Category: Philippines

ASEAN energy trends – reflecting after five months in the region

So far on my travels I have been to Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and I am now in Thailand.  I thought it might be a good time to stop and reflect on some of the energy trends in the countries that I have visited, and to give some thought to what I may find in Thailand.  All of these countries form part of the ASEAN group – the Association of South Eastern Asian Nations.

The IEA, in their energy outlook report for 2013 for the ASEAN group, put the following graph together.  I can tell you that from my experiences in these countries, I’d tend to agree with their findings.  The first thing I noticed upon arriving in Bangkok, after spending over two months in Vietnam after two months in the Philippines, was that there is definitely more money in Thailand.  Singapore is on such a different scale that it should almost not be included in the graph.  I suppose it could be the exception that proves the rule (or trend) in the region.

ASEAN electricity demand per cap vs income [Source: IEA]
ASEAN electricity demand per cap vs income, 2011 [Source: IEA]
I am yet to travel through any rural parts of Thailand, but from what I’ve seen in the city, there does seem to be more prolific use of electricity here.  I will keep an eye out for any rolling brownouts or load-shedding (of which I saw a LOT in the Philippines and less in Vietnam).

It’s interesting to look at these graphs and stats after travelling in the region for a while.  Here’s another one showing how the wealthier countries have pretty much got universal access to electricity, and that those countries that are in the middle region are still fairly reliant on biomass consumption, even if they have access to electricity.


Many of the street food vendors in Vietnam (delicious by the way) were using charcoal under their carts to cook their food.  So you see this in action even in the cities.

I have had a look at the info available on the World Bank’s Database, and have pulled out some graphics on some key energy related stats for the region.   What they show is a general trend for increasing CO2 emissions, increasing energy consumption and a consistent or increasing reliance on energy imports.  Renewables are increasing, slowly, for all countries other than the Philippines, where the noticeable drop in renewables is balanced by a sharp increase in coal consumption).

CO2_kt CO2_perGDP CO2_tonnes_per_cap Elec_coal elec_kwh Elec_renewables Energy_imports Energy_use

The impact of tropical storms on energy security

Super typhoon Haiyan or Yolanda is strongly embedded in the collective memories of the Philippine people.  While the storm took place in November 2013, I have heard people reminiscing about their experiences of trees being uprooted, roofs blown off, gardens and plots destroyed, all from “sustained winds of 295 kph, gusts as strong as 360 kph.” [CNN]  As I have been amongst various diving communities, I have also heard about the devastation to the local coral reefs and the biodiversity so dependent upon these reefs.

The map below, taken from the NY Times here, shows the path that the typhoon took, and the storm surges experienced along the way.  This article has a few other pics and maps that are interesting to see what was left after the storm.  My travels so far have taken me through Mindoro, Panay and Cebu islands; pretty much in the firing line.


I’ve mentioned before that the Philippines’ geography, being made up of many, many islands, makes the provision of electrical services difficult.  The technology type and installation size needs to be appropriate, the transmission infrastructure needs to cross mountains and ocean channels, servicing small villages to enormous, dense and what looks like fairly poorly planned cities.  Some islands are too remote to justify transmission lines (see my post on Malapascua) and there very small scale distributed installations are required.

So the installation technologies vary according to the needs of the respective island.  Geothermal, hydro, coal, natural gas, oil and increasing solar and wind technologies all make up the energy picture.

The complexity associated with providing these electrical services is then further complicated by the need to respond to tropical storms, and if what we’re seeing globally continues, these tropical storms may be increasing in intensity and frequency going forward.  Systems and networks need to be able to withstand a beating from nature.  The map below [GMA News] shows electrical outages experienced, and the extent of it is incredible.  A geothermal facility totalling 650MW was down because of damage to the cooling towers.  Keeping in mind that the entire grid is 17.9GW, this means that 4% of the country’s electricity system was offline from one installation going down.

Philippines outages

And it’s not just the big stuff that stops working.  With roofs being blown off, any roof mounted solar systems will naturally be at risk.  Ground mounted systems too.  Wind installations will need to be design to withstand the persistent wind levels and gusts experienced during these storms, and infrastructure associated with smaller distributed generation technologies will also need to ensure that systems are protected from wind damage, damage from debris and from storm surges and floods.

