Students’ technologies for rural electrification

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OBVIOUSLY, the current rural electrification program of the government is very slow in providing far-flung communities access to electricity. There are still many families living in the highlands, forests and other places inaccessible by ordinary transportation that have homes without power for lighting and for running basic appliances.

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Perhaps the flaw is on the constraints of rural electrification implementors. They are limited to connecting off-grid homes to electric cooperatives. Renewable energy like solar and wind energy are already available but the generated electricity can only be transmitted to power retailers, which don’t supply to poor customers or don’t have power lines reaching remote lumad villages since they cannot build the infrastructure if they cannot recover the huge investment for extending grids to such places.

It is ironic that Dumagat residents of Angat, Norzagaray, Bulacan are just around the Angat hydroelectric power plant but their homes have no electricity. Some just use donated solar-powered battery rechargers and solar-powered lights for lighting and charging mobile phones.

President Duterte found the irony irksome and demanded that rural electrification be opened to private power producers and that barriers preventing them from serving rural communities be lifted. The challenge would be if there are private power producers willing to play a role in rural electrification.

Perhaps the Department of Energy should consider tapping new energy technologies invented by local high schools students for a competition on energy solutions organized and conducted by Pilipinas Shell. One of these technologies is converting urine to electrical energy using microbial fuel cells.

The students from Meridian Learning International Experience who developed the process and prototype they called P for Power said urine contains electrolytes that can be harvested for its electrons which are then converted into electricity. Bacteria from the urine consumes the components of urine and breathes out electrons that are made to flow through wires for conversion into electric current. The DOE can scale the students’ prototype up to produce enough electricity for lighting homes or an entire off-grid community.

There are other new energy technology prototypes developed by other high school students participating in the Shell competition called The Bright Ideas Challenge and the DOE can tap one or all of them to generate electricity and supply it to indigenous communities. Like the prototypes for converting lard to biodiesel and eelgrass to biogass developed by students from Dumaguete Science High School.

Pork is the second most consumed meat product in Philippines but the byproduct from slaughtering pigs–lard or fat–are just thrown away. Eelgrass, the most abundant angiosperm, just washes to the shores by the truckloads. By recycling these organic materials into energy, waste is managed or eliminated.

The mentioned technologies are very suitable for rural electrification. The cost to scale them up or operate the prototype is low because the raw materials used are freely available in large quantities locally. Aside from helping poor and remote communities get access to electricity, such technologies also help reduce waste and keep the environment clean.

For other innovative renewable energy solutions developed by high school students that the government and private sector can tap for rural electrification, they can get in touch with Pilipinas Shell’s organizers of the TBIC contest.

Power to rural folks means a lot more now than tomorrow.

p: wjg

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