Krusada: A new light

Posted at 08/12/11 2:08 PM

 Karen Davila with Jimmy Ayala of Solar Energy Foundation Philippines

ANCHOR: Karen Davila

Aling Bada has been living for 13 years in Sitio Ibayo, San Mateo Rizal. It only takes less than an hour to get there from the city; but once you reach the place, it almost seems like they’re far-off from modernization. While fresh air and green pastures fill their place, residents like her still struggle for light, using kerosene lamps to survive the nights.

Their family represents only one of the almost 20 million houses (26.4% of the population) who still have no access to electricity. Areas which have not been installed with power cables are called “off grid”. Sitio Ibayo has 300 families who may have never seen electrification happen in their households.

Karen Davila’s crusade is to find a solution to this problem via alternative and renewable energy. With the previous successes of non-government organizations (NGO) like the Coalition of Services of the Elderly (COSE) and Solar Energy Foundation Philippines, she is convinced that the Philippines should invest more on renewable energy that comes from natural resources.

Solar energy, a kind of renewable energy, is the conversion of sunlight into electricity. Beneficiaries of various NGOs are being given solar kits (complete with panels and batteries) in order to benefit from the solar resource. They say that the amount of sun the world gets on a daily basis is sufficient to cover its daily requirements as well. In simpler terms, it is sustainable.

At 56 years old, having no electricity is much more difficult. In Aling Bada’s case, she has to take care of her grandchildren while finishing all household chores. Using kerosene lamp and candles not only strains their eyes and noses but also her pocket.

Her earnings from doing laundry only go to two things: food and lighting. She spends P50 on charging and transporting their battery operated fluorescent light. She also shells out P10 daily for kerosene. But these are not reliable and healthy sources of light for them. Her grandchildren suffer all the more.

They could not concentrate on their studies because of insufficient lighting and smell of kerosene. Their performance in school is severely affected. Mary Joy, one of her grandchildren, even had to repeat first grade twice. She feels hopeless at times, not knowing how to make life easier for them.

Looking at the bigger problem, Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Rene Almendras says that for the past three years, the government did not set aside the budget for electrification of rural areas because statistics show that 99% of barangays have already been electrified. Sitios within barangays are overlooked, because when about 20 houses are already connected, they are already considered electrified.

If sitios are to be counted in, they are just around 60-70% electrified. Traditionally electrifying these sites are expensive so rather than laying down wires that would only reach a few houses, an alternative solution would be to use solar energy. This is seen the most practical.

The Department of Energy (DOE) has been installing household solar panels in off-grid area and small islands for the past five and a half years. Other NGOs have been doing the same.

In Sitio Ibayo, COSE works with Adtel to bring solar home kits to residents. They give priority to the members of the elderly association, residents 50 years old above. So far, they have already lighted 70 homes. Each unit costs P10,000 but is given free to the elderly.

In order to make it available to non-members, both the NGO and solar-powered households have agreed to contribute P75 a month. More solar power kits can be bought with the money collected.

As a member of the Elderly Association, Aling Bada’s home was finally given the privilege to be installed with solar kit. Karen Davila was with her family when this great event happened. In less than two hours, it was all set. Aling Bada and her grandchildren were very grateful to COSE and Adtel.

Giving light, giving hope

The Solar Energy Foundation Philippines was established and is being headed by Jimmy Ayala. Their mission is to give households the means to experience electricity. Connectedness is their main goal; for the people to finally say,

“We are no longer isolated. We are now part of the economy; our kids can go learn what’s happening with the rest of the world.”

One of their biggest projects is “Ride for Light”, going from Manila to Pagudpod, all the way to Zamboanga and back. Three men on motorcycles went to 80 communities and donated 600 solar home systems.

Ayala explains that the solar home systems can give 200 hours of light on a full charge on low setting, 18 hours on high setting. He proudly presented that it is also portable, waterproof and shockproof. With a USB connector, mobile phones can be charged.

Like COSE, Ayala and his team want give light to more communities despite limited resources. So they came up with a financing system in order to buy more solar lamps.

They sell the solar kits for P3,500 which is payable for six months—a whole lot cheaper than the previous expenses of the residents which can actually amount up to a thousand pesos.

One of Ride For Light’s success stories is in Sitio Lower Monteverde, Socorro, Oriental Mindoro.

The lives of Susan Dimaano’s family have changed for the best since buying their solar home kit. Previously, they used gas in lamps which costs P60 per liter. Although it gives them light, it is dangerous to be left lit the whole night or while her children are studying. She says she always had to keep a watchful eye because of its tendency to cause fire.

They greatly benefited from solar power. Every night, her husband uses their solar-charged flashlight to keep bats away from their lanzones. They also use it to watch over their small piggery, especially when their pigs are giving birth. Because of their flashlight, their livelihood grew. Eventually, they were able to save up for a motorcycle which cost P50,000. It is also being used for their business.

Their children were also able to study well because they no longer get asthma attacks from inhaling gas in their lamps. Reading their lessons has become pleasurable due to proper lighting. Furthermore, they have become honour students in their school.

Aling Susan believes that even when the solar home system is expensive, it is definitely worth investing on. A simple portable light can make a huge difference.

Jonathan Domingo, Principal of Canumay National Highschool in San Jose, Antipolo, feels the same.

With the help of Ayala’s Solar Energy Foundation Philippines, two solar projects were successfully mounted. One has lighted up their buildings while the other, their very own computer laboratory.

“Gilas” was a vast effort by many companies to provide literacy by means of setting up computers in schools, as well as the sources of power to activate it.

Domingo says that before the Gilas project happened, their school was at the very bottom of the National Achievement Test results in the entire Antipolo District. But he claims that because of the solar panels, they are now ranked first among all the 18 schools. A great leap forward, indeed.

Students are able to study inside their classrooms despite overcast weather or storms. They were finally able to learn how to use computers and other multimedia devices. They are becoming more prepared for college.

Going Green by 2020?

Germany, Spain, Japan, USA and Italy are the leading countries in the use of solar power. For Greenpeace, it is time for the country to follow the steps taken by the top five. Their challenge: by the year 2020, most parts of the Philippines should already depend on Renewable Energy.

Nevertheless, the DOE is proud to say that the country’s main source of energy is renewable energy. These are hydro, geothermal and nat gas—all part of green generation, no carbon consumption.

Both parties agree that the country has great potential for solar and wind energy. But the main challenge when transitioning into these kinds of power sources is consistency. So if this is the highest concern, Sec. Almendras prefers to focus on ocean technology. The islands are surrounded with water movement, thus, it is highly possible to convert it into energy.

The United Nations Development Organization (UNIDO), released a new target that by 2030, signatories should have already reached 30% renewable energy generation. Currently, the Philippines is at 27%, hence, Sec. Almendras is confident that the country will hit 30%; not in 2030, but actually in 2020.

Like mentioned previously, Greenpeace dares the Aquino government to attain 50% renewable energy by 2020—a challenge they say is ambitious but feasible. Can the country go half-green by then? Answers await ten years from now.

July 21, 2011