Monday, April 27, 2015

Sub-Sahara: A Case for Cautious Optimism

Africa’s notable economic growth story is generating excitement among global investors. The continent that has long been identified with stagnation, poverty and elevated risk is now catching the eyes of entities looking for a fertile land to grow their businesses on. According to a document, titled “Africa at a Crossroads”, produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Sub-Saharan economies are expected to achieve growth rates of more than six per cent in the next decade, surpassing the estimated average of any other region in the world.

The onus is now on the Sub-Saharan economies to capitalize on the economic growth at hand. Experts unanimously say that the foremost factor that can further accelerate the growth of the region’s economy is infrastructure development. If the regional economy aims to compete with the established and stable markets of other regions, it will need access to reliable and sustainable energy supply, and dependable communications and transportation lines that would allow for smooth and cost-efficient movement of goods and services.

Bringing power to the mining sector

The mining industry is a key contributor to the growth of the Sub-Saharan economy. One of the foremost economic drivers of most of the region’s countries, the industry has the potential to attract a significant number of foreign investors, largely owing to the huge amount of resources naturally available in Sub-Saharan countries.

After the large-scale energy shortage in South Africa in 2008, the region’s mining sector was compelled to make inroads into self-sufficiency. With the introduction of South Africa’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Program and other similar programs in other countries, and the growing popularity and availability of wind turbines and solar panels, mining companies gradually embraced alternative energy generation facilities to support their electricity requirements.

The initiatives of African mining companies to establish local power generation systems are laudable. Wind, solar and thermal energy facilities, however, may encounter operational challenges that may cause its production to recede in certain instances. Without the primary sources of energy, the output of the plants may not be sufficient to supply for the mining operation’s electricity needs. The effects of these predicaments to the productivity of the sites may result in huge losses for the companies that have heavily invested in the facilities.

In times when both the permanent large-scale and the local energy supplies are unreliable, mining companies may find merit in tapping the potential of rental power plants. Temporary power plants are capable of providing a viable supply of energy in times when existing electricity generation facilities are challenged by overwhelming demand. Rental generator sets represent supplemental electrical energy sources while the permanent power generation facilities are being constructed, repaired or maintained. Temporary energy systems are cost-effective alternative solutions to seasonal energy insufficiency, as mining or utility companies will not need to shell out a sizable initial investment to have them running, as opposed to building permanent power plants that will only be used sparingly.

Owing to the flexibility of its core technology, rental power plants are able to provide electricity as required by the users. This feature allows customers to ramp up or scale down the supply of power as needed. Due to their modularity, temporary power stations can be transported from a yard wherever in the world to practically anywhere. This attribute can be of particular interest to mining companies, as their operations are usually located in remote areas. By virtue of their plug-and-play configuration, interim power plants can be installed and turned on in a matter of days. During times of interrupted production or emergency cases, rental power stations can immediately restore electricity without considerable latency.

Power is within reach

Investors in the mining industry describe the present situation of the sector as “full of cautious optimism”. They are optimistic because despite present energy issues in the industry, mining companies are determined and willing to surmount the impediments to the growth of the industry. On the other hand, investors are not letting their guards down as they would want to see the will of the industry converted into practical programs.

The mining industry plays a major role in the development and growth of the Sub-Saharan economy. To further encourage the development of the regional economy, the industry needs to resolve energy-related problems that are still hounding its operations. The solutions currently on offer give the industry the power to translate their determination to tangible, sustainable electrification programs that may restore the full confidence of transformative investors throughout the world.

*This article was originally published in the April 2015 issue of African Review magazine, published by Alain Charles Publishing.*


Robert Bagatsing
Altaaqa Global
Tel: +971 56 1749505

There is Power in Foresight

Electric utility providers in developing countries, where load shedding is common, may be able to gain valuable information on the health of their areas’ power systems through advanced analytical tools available today.

Though utility companies have always employed analytics to a certain degree, the data they gather from power plants, transformers, generators and other equipment only reflect those that have already happened. Industry experts agree that making operational decisions based on historical data is ineffective and may lead to false conclusions.

