Typhoon Odette shows ways to bolster resilience of PH power systems

The massive destruction left by Typhoon Odette brought home the importance and urgency of building more resilient power systems in the Philippines, according to the executive of one of the largest power distributors in the country.

Anton Perdices, chief operating officer of Aboitiz Power Distribution Utilities, said that in the aftermath of the strongest typhoon to hit the country last year, they have recognized that there are gaps to be filled and much to be done to ensure more resilient power systems in the future.

Typhoon Odette, which made landfall in the country on December 16, affected nearly the entire franchise area of Aboitiz Power in Cebu province, said Perdices in an online presentation on January 26.

To achieve resiliency of power systems, he said that moving utility lines underground is one way forward, and is something already being done for the power company’s distribution lines in the cities of Cebu and Davao.

He added that they are also exploring mechanisms to make this project commercially viable given the required investment for underground distribution systems and the existence of technical challenges such as traffic, localized distribution and the need for robust city planning.

Another insight is the need for embedded generation in a distribution utility’s franchise area to increase resiliency, Perdices said. He noted the big help provided by the Aboitiz Power’s oil-fired power plant operated by the Cebu Private Power Corporation (CPPC), in restoring electricity to vital institutions in the wake of Odette’s destruction.

CPPC went online last December 18, helping the Aboitiz group to prioritize energization of hospitals, water providers and other vital institutions in Cebu.

The power plant, which is embedded within the franchise area of Visayan Electric Company (VECO), Aboitiz Power’s distribution unit, has the unique capability to deliver power directly to VECO circuits and its customers.

“With embedded generation facilities, power can be restored to the city even while downed transmission lines are being repaired,” Perdices added.

He said the biggest takeaway for him from the super typhoon was that in synergy lies strength. “When a natural disaster like Typhoon Odette strikes with such severity that no single corporation can handle, collaboration really is the way to go.”

He added: “I am just in awe of how the bayanihan spirit manifests itself in adversity. We need more avenues for organizations to share best practices in disaster response, contribute tools and equipment and even manpower and technical expertise.”

He said that for the Aboitiz group, synergies among its units, coupled with CPPC’s embedded power generation capability, were a key feature in their power restoration efforts.

Building resilient power systems can only become possible through cooperation among the national and local governments, the private sector and civil society, he continued.

“There has to be a balance between the responsibilities of the government, private sector and even consumers to make this system work. On the side of the public sector, there has to be a clear roadmap and policy guide rails towards a more resilient energy system,” he continued.

Meanwhile, compliance, support, and innovation from the private sector as well as cooperation and bayanihan from civil society are just as crucial.

Typhoon Odette (internationally named Typhoon Rai) is one of the most destructive typhoons ever to hit the country, bringing heavy rainfall and strong winds that led to many areas across the Visayas and Mindanao to lose power and communication services, with damages projected to be worth billions of pesos.

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