It’s 5:30 a.m. and the sunrise casts a soft glint off the crests of
waves as 60-year-old Elioterio Mircader and a dozen other
fishermen guide their wooden outriggers into the transparent
shallows surrounding Green Island.
Wading up to his waist, Mr. Mircader carefully separates a
small barracuda from his net and puts it on ice. The ice is
new. As are satellite dishes that have sprouted on sandy
lanes, and a light switch installed in a classroom
on this remote Philippine island.
A year ago, about 70 percent of the 450 households had
power, but it was supplied by a pair of unreliable diesel
generators. A hybrid renewable energy plant funded by
USAID and its partners now produces both the ice and
clean electricity needed to cleanly sustain the island.
Energy demand is rising in the Philippines. And in a
country comprised of more than 7,000 islands,
delivering basic electricity to the most remote areas,
such as Green Island, remains a challenge.Some 4.7
million households throughout the Philippines have
no electricity and many can’t readily be connected
to the nation’s power grid.
With technology costs falling, renewable energy is an
affordable and sustainable solution to help people like
Mr. Mircader make a decent living and support his family.
Here, a local energy developer, Solutions Using Renewable
Energy (SURE), Inc. and a California company - All Power
Labs - is harnessing the power of sun, wind and coconut husks to produce power.
SURE received a small grant from USAID’s Climate Change and Clean Energy Project to establish a combination of purely renewable energy sources that will supply uninterrupted electricity for household use.
Something native generates first time power
Sitting next to the power plant, five women pound coconut
shells with hammers, feeding pieces into the top of a large
gasifier. That heat energy - converted to gas - is
supplemented by a solar array on the roof and a wind
turbine. This equipment was brought to the island by boat
and handcarried to the site. When construction began in
2013, only five homes at a section of the island had
intermittent electricity supplied by the diesel generators.
The plant now runs 24 hours a day, powering 50 of the
island’s homes with renewable energy. Soon, this
technology will power more than 300 homes.
Families pay about 50 pesos ($1.08) every week - about half
the cost of diesel - for their household electrical consumption.
For now, they have agreed to limit their electricity use to two
light-emitting diode (LED) light bulbs, an electric fan and a TV
– first time purchases for many people. Before, they lacked
the electricity to power these daily necessities. “The lack of
electricity was such a problem before, that schoolchildren
could not complete their homework when the sun set,” said
Maria Angela Sabando, the mayor of the municipality that
includes Green Island.
Still, Mayor Sabando was not satisfied with simply bringing in more power. She wanted that power to come from
clean energy. In the United States, the 25-kilowatts generated by the hybrid plant would power three houses.
Here, it powers 50 households and a school.
One morning, a teacher flips a switch inside a classroom where sixth grader Jen Belmonte sits at a wooden desk.
Soon, the entire school will be lit. “Before, when it got dark, I only studied for half an hour each night and the
kerosene fumes stung my eyes,” said 12-year-old Belmonte, referring to her family’s old lamp. “It’s now bright.”
“I like that I can read and do my homework assignments - and watch cartoons,” said Baldos, a quiet 14-year-old
boy. One of six children, he said that having light and energy for a small cook stove has changed his mother’s life.
“She’s happier now because she can work more efficiently.”
Beyond powering homes, the plant produces about one ton of ice each day. “I can preserve my catch immediately,” said Efran Gallego, pulling two squid from an icebox near the shore. In the past, he bought ice on the main island of Palawan, two hours away by boat. Each frozen block costs 500 pesos (more than $11).
During typhoon season, police prevented him and other
fishermen from making the journey across dangerous sea swells. “My catch would spoil. This happened four to
five times a month,” he said.
The Philippines Department of Energy hopes this project can
be replicated on other islands. “We’re telling local
governments to create a sustainable system that people
can afford,” said Alicia de Guzman, a senior official.
Out on the waterfront, Mr. Mircader hands his wife the last of a
dozen small fish that he’s extracted from his net.
Accessing reliable power has greatly improved his life. “I can
now buy more rice,” said Mr. Mircader. “If my kids ask for help,
I can really help them.”
Additional information about the project can be found here.
This photo essay was originally posted on the USAID Publications Page on Exposure.