[OPINION] The (em)powered end-consumer

Whenever we hear of fires in the news, the usual initial finding given during interviews is that the fire started due to “faulty electrical wiring,” aside from the other usual suspect, the candle, when the household does not have electricity. It is indeed lamentable that as we now talk about the future of our climate – limiting carbon emissions and rehashing traditional modes of energy generation – many households are still without the basic necessity of electricity to power their homes.

The most that the average consumer can reach in terms of information and education campaigns regarding their energy consumption is through TV commercials, when they buy household appliances, or through bits of information provided in their electricity bill. This comes naturally as end-consumers of electricity and electrical appliances. But beyond these, how can consumers be more empowered? How can the end-users be more mindful of where the energy they expend in their homes comes from?

Reliability as a bridge to consumers

One of the fields of study in power systems is power system reliability. Simply said, power system reliability is concerned with security and adequacy. Security is the ability to respond to changes while adequacy is the ability to satisfy demand. Let’s focus more on the second aspect. End-consumers are most concerned about whether they have electricity supply. Power interruption due to any reason is always a cause of inconvenience, especially when daily work is interrupted.

We quantify reliability because accompanied by a higher level of reliability is the added cost to end-consumers. We cannot just infinitely increase reliability without incurring additional costs. Therefore, there is a level at which we can have an acceptable reliability level at an acceptable cost. At the end-consumer’s side, they must also consider the possible additional costs brought about by an unreliable power system, such as work disruption and product losses, among others.

More and more studies show that renewable energy technologies, despite their intermittent nature, can help increase the power system’s reliability. For example, research was conducted to evaluate the techno-economic potential of solar energy systems for rural health units (RHUs), and it showed that integrating solar PV technology into the existing grid system can help RHUs lower their electricity costs in the long run. This research also showed that solar energy can satisfy the bulk of the energy needs of RHUs since their operating times coincide with daytime when the sun is very much available.

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What can we as end-consumers do?

We have laid out why there is a need to be empowered and we have briefly discussed less-discussed aspects by which end-consumers can better understand how power is delivered to our homes. But there is a broader and louder call to action that end-consumers being united can achieve.

Lobbying

For one, consumer groups lobbying different interests have had their share in voicing out issues directly affecting end-consumers. As a result, private companies and the government are forced to be transparent in inking deals and setting rates that will eventually be the burden of Filipinos. Banding together under a common goal could exert pressure especially on sectors that are natural monopolies to be more forthcoming in their business models.

Power of choice

Also, the implementation of the Retail Competition and Open Access (RCOA) is leaning towards lower demand, 500 kW at present, with which end-consumers can be considered as contestable customers. This reduction “will result to (sic) further reduction in electricity rates…” according to the Energy Regulatory Commission. Moreover, demand aggregation has since been practiced by electric cooperatives so that the least cost power supply is obtained.

Support for companies and organizations

There is also a growing awareness among end-consumers of companies and organizations in terms of their sustainable practices. While some companies are genuine, caution and discretion must be exercised when they are just branding themselves as practicing sustainability merely to attract customers, thereby defeating the intended purpose.

One must not be too easily deceived when companies market their products as sustainable. We must further scrutinize the production process from the sourcing of raw materials. Issues may arise such as child labor, unsustainable environmental practices, and contractualization, among many others. It is not enough that corporate greed is tempered. The systemic roots that eventually result in unabated capitalism must be addressed.

Energy efficiency at the household and community levels

Two years ago, Republic Act 11285, or the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act was passed. Primarily, it aims to “institutionalize energy efficiency and conservation as a national way of life.” Moreover, it aims to “promote and encourage the development and utilization of efficient renewable energy technologies…to ensure…sustainability of the country’s energy resources. In particular, Section 8 of the law mandates “all energy end-users shall use every available energy resource efficiently.

Moreover, a sole section dedicated to Demand Side Management (DSM) is detailed in Section 24 wherein it states that “…decrease of power demand and the migration of power demand from peak to off-peak periods…to encourage end users to properly manage their loads to achieve efficiency in the utilization of fixed infrastructure in the systems.” While the role of agencies is much emphasized, we cannot leave out whatever we can do at the household level and community levels.

In sum, the whole-of-society approach to transition to a cleaner energy scenario is not a mere buzzword. We have our share of responsibility, but more must be done. It is not merely an equally shared responsibility, but more must be done by those in power and those who have benefitted the most from long-term neglect of our environment. – Rappler.com

Allen Lemuel Lemence teaches at the University of the Philippines Los Baños.

Edward Joseph H. Maguindayao teaches and studies at the University of the Philippines.

[OPINION] The (em)powered end-consumer

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