By relying on historical data, the decision-making process of utility companies becomes more reactive than proactive. Let’s take the health of power plants as an example. Many of the power plants operating in developing countries are well beyond their lifespans, and the constant increase in demand for electricity puts more pressure on these dated facilities. As a result of the overwhelming requirement, these power plants often break down, forcing utility companies to perform unplanned maintenance activities. However, because the unexpected breakdown is outside the maintenance cycle in vigor, utility companies usually choose to delay the operation and “sweat” the facilities even more. Professionals knowledgeable in power systems will agree that “sweating” assets will only increase the chances of breakage, higher maintenance costs and sub-par performance.

The latest technologies in advanced analytics allow utility providers to plug the gathered data into a statistical model, which is capable of scientifically predicting future scenarios based on operational events that have already occurred. This will, then, enable utility providers to make proactive decisions that will help regulate the electricity supply and plan maintenance schedules. Using the forecast, utility companies will be able to estimate the electricity demand and supply per area and per season. When, for example, they ascertain a potential gap in demand, they can take the proactive step of introducing other sources of electricity, like temporary power plants, into the energy mix.

If load shedding is really unavoidable, having advanced analytical tools will allow utilities to effectively manage and communicate planned outages. From the statistical information available, utility providers can determine critical operation times for industrial and commercial companies, so that they can work around the schedule in such a way that the planned power outage will have the least impact on these entities’ business operations. For instance, they can collaborate with rental power providers that will provide the necessary power to industrial and commercial zones during the hours when the permanent facilities aren't able to generate enough electricity.

Today’s advanced analytics systems are more accessible, because the latest technologies provide for plug-and-play operations, even for non-specialists. They use a considerable degree of artificial intelligence to meet the requirements of modern-day businesses and utilities. This allows them to make proactive decisions that will ultimately save them time and money, and optimise processes and resource allocation.


Robert Bagatsing
Altaaqa Global
Tel: +971 56 1749505

Monday, April 20, 2015

Bringing Power to the Unconnected

Access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy is a fundamental driver of economic development, environmental stewardship and social progress. Electricity is key so that facilities, utilities and businesses can operate and manufacture products needed by customers all over the world. Power is also essential to service providers, such as telecommunications companies, airlines, banks, hospitals and schools so that they can go on providing the larger society the services they need to productively, healthily and peacefully go on with their daily lives. Without electricity, factories cannot manufacture goods, oil & gas facilities cannot produce enough petroleum products to satiate the global demand, cellular and Internet communication will not be possible, financial transactions will halt, hospital equipment will not function to keep patients alive and healthy, and schools cannot hold daily classes to educate children.

Living in industrialized and highly urban cities, the above-mentioned scenarios will, for most of us, be appalling. We are so used to the ubiquity of electricity that imaging life without it is itself unimaginable. Unthinkable as it is, the truth is almost 1.4 billion people around the world still have no access to electricity. These people rely on candles, kerosene and diesel, fire wood, and animal and human dung to produce energy in their homes or small businesses. These people go home to dark houses, have never seen a TV show, have never heard music from a radio, have never had an ice cold drink from the refrigerator, have never researched on the Web, and maybe have never studied under sufficient light.

Just how dangerous is not being connected?

Generally speaking, the “unconnected” comprises an economic sector in society called “the bottom of the pyramid” – a low-income market whose members have an annual earning that do not exceed US$1,500. It is in this sector that we find the 1.4 billion people around the world that do have access to electricity, and the almost 2.7 billion people that still cook with the harmful traditional biomass. Of the estimated 1.4 billion, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that 587 million resides in Africa, 404 million in India, 31 million in Latin America, 8 million in China and the other 387 million in other Asian countries.  On the other hand, of the 2.7 billion that still utilize biomass for cooking, 855 million is in India, 657 million in Africa, 423 million in China, 85 million in Latin America and 659 million in other Asian countries.

Owing to the lack of access to a viable and consistent supply of electrical energy, these people resort to the use of biomass and petroleum-based fuels for lighting, cooking or to power small household equipment. Little do they know that what they burn inside or within the vicinity of their houses bring about myriad negative consequences to their health, to the environment and to their household economy.

For instance, fumes from indoor fires cause serious health problems and, worse, death. The World Health Organization reports that every year an estimated two million people, mainly women and children, die from diseases related to indoor smoke.

