challenge.
“Diesel mini-grids are mainly used to provide limited electricity supply in these areas,” it said.
Solution to Palawan’s energy crisis
Many residents of Puerto Princesa consider the entry of the microgrid project in the locality as a solution to the looming energy crisis in the province.
Electric consumers in Puerto Princesa and the municipalities in Palawan have been experiencing frequent power outages, which affect the daily lives of residents and hurt the local economy.
A microgrid project similar to SREC is seen to potentially solve Palawan’s energy crisis as it will provide reliable power to consumers with very minimal possibility of power outages.
During her visit to the Philippines in November, United States Vice President Kamala Harris talked about the potential investment deals that will help the Philippines in expanding its use of renewable energy and its possible contribution to job generation.
Puerto Princesa is one of the cities assisted by the United States Agency for International Development through its Energy Secure Philippines (ESP) project. It is a P1.6-B initiative that aims to promote clean energy and support climate mitigation goals.
But USAID ESP’s Policy and Legal Specialist Atty. Joel Villalon said Puerto Princesa should also enact its local energy code to attract potential investors for other renewable energy projects.
It should also promote and regulate the development of conventional, alternative, renewable and other energy resources, and implement energy efficiency and conservation measures.
Need for reliable, environment-friendly power
Felizardo Cayatoc, officer-in-charge of Palawan’s Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office, said that both solar and hydropower are suitable to meet the province’s need for reliable, cheaper, and environment-friendly power supply. Palawan is considered the country’s last ecological frontier.
“What we need here are solar and hydropower, which are renewable energies,” he said.
According to a July 2022 report of think tank Ember, the demand for electricity in Southeast Asia grew to 22% from 2015 to 2021. However, clean power generation only met 39% of the region’s rise in electricity demand in the same period. In the Philippines, 12% of the increase in electricity demand was met by clean sources.
Cayatoc noted that the rising cost of fuel used in other modes of power generation makes renewable energy projects viable and acceptable in the province.
“Crude oil is so expensive. Generator sets also use crude oil. In renewable energy, power is cheap since it is sourced from the sun,” he said.
Cayatoc added that microgrids will help fill the needs of the residents in the island-towns if established and operated in these non-energized parts of Palawan.
The first solar microgrid in the country operated in a tourist destination in Puerto Princesa, Palawan is proof that electrification even in geographically isolated areas is possible.