Renewable energy creates opportunities for PH, India

The Philippines aims to attract P10-trillion worth of investments in the energy sector as well as wean the country off fossil fuels. India could help make that happen, and it seems keen on building relations with Southeast Asian nations, including the Philippines.

India is a trailblazer in developing renewable energy (RE) sources, Ramon Bagatsing Jr., the Philippine ambassador in New Delhi, said during a business forum organized by The Manila Times recently. He added that while India looks to increase its RE output in gigawatts terms, our goals are more modestly in megawatts.

The ambassador said India hopes to have 400 gigawatts generated by renewables by 2030. The Philippines, meanwhile, plans to increase the share of renewables in its energy mix to 35 percent by 2030 and improve that further to 50 percent by 2040.

The problem is that the RE's share in the energy mix has been declining despite an overall increase in green energy output. Renewables accounted for 33.9 percent of energy output in 2008, and by 2019, it was down to 20.8 percent.

The prime reason for that is the cheap cost of fossil fuels, particularly coal. That is why the Department of Energy issued a moratorium on the development of new coal plants. The authorities have also diversified the energy mix and improved offers to foreign investors. For instance, the government now allows 100-percent foreign ownership of geothermal power plants.
And because investments in the local energy sector went primarily to building fossil-fuel plants, the RE technology in the Philippines has aged.

Another forum speaker, Devin Narang of Sindicatum Renewable Energy India Private Ltd. suggested that the Philippines should develop a policy specific to harnessing biomass. During his frequent visits to the Philippines, for instance, he noticed that sugar plantations were still using technology to process bagasse from sugarcanes that India had used 30 years ago.

New Delhi's ambassador in Manila, Shambhu Kumaran, said during the forum that India can share technology with the Philippines as well as collaborate on research and development and business-to-business projects. He added that India and the Philippines have been working on a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to enhance cooperation.

"We need the MoU," Mr. Bagasting said. "We need the terms of reference and not just the holistic macro approach between our two countries but more specifically, to cover B2B. The framework will be made in the MoU, and we hope that can be signed."

We, too, hope that a memorandum can be signed soon.

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said in a recorded message that India and the Philippines signed a memorandum of agreement in 2007 to support greater engagement in RE development. That agreement included collaboration in research and development as well as discussions and demonstrations of green energy technologies.

Overshadowed

India is not difficult for Filipinos to overlook given the prominence and proximity of China and our deep connections with traditional partners such as the United States. We forget that India, like China, is a country with a billion-plus population and is a rapidly growing economy. Recently, the International Monetary Fund predicted the Indian economy to grow 9.5 percent this year. And like the Philippines, India's economy would have been more robust if not for Covid-19.

The Philippines too has downgraded its growth targets this year to between 6 percent and 7 percent. But some economists doubt that that can be achieved given new surges of Covid-19 cases that have called for stricter quarantine measures.

Like everyone else, India and the Philippines are looking for opportunities to recover from the crisis. India has been turning more to Southeast Asia for trade and investment opportunities, and the Philippines should take advantage of that.

Ambassador Kumaran said people cannot go back to business as usual after the pandemic. He added that in moving forward, the development focus should be on sustainability.

That should resonate in the Philippines, which needs more energy to fuel its development. And because of climate change, Filipinos want more of that energy to be environmentally friendly. Partnering with India may help us make that a reality.

This article was originally published by Manila Times.