Mr. Rubio delivers a speech at the launch of AboitizPower’s Fleet Transformation Program. — PHOTO BY KAP MACEDA AGUILA

AboitizPower President and CEO Emmanuel ‘Manny’ V. Rubio looks forward to a greener power mix for the company

Interview by Kap Maceda Aguila

VELOCITY: As you mentioned, AboitizPower is looking at scaling up capacity, which leads to this question. One of the worries for Filipinos in our tangible quest, if you will, to go electric is, aside from the lack of charging infrastructure, is whether or not our power grid can actually accommodate the growth of electric vehicles. How do you see this playing out?

MANNY RUBIO: That’s right. I think we’re cognizant of the issues, moving forward, especially with regard to this massive integration of electric vehicles into the system. We see that as an opportunity, not as a disruptor. We’re seeing them as an opportunity for us growing beyond our core business of distribution and generation. We have to prepare for that, working together with NGCP (National Grid Corporation of the Philippines), the grid operator. We will be preparing ourselves as the distributor for say, Cebu, Davao, Cotabato, and some PEZA (Philippine Economic Zone Authority) zones. What we’d like to do is to have a platform where we can manage the charging and discharging, and (get) participation also from the owners. That’s why I mentioned that you can be more than a consumer of electricity power but become even a seller of electricity if you want to manage your charging. But we need to make sure that there are also regulations in place. And that’s what we’re working on with DoE (Department of Energy) to make sure that we have the right regulations to capture all the concerns and issues moving forward.

Not a few people say that it’s kind of hard to fathom the Philippines going full electric when we still have power supply problems. If we look at our ASEAN neighbors, they have perhaps a lot more things going for them. So what’s the timeline that you see here?

Well, we are not in the EV (electric vehicle) business. And in fact, I’m calling it a mobile energy storage foray because this is a whole value chain within the mobile energy storage system. Where do we participate? So with regard to increase in demand, because of the influx of EVs, we just have to rely on forecasts from the DoE, and it’s going to be incorporated in the demand forecast on a unit basis. They have to make sure that it’s on the road map of the demand so that we can also prepare for the supply. But it’s a whole value chain and not just generation. When there’s shortage of electricity, they’ll say we’re short of generation capacity, but transmission also needs to follow. In a lot of cases, there are constraints in transmission, that some generation capacities cannot be dispatched at full capacity because we cannot evacuate that capacity. So we really have to work hand in hand with transmission, with the DoE and ERC (Energy Regulatory Commission) for regulations, and the generators so that we can plan for the resources needed to make sure that we’re ready for the future.

You mentioned moving AboitizPower toward more sustainable energy. Of course, everyone knows that coal-fired power plants aren’t really ideal, right? How are you looking at evolving the power generation capability of the company while increasing capacity?

Well, first and foremost, I think the focus should be on making sure that there’s enough capacity in the grid to power the economy. And that energy should be reliable, should be stable and cost-effective. Having said that, two things are for sure: Climate change is here, and we need to transition to cleaner energy. Unfortunately, the transition to cleaner energy will take time. It will take time. That’s why we’re saying that by 2030 our portfolio should at least be 50% renewable energy and 50% thermal. Thermal will still be needed, I assume, for the next 20 years, until a cost-effective combination of a variable renewable energy and some form of energy storage becomes competitive. When we have that then it’s game over for thermal. But having said that, that’s why LNG (liquefied natural gas) was named as a transition fuel, well, because that’s still far down the horizon. But our focus would really be to shape the capacity growth into renewable energy, but also making sure that we have enough baseload capacity at a very competitive rate to make sure that we have energy for the country to power the economy.

When you say thermal it means traditional coal-fired plants?

Yes and LNG, we are going to LNG as our next baseload option.

So you are now using less coal?

We will be relying less on coal for baseload in the future. It may still be the same capacity, but the proportion would be lesser as we build more new baseload plants, other than coal. We have, if I’m not mistaken, around 2,800 megawatts of (coal-fired) capacity. That will still run, but as we grow, we will be building greener technologies.

So, is LNG some sort of short-term solution?

LNG is considered a transition fuel. LNG would be the next best available option. It gives off less carbon emissions than coal.