End energy poverty, go for clean and renewable solutions
In a country like the Philippines, electrification is an important component of poverty reduction efforts. From the clean and sustainable generation of electricity to its transmission and sale, the entire process should not be only accessible but also affordable to the poor.The current operations of the country’s on-grid systems, it should be stated, are to generate profit for the private corporations. Thousands of communities that need electricity are left in the dark as both private and public utilities concentrate their services on urban areas or where there are other operating service providers. The focus is on cost recovery and profit generation; this is why power companies focus on densely populated communities, where consumers have relatively stable average household income, and where houses and other structures are close to existing grids. These are the variable reasons why electrification projects in the Philippines have very low impact on poverty, especially in the geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas.
If the national government is sincere in battling energy poverty as a means to fast-track economic progress, it should also ensure that poor households can afford connection costs and buy and use sufficient electricity to alleviate their poverty. The energy poverty suffered by thousands of communities especially in the rural areas is a barrier against efforts of Filipinos to live productive lives where they have opportunities for personal development and to contribute to society. Without access to sufficient and affordable electricity, Filipinos face limited options and opportunities. They are denied chances to improve their lives, and life itself is fraught with difficulties because there are none of the conveniences that electricity access brings.
When income levels rise, people can make more productive uses of electricity. Among lower- and middle-income families, electricity is used to power television sets, DVD players, electric fans and even air-conditioning units. This, unfortunately, is only the most basic use of electricity. The use of electricity for productive activities such as those in the agriculture, industry or service sectors remains very limited. Farmers cannot modernize their farming techniques, or use electricity to improve storage and transportation of their crops. Home-based enterprises cannot increase their production either because of limited electricity supply or because of prohibitive costs. Community schools and training centers are prevented from improving their curricula because they don’t have access to better, faster computers or lab equipment.
In short, the potential of electricity use to generate income for the public in general, and the poor and working people in particular, remains largely untapped. With scanty income-generating opportunities, people remain unable to afford electricity. This is a cycle that needs to be broken, and to break it, policy reforms in the electricity and power industry should be implemented, and the orientation behind power generation should be changed, or at least tempered from being a largely profit-generating enterprise to a social service endeavor.
Local, clean solutions, like microgrids that run on solar power, can empower poor, small communities to address their own energy needs. The systems are relatively cheap to maintain, and Filipinos who live off their own renewable electricity can stop being vulnerable to volatile fossil fuel prices or the unsustainable demands of the electricity monopolies and unscrupulous electricity providers. We can end energy poverty by increasing access to clean, renewable and affordable sources of energy to generate electricity. This will benefit the people, the environment and the economy in the long run, and with no worries about the potential damage that can be wrought on the country and the planet.
Ina Alleco R. Silverio,
social transformation unit, WeGen Laudato Si’, Ortigas Center
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