Additionally, unsustainable gathering of wood and other biomass hastens deforestation, causing a dip in biodiversity and the absorptive capacity for CO2. Owing to this, the black carbon resulting from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels or biomass, which directly contributes to climate change, is not absorbed.

Add to this the fact that energy from kerosene or candles is estimated to be largely more expensive than electricity from the grid. The high cost of energy among low-income markets further hinders their economic productivity.

Is there hope for power?

The global population will continuously increase at a high rate. From the present seven billion, the UN estimates that it will rise to nine billion in 2050, with a large part of the growth to take place in emerging and developing countries. This is supported by the International Energy Agency, adding that 1.2 billion people will still lack access to electricity in 2030, despite increasing global electrification rates. Therefore, in order to make sustainable inroads into bringing power to low-income markets, innovative approaches to generation, transmission and distribution of electricity are required.

Governments in emerging economies are observed to be warming up to the potential of private energy services for the low-income markets. As an example, Endeva, a social enterprise working towards the eradication of poverty globally, cited that the Indian government had established a national goal for the universal access to energy through its Rural Electrification Policy in 2006. In order to achieve the goal, India had created a number of new financing schemes, including subsidiaries for the installation of renewable energy plants.

Small and large companies are observed to be responding to the demand, but data from recent research shows that most of the business-driven energy projects geared towards the “bottom of the pyramid” are yet to gain considerable traction.

Towards universal electrification

Based on geographical, market and cost-benefit studies conducted by competent entities, three connection types represent the most plausible. For the houses or local businesses that are in close proximity to existing transmission and distribution lines, getting connected to the grid would be the most logical and cost-effective solution. For those in the remote villages, small power plants can be set up to provide electricity for their household and productive energy demands. In areas where there is a very small number of households or other facilities, or where significant geographical constraints are present, solar home systems can be installed, or solar lamps and improved cook stoves can be provided.

All of the nominated methods of electrifying the unconnected have the objective of bringing power to those who have none, to create social and economic opportunities in places where they have not existed, and to introduce new ways of being productive. They are all focused towards ameliorating the standards of living of the low-income markets and including them as active participants in the global economy. They, however, require significant time and investment, thorough planning and designing, years of construction and commissioning and manifold approvals and endorsements. The complexity and magnitude of such electrification projects make them ideal for permanent, long-term solutions as opposed to immediate answers to the plight of the poor in power.
While such initiatives are taking shape, there are technologies available today that can support their intended community-beneficiaries. Temporary power plants represent a fast, scalable, sustainable, viable and cost-effective solution to rural and remote area electrification. Contemporary interim power plants are equipped with the latest industry technologies that allow them to be set up in containers for fast and easy shipping and deployment to anywhere in the world. Once they arrive at the location, they can rapidly be connected to the power infrastructure, commissioned and powered on, owing to their plug-and-play configuration. They can be configured to produce the precise amount of power needed by a community, locality, city, region or country so the electricity supplied is always consistent. They can run on either new-generation diesel, gas or dual-fuel.

Rental power plants are proven to be economical compared to other sources of energy. The power they supply is dependable, predictable and viable; they take very little time to install; they are easy to decommission and ship to origin; and most importantly, they will arrive when needed and where needed. In addition, there are intangible, at times unappreciated benefits of hiring the services of rental power plants that clearly transcend the purchase price. Imagine: How many more days, months, years or decades will the low-income communities remain unconnected? How many children would have been lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers or scientists had they been offered a decent education and a conducive environment for learning? How many patients in hospitals would have recovered and become productive again had they had working life support systems? How many businesses would have flourished had they had power to continuously produce and render their services? The rural and remote communities need not to wait for the permanent power solutions to be up and running. While these are being optimized for the long-term, temporary power plants can start supplying power to the communities.

Universal electrification is an enormous challenge that energy markets around the world are facing. In order to bring electricity to as many people as possible around the world, various industry stakeholders, including the government, the private sector, the academia and the financing institutions, must come together and work to reach the common goal. The “bottom of the pyramid” is a wide but largely untapped sector, full of social, political and economic potentials. With all the available technologies, be they permanent or temporary, and with the advancements in the energy industry, there is no better time to bring power to the unconnected than now.

