Covid-19 and Energy Security

The year 2020 started with full of surprises. In the Philippines, we were alarmed by the sudden eruption of Taal Volcano affecting thousands of Filipinos in Tagaytay and nearby provinces. In January, a novel corona virus was reported in Wuhan, China. The virus quickly spread causing fear and panic in Wuhan. On January 30, the Philippines' Department of Health reported its first case of Covid-19. 

Covid-19 and Energy Security
Covid-19 and Energy Security

Mid-March, Metro Manila and other provinces was placed under community quarantine. Businesses shut down, restaurants, malls, even some grocery shops were closed. There were scarcity in supply. 

Our lives suddenly changed. People stayed home to avoid getting the virus. Face mask became part of our daily life. Before, we can easily gather our friends and family for weekend bonding but look at us now, it's almost four months and I haven't seen my mom. Although it's just an hour drive from Quezon City, but I do not want to take the risk. Thanks to technology, we can see each other via messenger and group chats. 

Many people lost their jobs due to pandemic. I'm so grateful, I still have work to do. Work at home is the new normal. The number of Covid-19 cases continues to grow each day, we are praying that they will find cure for Covid-19. 

Pre-Covid, we would attend three-four events in a week. Now, we have web conferencing almost everyday, sometimes even twice or three times a day. Few days ago, I attended a webinar about energy security. DOE, PNOC-EC President pledges support for indigenous energy. 

Energy Security is National Security. 

The imperative for the Philippines to achieve energy security and independence is one of the national issues that COVID-19 has pushed to the forefront. The energy industry is faced with the challenge of supplying steady power to communities across the Philippines as the pandemic continues to impact industries everywhere. Critical to fulfilling this objective is the collaboration between the private and public sector. 

Energy Security is National Security
Innovation in Energy

Their joint plans were unveiled in the online forum, Innovations in Energy: An Energy Secure, Energy Independent Philippines, organized by the Philippine Energy Independence Council (PEIC) last July 10. Leading the discussion were Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Alfonso Cusi; The Philippine National Oil Company-Exploration Corporation (PNOC-EC) President, Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Rozzano Briguez; AC Energy President and CEO Eric Francia; PEIC Director Don Paulino and PEIC founding member and Director Amor Maclang.

One conclusion that the forum reached was that tapping indigenous sources can support the development of renewable energy and decrease the Philippines’ need to depend on other oil-producing nations. During the talk, Briguez expressed his commitment to utilizing indigenous energy sources. “Indigenous resource development and coal exploration can contribute to
energy security,” he said

“For decades, the Philippines has relied on global markets to meet the energy demands of the country,” emphasized Maclang. “But if there’s one industry that could really benefit from innovation, it’s our  energy industry.” 

By tapping indigenous sources, the country can support the development of renewable energy and decrease the need to depend on other oil-producing nations. Not only will the Philippines be able to achieve sustainable and more accessible power, it can also better withstand trials that are thrown its way- whether it’s a pandemic or geopolitical movements affecting the global supply chain.

The PNOC-EC’s rigorous experience in oil exploration has positioned it strongly to lead the nation into energy sufficiency. They have conducted explorations on-shore, such as in Cagayan, Central Luzon, and Cotabato, as well as off-shore in Northwest and Southwest Palawan. From 1976 to 2015, PNOC-EC has also drilled 28 onshore wells all over the country. “We want to be a leading exploration company by 2030, have a global reach, and contribute to the country’s growth,” shared Briguez. “The presidential mandate is to focus on exploration, mainly upstream.”

As further pointed out by Cusi, “The Philippines has the highest renewable energy mix in Southeast Asia.” At present, 30 percent of the country’s power needs are already supplied by natural gas from the Malampaya Deep Water Gas-to-Power project, which has been drawing natural gas from beneath the seafloor of the West Philippine Sea since 2001. 

Its benefits have since extended beyond drawing natural gas - from helping to supply a stable supply of power in the country, to assisting several communities in environmental programs. As one of the most successful Public-Private Partnerships  (PPP) to date, the Malampaya project presents a viable model for the industry to innovate as the search for more indigenous sources continues.

Close collaboration between the public and private sector is an essential component in this quest for effective exploration and energy security. Over the years, the government has made various strides towards this goal, such as the DOE’s commitment to the Renewable Energy Act and increasing renewable energy service contracts and capacity. Francia explained how the market framework in the Philippines works to the industry’s advantage. “We have an open, competitive market,” he elaborated. “There’s no need to rely on the government. Other markets like Vietnam and Indonesia need to depend on government-controlled corporations before the private sector can invest.”

Recently, the DOE has also been aggressively pushing strategies to attract investors, including the major possibility of allowing 100% full foreign ownership for renewable energy. “For years, investors have been shying away from the Philippines due to issues such as our electricity capacity, but our renewable resources are reliable and flexible sources have yet to be maximized,” revealed Cusi. “Gamitin po natin ang sariling atin.”

On that note, PNOC-EC is positioning itself to be a partner of choice for investors. Envisioning the Philippines’ energy future, Briguez detailed other significant steps that the PNOC-EC looks is preparing for, such as: increased production in at least two underground mines, the resolution of maritime disputes between China and the Philippines, and new oil and gas discoveries to augment the Malampaya reserves.

“There are more opportunities than challenges,” clarified Briguez. “[Soon], we can get more data from sedimentary basins to make them more marketable for prospective investors to enter the market. But for now, we focus on upstream exploration of petroleum and coal. This is our way of serving our country well.”

Although most of the future seems uncertain because of the pandemic, what remains true is that we need to ensure an energy-secure Philippines. “We should not relax, we should continue to build supply,” stated Cusi. COVID-19 has brought to light the vulnerabilities of our current energy systems, but it is also an opportunity for the industry to spark hope among communities, with indigenous resources like solar, natural gas, and geothermal at the core. But as iterated by Paulino, "We can only do this if we do it together and try to advocate and follow what a carbon economy could look like for the Philippines in the future.”

With everything that's happening right now, I choose to remain hopeful and prayerful that everything will be back in normal. It's also time to think about how we can adapt to the new normal and bounce back stronger. Keeping some of the lights on to bring hope for those who are in need. 


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