Some Demand Side Issues in the Philippine Energy Crisis

My idea of ‘crisis’ is the sun and stars falling out of the sky or earth spinning out of orbit. The rest, it’s all traceable to human decisions and actions and therefore within human control. But in trying to resolve the crisis, we can get stuck with the problem because we’re solving it by drawing up new permutations of the old way. New wine in old bottles will render the new as blah. Utilities, like parking, is primarily seen at least in this country as a problem of supply. To the extent that electricity hasn’t reached all areas, the inefficient management of local supply, renewable energy largely unexplored in areas where it is feasible, and prices unregulated hence unfair to consumers who don’t use much (compared to management of utilities in developed countries) it is a supply issue. But in as far as brown-outs are frequently occurring (“energy crisis”) in serviced areas, I think the big slice of the problem comes from the demand side.

Take public or government buildings, to start. How many have been (re)designed and (re)fitted after the launch of EPIRA and government-sponsored energy conserving materials? How many government offices use energy conserving equipment? There are throughout the country many underutilized public buildings, in terms of both space and manpower, but are “fully operating” – hence full usage of electricity – eight hours a day five days a week. Further, design is such that air-conditioning is needed throughout the workday.

The use of air-conditioning like poverty is part of a vicious cycle, to keep out environmental problems like poor air quality and noise pollution. (The consequence of this is, workers are so lengthily sheltered from the pollution that it doesn’t bother and infuriate them anymore. By the time they step out of buildings, the sun is down and rush hour is expected.) In other words, the more polluted the air the more air-conditioners are “needed” (which in turn heats up the outside air necessitating for more air-conditioners) which along with other related issues ultimately leads to a crisis of energy. What to do to keep down the use of these artificial air machines? Well start by cleaning the air.

Technology, that is, mobile devices (laptops, PDAs, phones, etc.) and software (teleconferencing, internet-based collaborative platforms, etc.) are at the core meant to ease up today’s work (instead of as merely for display and personal use) and contribute to savings in utilities and conservation of energy, so I don’t understand how come most offices (including private non-manufacturing firms) are underutilizing the potential in these modern tools. It’s a gross waste of resources (energy, for one) reporting to the workplace every work day and consuming massively in utilities along with other workers in the building yet producing only a quarter of your work planned for the day. What makes it not possible to work out with the boss and HR a flexible work schedule? The reason this is not applied at least at levels below senior positions is that management has not that mind-set yet otherwise it should’ve instigated the arrangement. Work is still thought of as distance multiplied by time; work wouldn’t be work if workers didn’t travel and report to their office base eight hours a day five days a week. Trust is also an issue, particularly on the part of management (how sure are we that workers working at home are not actually out in the movie house? In this, I’m for the 80-20 principle: allow them to “play” 20% of the time in order for them to produce 80% of the important work. If management believes workers have all the time before 8 AM and after 5 PM daily to recreate, it’s vampires they’re referring to.). For HR, flexible work plans implies that it would have to make a study (working patterns of individual workers, demand and supply of human resources (which begs the difficult question of do we really need this number of workers?), and the like which many HRs despite these being central to their role don’t do) to be able to plan with workers win-win work schedules. Organizations would also need to take in at least initially industrial engineers to work out the best workplace design given workers’ tasks and relations to one another that would ultimately redound to savings in and conservation of utilities (not to mention savings in all aspects for the organizations). Similarly, civil engineering and architecture have long studied how the natural elements can be “bent” with human tools and knowledge, but which are underutilized and sometimes snubbed here. Today’s changing environment (e.g. near depletion of resources and climate change) necessitates a science-based approach to how we do things – building material and design and design and geography of the workplace.

To illustrate, the library obviously would need lots of light but because of energy conservation natural light is harnessed with the bad UV rays filtered out (by the low eaves). Solar energy is harvested for heat as well as light. Normally the response to something as “beautiful” as this is, but we’re in the Third World that’s impossible here and for a library? But this is the sort of attitude – defeatist and stinginess for the wrong reason – that keeps us as Third World.

Appaloosa Library

And we haven’t looked into residences’ consumption pattern and behaviour yet.

What this is driving at is, much of the current supply of electricity is being used and wasted at a rate similar to yesterday when energy sources were relatively “abundant.” Technology has enabled the world to “defy” scarcity through innovation in processes and products. For one, it has rendered irrelevant the equation, work = distance x time. Modern tools have made it possible now to produce much work in the shortest time and even when physically immobile. Now, ‘distance’ has taken to mean the “distance” one’s mind can “travel” in order to produce ‘work.’ This is the knowledge and skill of the times (hence the so-called Knowledge Worker). Yet it seems while technology has gone ‘mobile’ we remain largely “immobile” in so far as adherence to traditional methods (which don’t help) is concerned.

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