*This article was originally published in the February 2015 edition of Infrastructure Middle East magazine.**


Robert Bagatsing
Altaaqa Global
Tel: +971 56 1749505

Thursday, April 16, 2015

How a Game Can Save a Country from Load Shedding

The summer season in practically every country in the world always entails an increase in the demand for electricity. I would always hear and read news items about utility providers warning about power crises and escalating shortfalls. Sometimes, I think to myself: Is there a way to collect the attention of everyone and focus on the need of conserving energy and decreasing overall electricity consumption?

Just thinking out loud: What if governments put up displays showing the real-time status of the energy demand and supply of a certain city or province? The energy ministries can get the information from the utility companies or electric cooperatives covering the area. I just thought that a real-time display, coupled with well-timed live TV or Web statements from the president or the energy minister, will create immediate feedback from residents, because they will be able to see the updated condition of the electricity supply. They will, in addition, have a visual peg of the impact of their energy conservation efforts, be it switching off lights, increasing the AC’s temperature or turning off electric fans that are not in use, to the power demand.

The displays can be placed in central areas around the city, or broadcast live on TV or over the Web. This ubiquitous presence will ensure that everyone will be informed of the current energy scenario, which will thus encourage empathy and participation.

See, I believe that this effort will foster teamwork, cooperation and camaraderie among compatriots. Imagine: For the first time, people will be able to immediately see the contribution of their small acts of energy conservation to the larger good of the society. For instance, when they see that their actions positively affect the trajectory of the energy demand, they will be urged to respond in more ways, and even persuade their neighbors and friends to do the same. As their collective efforts begin to dramatically affect the demand and supply curve, poeple will be more stimulated to use every available communication tools to spread the word of energy saving. I envision that #SaveEnergy will be a staple trending topic on Twitter, and screen shots of the real-time display will populate most of Facebook posts. I also imagine that people will take more selfies with the display on the background, particularly if a city or a province becomes successful in keeping the energy demand below the supply curve. I visualize that people will begin to treat energy conservation as a friendly competition among cities or provinces, where the area that has limited its electricity consumption at the lowest will win….

But of course, this is what I imagine, and I do not know if this will ever happen. In the meantime, the governments and utility companies may be able to benefit from boosting the energy supply of areas where load shedding may be apparent. There are alternative sources of energy that they can tap, like renewable sources or rental power plants. But whatever solution the governments or utilities will decide on employing, I hope that it can be immediately deployed to concerned areas wherever they may be and remain reliable throughout the season of high energy demand. I also wish that they are cost-effective and are able to supply the precise amount of electricity needed by the customers.

Load shedding, power outages and blackouts are no laughing matters. I may have imagined solving them through a game of some sort, but they have serious consequences to the viability of businesses and to the quality of life of people.


Robert Bagatsing
Altaaqa Global
Tel: +971 56 1749505

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Beyond the Fun of Shadow Play

I remember those days in 1992. As soon as the sun went down, mother would take out empty jars of peanut butter or mayonnaise, line them up one by one, upside down on our dining table and light some four or five candles. She would then let drip small amounts of wax on the bottom of the bottles, so she could let the candles firmly stand on them – then she would blow out the candles once they were secured. 

I don’t remember ever having finished an entire evening newscast that whole year – light would always go off at about half past six. Good thing, there would be little daylight left at that time in the Philippines, otherwise my task of posing the candles in different parts of our house – one in the kitchen, another in my parents’ room, one in the dining area and another inside the restroom – would be exponentially difficult. Mom would always follow me to light the candles, because she did not allow me to play with matches.

We would always dine in obfuscated light, which was almost as good as darkness. I might have lost a lot of weight those days, because I did not find yellowish food appetizing. Every day, what was on our dinner table looked to have a tinge of yellow, because I could not recognize their real colors under the light of a single candle. 

After dinner, mom and I would spend hours, I do not know how much, lying in bed, because there was nothing left to do. It was very difficult to do my homework, because I could not read properly, and I would always miss the lines when I wrote. Those days, I had to wake up at about 4:30 in the morning, when power had been restored, so I could complete my assignments. 

