As a child who grew up in the bustling streets of Manila, I always looked forward to long summers spent at my aunt’s house in Verde Island off the coast of Batangas in the Philippines. The anticipation for the trip would keep me awake at night, with thoughts of pakaskas (buri palm sweets) and infinite stretches of white sand. In my faded childhood pictures, my memories of Verde Island were laced with boat rides down Matuko Point and ghost stories with my cousins at dusk. But most of all, I loved the nightfall, when the coastline would be blanketed with darkness and we would catch fireflies. To my young mind, it is at this time when Verde Island would transform into a vast, magical playground lighted by lantern flies-- obscured in the darkness and separated from the rest of the world.
To say that Verde Island is isolated is an understatement. It’s an area that has not been reached by either of the two electric power distributor companies in Batangas, and where power generated by coal, oil or natural gas is not readily available. Back in the late 1980s, an electrification initiative sponsored by the Philippine-German Solar Energy Project brought electricity to villagers through the use of solar panels for the first time.1 It was an ambitious project aimed at pioneering the use of photovoltaic technology to our country’s remote islands in an effort to help combat climate change. It was also a memorable time when green energy was considered “vogue” in the Philippines and the new energy future was within grasp. Yes, for a time, the tiny Verde Island was teeming with commerce, illuminated by both the light bulbs and the glow of fireflies. An almost unknown footnote in sustainable energy independence on a remote Philippine island.
Today, as the Facebook age dawns upon us, it is heartening to note that, like the minor success of the solar electrification of a little island in the Philippines back in the 1980s, there persists a commitment to develop renewable energy to help combat climate change in many parts of the world, most dramatically among future superpowers such as China and India. With the emergence of India as one of the more powerful economies in the current millennium comes a vigilant interest from venture capitalists in different industries to tap power from renewable energy sources. As the Indian government takes a huge effort in finding and investing in power generated from the limitless elements of nature such as wind, solar, biomass, biofuels, geothermal and hydropower, and as thousands of Indian companies commit to reduce man’s carbon footprint, one thing becomes abundantly clear: green energy is indeed, taking the epicenter of transformation and is spelling hope for India’s new entrepreneurs in their commitment to combat climate change.
From Baby Steps to Huge Strides
India has long had a significant journey towards attaining sustainable energy independence, tapping solar, water and nuclear energies. As early as the sixties, there had been efforts to accelerate diversification from depletables to alternative energy using indigenously abundant and regenerative sources. To optimize its wind electric potential and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, India invested in its wind power potential and now has the fifth largest installed wind power capacity in the world.
As a sunlight-rich country the solar radiant energy in India is equivalent to over 5,000 trillion kWh per year and an average of 300 clear sunny days in most parts of the country.2 This vast reservoir of solar energy puts India in an enviable position in attracting and creating business opportunities for solar energy development and in providing entrepreneurs with an eco-friendly alternative with which to source their energy needs. The Verde Island of my childhood would be miniscule compared to the gargantuan possibilities that solar energy can offer to the many entrepreneurial sectors in India such as automobile, textile, software ventures, engineering, media, food processing, tourism and biotechnology to name a few.
As clean energy technology continues to improve, India’s baby steps have turned into huge strides in the global race towards a greener and more secure energy future. Above and beyond its apparent benefit of assisting the next wave of India’s industrial movers and shakers to abate climate change, India’s investment in renewable energy is also hoped to instill the value of conservation down to the least discriminating consumers. Oh yes, green energy operates around the advocacy that conservation wouldn’t just be a byword, but a lifestyle.
An Uphill Battle
Today, as the world faces an uphill battle in the effort to address climate change and control global warming emissions, it takes more than the glow of fireflies to light the road towards a more eco-friendly energy future.
India has taken a great step forward with a $2.3 trillion energy investment plan over the next two decades aimed at consistently achieving high economic growth rates without having any adverse impact in the environment. With wind energy as the centerpiece of India’s renewable energy infrastructure, it has been estimated that wind energy could meet almost 24% of India’s electricity demand by 2030.3 On a similar note, India’s ambitious National Solar Mission is already underway, with its broad plan to reach 20,000 MW of solar energy capacity by 2022. In addition to large-scale solar power plants, the government is also moving to promote small-scale power systems for commercial buildings and homes, and offer attractive subsidies to industries and homeowners that will install solar panels and solar water heaters.
There is also the growing appetite of consumers for green or hybrid cars, prompting the scenario-makers of oil stalwart Shell to predict that by 2020 up to 15% of new cars worldwide could be hybrid electrics, such as Toyota’s Prius. After 2030, fuel cell vehicles powered by hydrogen will be a small but growing part of the fleet. By 2050, more than a billion extra vehicles are expected on the world’s roads, more than double of today’s total.
These developments speak volumes of India’s vigilance to contribute to the development of renewable energy while providing environment- friendly options for both entrepreneurs and consumers.
Of Light Bulbs and Fireflies
As we stand at the cusp of the new energy future, there’s a battlecry to nail up on the bedroom wall of every member of my generation: “Do your part”. The choice to go green has its power, and our task now is to direct that power and multiply it one person at a time. We are fortunate to have been given a myriad of avenues-- information and communication technologies-- to promote the appeal of sustainable energy. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter can serve as discussion boards that may give birth to novel ideas and offer solutions to the threat of climate change. The virtual world also has a wealth of webcasts and videos made by environmental experts that can be streamed, downloaded and shared.
Indeed, it takes a mere click of the mouse to make a statement that there is a future for entrepreneurs and homeowners sourcing their power supply from clean and renewable energy sources.
Early this year, I re-visited Verde Island, eager to hark back the fond memories of my youth and watch the lightning bugs sparkle in my aunt’s backyard. I was dispirited to find that the upkeep of the solar panels had not been maintained, and that the villagers had to depend on generators that only supply three hours of electricity at night. And maybe it’s just the thick Verde Island humidity or the absence of fireflies, but I was engulfed by regret for the energy battle that was lost in that island.
As India lights up a torch towards a sustainable energy future, it poses a constant reminder for other world communities to confront the challenges of climate change head on. This is important since I am part of a generation that easily forgets-- a generation that has a short-term memory similar to that sidekick fish in “Finding Nemo”. It helps a lot to be reminded that I am part of the powerful impetus that can build the demand for renewable energy. And that in the foreseeable future, like my Verde Island of the past, our children can play under the glow of both the light bulbs and the dancing fireflies.