RE-Charging Tacloban with green transport
There is massive potential in using renewable energy to rebuild areas devastated by weather disasters while promoting the concept of “transformational adaptation and resilience.”
It is not enough to just cope with global warming. Transforming society, through the pursuit of more sustainable pathways of development, such as with clean energy and transport, will make communities more resilient.
Climate change adaptation “needs to be reconceptualized and designed as a continuous and transformative process.” It should also provide an opportunity to institute lasting changes in the way development at the local level is designed and directed.
Ultimately, we become more resilient when we understand better the “roots of vulnerability” and when we recognize the broader sway communities can exert in changing “economic, political or even behavioral structures” that create, exacerbate or sustain community vulnerabilities.
Despite the immense pressures brought about by a changing climate, it is not enough to cope with or avoid negative outcomes arising from increased risks and vulnerabilities. Adaptation to new climate change realities can and should be transformational as well.
In Tacloban City, the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (iCSC) has built RE-Charge Tacloban to promote the concept of transformational adaption and resilience. Although small in scale, RE-Charge Tacloban is a community hub for renewable energy and an incubation center for sustainable livelihoods and renewable energy-powered social enterprise. The aim is to help steer Tacloban toward better development and climate resilience.
The RE-Charge Tacloban facility uses a 9.75-kilowatt hybrid off-grid solar photovoltaic system with battery backup and grid-tie capability that is connected to the geothermal-powered Leyte grid. The system uses 39 250-watt Renesola virtus II polycrystalline modules, which have a 25-year performance warranty. A Schneider 48 volt inverter converts the direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC).
The center is home to a small fleet of electric jeepneys (or eJeepneys), which serve as a practical example of pulling investments toward sustainable social enterprise by integrating energy efficient, low-carbon transport programs and renewable energy generation.
RE-Charge has introduced eJeepneys to Tacloban so that local enterprises, cooperatives, individuals and members of the transport sector can scrutinize the technical viability of the vehicles.
The facility thus combines clean energy and transport systems. When extra power is required, the geothermal-powered grid is utilized to complement power from the solar array, allowing the facility’s battery bank to be recharged. This allows electric vehicles to be charged anytime, with faster charging capacity during daylight hours.
Combining solar and geothermal power also allows the electric vehicles to be 100-percent fossil-fuel free, which helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
EJeepneys have been around since 2007, when they were first introduced in Makati as part of a program called “Climate Friendly Cities.” Ejeepneys run quietly. You insert the key in the ignition, step on the accelerator and it proceeds to glide. While the eJeepney is cruising along the streets, no engine is heard crackling to life nor is there any combustion felt or seen.
This is because the eJeepney doesn’t have an engine. It is run by a battery-powered motor that’s similar to but much larger than the ones found inside remote-controlled toy cars. While the electric motors are imported, many of the eJeepney parts and accessories are locally made, a decision that Electric Jeepney Transport Corp. (EJTC), the Philippines’ first eJeepney operator, consciously made.
EJTC’s move to support the local manufacturing sector has been considerably successful. Since EJTC, together with its advocacy arm, iCSC, introduced the very first electric jeepney in the Philippines, different groups have managed to make, design and create several models of the passenger vehicle. This is exactly one of several objectives of iCSC in the first place.
In 2007, when it embarked on producing an eJeepney in the Philippines, iCSC sought to encourage more enterprises and small businesses to do things even better for the benefit of operators, drivers, commuters and, of course, the environment. In other words, the eJeepney project—launched by Green Independent Power Producers Inc., the forerunner of the iCSC—welcomed competition.
The Comet, a brand of eJeepney launched by US President Barack Obama when he paid a visit to the Philippines, is made by a company different from the one providing parts to EJTC. So is Tojo, which has launched its own line of eJeepney passenger vehicles and operates a fleet of e-trikes on Boracay Island.
iCSC’s eJeepneys can hit cruise anywhere from 40 to 60 kilometers per hour, a speed range best suited for short city commutes and longer trips to and from urban centers and surburban areas.
While the regular jeepney is capable of quicker acceleration and faster speeds, it is unable to employ them in real-time conditions, especially in the choked and sometimes narrow streets of Metro Manila. Slower speeds also increase passengers’ levels of safety and comfort since they cut the chances of sudden stops and collisions.
No CO2 emissions
Unlike passenger jeepneys with internal combustion engines, the eJeepney does not contribute to carbon emissions in the atmosphere. It uses batteries located in specially built trays under the seats of the passenger cabin. Once charged for six hours, the set of its 12 deep-cycle lead-acid batteries—the same ones used by cars—can power an eJeepney to run 100 km straight without recharging.
The most affordable lead-acid battery that can run an eJeepney can be recharged and reused for 500 times, a period spanning almost three years. The eJeepney’s electric motor can also run on lithium-ion batteries—the same kind of batteries that power smartphones and laptops—but these still remain expensive.