Somehow, though, I enjoyed those days of regular blackouts. Being an only child, the hours of darkness resulted more boring, and I knew I had to find a way to amuse myself. That was when I discovered that I could create images of animals using the shadow of my hands. I learned how to create a dog, a goat, a goose, a rabbit, a bear, and of course, a bird (which I always find the easiest to do). Mom would always scold me, because I always stay up past my bedtime, discovering hand positions that would render the most realistic shadow images of animals.  

That was how I would put myself to sleep those nights. 

I remember that 1993 was a better year; blackouts were less frequent, and if they happened, it would just last for at most two hours. Eventually, it stopped.

Different perspective

After 23 years, reading a news item about the possible return of extensive load shedding in different parts of the Philippines reminded me of what it used to be. Sure, there were precious childhood memories created during those days, but living in a world that runs and develops with electricity, what preoccupies me now are the challenges that the looming blackouts will pose to a Filipino family. We were lucky we had the money to buy five candles every day, and still stay considerably comfortable despite the darkness. But, how about the poor families, which would rather buy rice and sardines than buy candles? How about the huge families that would not have a comfortable bed to lay on to pass the hours of no light? How about the families that stay in unsecured areas, which will expose themselves to more danger by passing the night in darkness? 

The huge leap in development that the world has taken for the past 23 years makes the effects of blackout that much more devastating. Now, life happens every second of the day, and even a momentary interruption of electricity would mean huge amounts of lost information or opportunities for businesses and services. How about factories that will have to suspend operation because the electricity from their local standby generators are not enough to power the entire plant? How about banks that now depend on computer networks for the completion of essential transactions? How about hospitals that have machines supporting the lives of critically ill patients? How about the trains carrying thousands and thousands passengers?

Now that I am all grown-up, load shedding represents a much bigger issue than just not wanting to eat yellowish food or thinking how to entertain myself in the dark. Now, blackouts mean more than just missing episodes of my favorite TV shows. If there is anything that the government or the utility companies can do to preclude the widespread power interruption from happening, they should employ it with urgency, because, in the world today, the effects of load shedding may be more disastrous than they once were. 


Robert Bagatsing
Altaaqa Global
Tel: +971 56 1749505

Saturday, April 11, 2015

How to Troubleshoot a Power Outage

There is no doubt that a power outage is a huge inconvenience. The possible reasons for a power supply interruption may be varied; there are those that you can fix at home, while there are some that may take days or weeks to solve. Here is a short step-by-step guide on how you can solve a power supply problem at home.

But, first…

Make sure you never touch the breaker panel or fuse box with wet hands or while standing on water. Also, do not use any tools to flip breakers or replace busted fuses; these can be simply done by hand. Make sure you use a flashlight while doing the troubleshooting. It is also helpful to keep the local contact number of your electric company handy.

•Is it just in your home?

When you sense that your house has lost electricity, investigate whether the outage is only limited to a certain part of your home. If you find out that electricity is not functional in your entire home, look outside and check if your neighbors have also lost power.

•Call the utility provider

When you have made sure that the power outage affects other houses or streets as well, it is time to call the local utility company to report the problem. Turn off light switches and unplug electrical devices to protect them from power surge damage when the electricity supply is restored.

•The power problem is limited to your home  

If, however, you find out that electricity is interrupted only in your home, or in certain parts of it, you may need to take a look at GFCI receptacle, circuit breaker, main breaker or fuse box to troubleshoot the outage. On a GFCI outlet, try pushing the reset button, or see whether a breaker has tripped or a fuse has blown.

•The main breaker trips or branch breakers can’t be reset

At this stage, try to turn off or unplug as many electrical appliances or electronic devices throughout your home. At the circuit breaker, flip all the breakers off. Then, turn the main breaker switch on and off several times. After this, try to reset each of the breakers one at a time. If doing this causes the main breaker to trip, or if you are unsuccessful in resetting one of branch breakers, there may be a problem with that circuit, which will need electrical repair.

•If branch breakers reset and main breaker does not trip

If you find no trouble resetting the branch breakers and the main breaker does not trip, the problem may be attributed to a faulty appliance. Try to connect them one by one to find out which of your appliance is damaged.