Storm water does not drain well here after an afternoon of raining.  The drains and stormwater systems are not equipped to cope with the summer rains, let alone the massive dumping of water experienced during proper tropical storms.  What does this mean for a country where the electrical and communication connections look like this?


Electricity resources in Malapascua Island, Philippines

Malapascua is a tiny Island off to the north of Cebu Island.  You have to work quite hard to get here.  It’s an half hour boat ride, after a five hour, hot bus trip from Cebu City.  Chances are you’ve flown to Cebu, or if not, you’ll have missioned hard with ferries, buses, trikes and jeepneys to make your way there.  The point is, getting people to Malapascua is hard, getting ‘things’ to Malapascua is arguably harder.

Everything needs to be brought here from the ‘mainland.’  On the boat that I was on, the crew were loading filtered water bottles, a 3m2 piece of chipboard, bags of rice, a box of tomatoes etc.  Later I saw someone getting off a dinky boat with a satellite dish.  Every single brick that has been used to build the numerous guest houses will also have come from the mainland. And the boats are not big.  What this means too is that all the petrol and fuel required to power the generators here, or the motorbikes puttering around, also need to be brought in.  It’s not a surprise therefore that electricity is a very expensive resource here.

It’s hot on this island, yet I have felt aircon once since I’ve been here, in the most expensive dive shop on the island.  You can have aircon in your rooms, but it effectively doubles the room’s rate.  Having a TV in your room is also an extra where I’m staying.  (Not that this is any sort of bother.  Filipino soaps. Nope.)


There appears to be fairly reliable electricity supply on the island.  I’ve read that there are still occasional brownouts, but that most guest houses have back up generators.  There are also a number of little renewables installations, like for the comms tower shown below.  I’ve also read about a mini solar and wind installation in one of the schools here.

Most of the houses in the villages that you walk through don’t have power, or if they do, they seem to have some very basic lighting and not much else.  It’s clear that the main focus of the electricity infrastructure is on powering the tourist related facilities, but slowly this should be extended to the locals, and the electrification of the island is reportedly a focus area of the local authorities.

Malapascua1 Malapascua2 Malapascua3 Malapascua4

That’s a very nice use of shading on these modules…  Of the 32 modules installed, I saw at least ten of them partially or fully obscured by shading at about 9:30am.  A bit of tree trimming may be a good idea…

Even so, with finite energy resources on the island they still managed to have a thumping party until 2.30am, what felt like right outside my spot last night.  Techno knows no borders.  Ntsa Ntsa.

The role of wind in addressing capacity constraints in the Philippines


There is a constant and gentle hum of generators on Boracay island.  In Sabang, the hotel managers told me about the regularity of brownouts, and the need for backup generators.  While there, I experienced only short intervals of power-outages, where backup gensets kicked in.  It’s different on Boracay.  For the last two days the hotel staff where I’m staying have turned the generator off while I’ve been there, to give it a rest.  It had been running for the whole day.  It kicked on in the middle of the night, which was not ideal, since our room is right next door.  They’re running these generators hard, for long periods.


This is a little island, with an increasing population.  Sandy white beaches, warm water, diving spots and gentle lapping waves make it a tourist’s dream.  It also makes it a power utility’s nightmare I assume.  It’s less than a kilometre from Caticlan by boat, and this is effectively the main land.  Nabas Wind Farm, a project by PetroWind Energy Inc commenced commercial operation on the 10th June 2015.  On a clear(ish) day it’s visible from Boracay and looks impressive standing on the hill.  It’s a 36MW facility, built to supplement the power to Boracay, and qualified for P8.53/kWh (USD0.182/kWh).  Initially it was approved to be a 50MW facility, and at 36MW it’s clearly not enough on its own to address the capacity constraints, or there would still not be brownouts taking place.

With over 7,000 islands in the Philippines, it’s also clear that distributed energy is essential here.  The way that this country addresses its electricity constraints may be a lesson in how embedded generation, distributed generation, micro-grids, hybrid solutions and storage systems are rolled out.