Renewable energy, sustainability keys for future

Kimberly Go
Renewable energy, sustainability keys for future
Biomass, nuclear, and solar energy can match the power of non-renewables, but self-sufficiency should also be a priority

MANILA, Philippines — How do we provide energy to everybody in the future, not just for people to read at night but also for survival? How do we make things more sustainable and efficient?

Nicolas Bivero, executive director of Transnational Uyeno Solar Corporation, asked a crowd of over 50 these questions at the Energy and Sustainability panel on the final day of the 2015 Asia Conference of Harvard Project of Asian and International Relations’ (HPAIR).

The 90-minute forum, titled “Innovation and Energy: Seeking Renewable and Alternative Resources,” was held on August 24. It  featured discussions on resources that have the potential to replace non-renewables as well as technology in the future.

Aside from Bivero, the panelists included Ruth Yu-Owen, president and CEO of PhilCarbon Incorporated; Ku’uipo Curry, a consultant at KCLD Consulting and expert in LED lighting; John Haffner, president of Haffner Group Limited and strategy and policy consultant in clean technology and sustainability sectors; and Frila Yaman, president of Medco E&P Indonesia.

Replacing non-renewables

When a member of the audience asked panelists what renewable energies could match the power of the non-renewable sources currently in use, Yu-Owen said biomass as a base load could be the answer.

“It’s waste,” she said. “It could be agricultural waste, it could be domestic waste. Those things that are available that can be thrown away can be used as a feedstock for your biomass project.” (READ: Climate change and renewable energy)

Yu-Owen said the Philippines is a very agricultural country and having small biomass facilities in each city could help address electricity requirements. 

“As long as you have a feedstock, you can continuously use its power,” she said.

For Curry, nuclear power is the way to go. She admitted that there are risks to using the energy source so it depends on what the country is more comfortable with.

She shared an anecdote about her friend from the Navy who was on a nuclear submarine. After a tsunami in Asia, his friend and crew were able to plug the submarine into the power supply of the tsunami-hit country, and had it “generate enough electricity to power the country.”

For Haffner, solar energy has a lot of potential. The price of solar is dropping, he said, adding that the question is when its price will be as competitive as existing sources.

“I’m very bullish on solar’s prospects,” he said.

However, he also acknowledged that existing base load power is more reliable and that there is an “existing storage problem’ for solar energy that needs to be solved.

Technology in the future

A possible solution to storing solar energy could be batteries. Yu-Owen believes that “battery is the way to the future.”

“You can store solar during the day, make it cheaper, and make it affordable so that everyone can avail of it,” she said.

Yu-Owen said she thinks in the future, electricity will be generated based on who needs it. For example, a household could have a solar roof, with waste electrified for air conditioning. If more energy is needed, they can choose to buy from a solar grid.

“It’s more self-sustaining,” she said, “and I think you can bring that to places [without electricity].”

Haffner agreed that sustainability is key and what is needed is a change of mindset. He said sustainability can be thought about in terms of a metaphor of a floor and a ceiling.

The floor would represent “the minimum foundation of what we need to have people abide by existing laws and regulations.” He pointed out that in China, there are a lot of safety, health, and environmental issues. Even though there are existing laws and regulations, they are not “implemented or enforced very well.”

The ceiling, Haffner said, “should always be a rising ceiling.” It would be the aspiration to have institutions, including large companies, be providers of energy resources.

“You’re no longer taking or consuming these resources, but designing buildings that can actually add electricity back to the system,” he said. “Completely self-sufficient.”

Haffner emphasized it is more important to approach the design of energy sourcing through resource maintenance and use rather than exploitation and consumption.

“I think if we could create incentives for people to do that we would start to see some of the larger changes we need,” he said. “We really need to think quite big on all this and imaginatively on how we re-design things.”

Kimberly Go is a Rappler intern

Image from Shutterstock

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