•If the main breaker trips repeatedly

If this happens, the problem may be that you are running a large number of appliance at the same time, drawing current beyond the main breaker’s capacity. Try to reduce the electrical load of your home or have a professional electrician upgrade your home’s electrical panel.

For bigger power outages….

Of course, some power outages are caused by bigger problems, like natural disasters or power plant shut downs, and will require steps more technical and specialized than flipping switches on and off to fix. While waiting for widespread power interruptions to be fixed, there are temporary power plants that are capable of immediately providing electricity at the time when the conventional electricity sources fail. They can be delivered anywhere in the world, installed in a matter of days and powered on to supply the exact amount of electricity that a city, a province, a region or a country needs. They are cost-effective, and constitutes a sound preventive measure to counter the devastating effects of power cuts due to load shedding, peak lopping, blackouts and calamities.

Power outages, no matter the duration, extent or reason, can cause interruptions to vital residential, commercial or industrial processes. While small-scale outages can be easily handled at home, or by your local utility company, large-scale ones may entail the use of much newer technologies and the application of more sophisticated techniques and processes. While work is being done to restore power, rental power plants can supply the much needed electricity anytime and anywhere it is required.


Robert Bagatsing
Altaaqa Global
Tel: +971 56 1749505

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Why Does Fixing A Blackout Take So Long?

A power outage, no matter how long it lasts, is disruptive. Imagine a banking professional in the middle of transmitting a huge sum of money, then the lights go out. How about a concert artist in the middle of a song, then the entire arena turns dark? What about doctors in the middle of a crucial operation? With such huge impacts, blackouts have to be resolved as fast as possible, if not at all prevented.

Some power outages are caused by fairly trivial things like falling trees or downed power poles. But, did you know that such blackouts are usually the ones that last the longest, especially in developing countries? The reason is that dealing with such electricity interruptions in these areas still remain to be a largely low-tech process. Most utility providers learn about such incidents the old-fashioned way, i.e. when someone concerned calls them and actually reports to them that the “power is out”.
Once they get the call, they send a crew out to investigate about the problem. This is where the waiting game peaks. Inspecting the electricity lines can be a lengthy process, because they can often stretch to several kilometers. Once the crew has located the problem, they will manually open the surrounding “switches” to isolate the area. Remember, the crew cannot work on electrical wires with the power on, so at this stage electricity remains interrupted. Once the crew has isolated the problem by opening the switches around the damaged segment of the line, they can start turning the electricity back on for the other customers outside the isolated area. For clients within the problematic area, waiting continues….

Feeder switching
Thankfully, there is a nascent technology in emerging countries called automatic feeder switching that is capable of virtually skipping all the steps needed to isolate the damaged segment of the electrical wire. The technology entails a network of switches and control programs called Fault Location, Isolation and Service Restoration (FLISR), which will do the hunting work in lieu of the conventional process.

From identifying the problem, to locating the damaged area, to isolating the problem segment, to restoring power to the areas outside the problem zone, the FLISR system has got it covered.

Still in its infancy
The FLISR technology seems promising, but it still has a vast ground to cover before it can be fully deployed and be commercially available in developing regions. While the technology is still maturing, there are temporary power plants that represent an excellent measure to prevent the inconvenience and damages of power outages. Rental power plants have the ability to provide power where needed, when needed, owing to its state-of-the-art technology and plug-and-play configuration. Mobile power stations find application in a wide range of situations, and no matter where they are used, they are capable of providing power on extremely short notice. Hiring the services of a temporary power provider is proven more cost-effective than bearing the huge losses caused by power outages that can last for extended hours, sometimes even days.

Out with the old
So, why does fixing a blackout take so long? Because utility providers in emerging markets are yet to take advantage of the highly innovative technologies that are nowadays made available. Today, technologies make it easier to solve problems that have been in existence for generations. While FLISR or temporary power plants may not absolutely eradicate load shedding or power interruptions, they are able to mitigate their effect, so that humans can go on with their lives with as little disruption as possible.


Robert Bagatsing
Altaaqa Global
Tel: +971 56 1749505