Price of eJeepney
But does being emission-free come at a great cost? Not necessarily. A brand new eJeepney costs almost the same as the lowest entry price of a commercial vehicle or anywhere from P550,000 to P750,000. Obviously, this represents a significant investment but is well worth it since it will pay for itself in the long run.
Long-term benefits include significantly lower running costs than fossil fuel-based transport and medium- and long-term environmental and social benefits. As in other new emerging cutting-edge technologies, the upfront costs may be a bit higher but it is expected to fall significantly with economies of scale and possible tax incentives from the government.
Moreover, the eJeepney is also inexpensive to run and maintain because it uses electricity, an energy source that is more affordable than diesel, whose price is influenced by global supply and demand, and several other factors.
Very few of these risks, if at all, make an impact on the prices of electricity. But even if electricity costs are expensive, running a fleet of eJeepneys remains a financially viable proposition. This is proven every single day by EJTC, which runs a fleet of eJeepneys that serve several routes in Makati, the Philippines’ financial district.
Despite paying P12 per kilowatt hour of electricity—considered one of the most expensive rates in the country—EJTC has continued to serve several routes in Makati City since 2012, the year the Land Transportation and Franchising Board gave it a commercial franchise to run its fleet.
The franchise—the very first ever granted to a company running an electric-powered public utility vehicle fleet—opens opportunities for small operators and manufacturers to replicate sustainable transport solutions all over the country.
The franchise also takes out the burden from drivers since they will not follow the boundary system, the predominant arrangement between owners and operators of regular jeepneys and their drivers.
Under the boundary system, drivers are required to give a fixed amount to jeepney owners in exchange for being allowed to use the vehicle to ply the streets and earn their living.
“Electric jeepney drivers enjoy earning a minimum wage and other social benefits that regular employees enjoy,” Red Constantino, executive director of iCSC, said. “EJTC drivers in Makati City are the only jeepney drivers in the country that are paid 13th-month wages and enjoy Pag-Ibig, PhilHealth and Social Security System benefits.”
EJTC encourages cooperatives to own eJeepneys themselves and iCSC, being the project’s advocacy arm, is open to working with cooperatives and small- and medium-scale enterprises. Not only will this show that the transition to renewable energy alternatives is real, it will also “ensure that more voices are added to the clamor for banks and financing institutions to open lending facilities,” Constantino said.
“If people can buy polluting SUVs and pay over five to seven years, others should be able to enjoy the same for low carbon vehicles,” he added.
Two-thirds of PUVs destroyed
Despite EJTC’s considerable success, no one thought that eJeepneys would be introduced in Tacloban City seven years after they were launched in Makati. But Supertyphoon “Yolanda,” which destroyed the Eastern Visayas capital and wiped out more than two-thirds of its public utility vehicles, changed all that.
In late August, the first four eJeepneys from EJTC arrived in Tacloban onboard the Navy ship BRP Benguet. The eJeepneys’ arrival followed the construction of a solar-charging facility at No. 58 P. Burgos Street in Barangay 38.
First hybrid facility
It’s not just the first such solar-charging facility of its scale in Tacloban. It is the first hybrid facility in the Philippines and, perhaps, in Southeast Asia, featuring solar panels half the size of a basketball court installed on a roof 20-feet high.
If sunlight is unavailable, it will automatically source its energy requirements from the city’s electricity grid, ensuring that several battery banks, including those for eJeepneys, will continue to be charged and that the facility’s electricity needs will be covered.
In turn, this hybrid system will ensure that RE-Charge Tacloban’s solar-charging facility will be able to employ a battery-swapping arrangement for eJeepneys.
“This means that an eJeepney whose batteries are running low on power can make a pitstop in the facility and replace the spent batteries with fully charged ones within 10 minutes,” Constantino said. “In short, there will be no limit to the range of the eJeepney. Each time it runs low on power it just swaps batteries and it’s good to go for another 100 kilometers.”
Local electricians, mechanics, and drivers were trained under the RE-Charge Tacloban project. “We will train even grandmothers to be able to maintain solar systems as well,” Constantino said. “The Re-Charge Tacloban solar-charging station will not only be a services facility but a training center as well, that can demonstrate and help accelerate the shift of the country to more efficient, low-carbon enterprises and sustainable development.”
Once the facility is established, the number of eJeepneys in Tacloban will increase to seven this year and, perhaps, an additional 20 by 2015, Constantino said.
Initially, the eJeepneys will be owned by EJTC but after a period of six months to a year, which is enough time to show the technical viability of the vehicles, financing programs will be introduced, Constantino said, adding that these may take the form of a lease-to-own scheme.
iCSC believes that the crisis brought on by Yolanda has presented an opening to reboot development, particularly in energy and transport systems. Renewable energy has a central role to play in communities’ and cities’ transformational resilience initiatives.
New approaches can be made to rebuild safer, more resilient and more sustainable communities through practical initiatives that show how renewable energy helps in disaster response and reconstruction, and how it powers better development for the long term.
(Reina Garcia is a program coordinator at Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities. E-mail: [email protected])
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