Mapping a model for solar-powered solutions in the PhilippinesPublished: Nov 12, 2021 Reading time: 5 minutes
In Northern Samar, one of the most impoverished areas in the Philippines, residents are all too familiar with the feeling of living in the dark. Every year, the province is frequented by around three to four strong typhoons. These cause widespread flooding and month-long ‘brownouts’ or power outages.
Solar power, with its proven disaster resilience, is becoming the only viable option for reliable energy. One community recognised this potential and harnessed it to supply water for its residents. People in Need (PIN) Philippines saw an opportunity to map out the village’s governance system to advocate for the inclusion of renewable energy in public services. Thus, the case study of Barangay Marubay’s solar-powered water supply system was born.
For decades, residents in the barangay, or village, of Marubay struggled for convenient access to clean and safe drinking water. They had no form of centralised water distribution and were instead forced to obtain water from shallow wells situated downstream. This created high risks for the community’s health, as those who drank from this water were prone to water-borne illnesses. In 2010, Jose Pepe Mendoza was elected as chairman – the kapitan – of Barangay Marubay. As a graduate of an architecture course, he was familiar with some basic engineering concepts for renewable energy.
“When I became barangay captain, I saw there were solar panels stored in the barangay hall,” said Mendoza. These photovoltaic panels were donated by the Australian government through the Samar Integrated Rural Development Project. “I think this only lasted around a year because it was knocked down by a big typhoon,” he recalled. He organised a meeting with the barangay council, and they voted to repair and repurpose eight 17-watt panels to power a community water system.
To further address rural electrification and the lack of access to clean and potable water, the Marubay barangay council invested in eight more photovoltaic modules, energising a street lighting system and a submersible water pump. They also made use of their barangay development project fund, working toward the provision of water facilities. User fees provided additional investment funding. The storage tank was mounted behind the barangay hall and harnessed solar energy to supply the village with flowing water.
“When there was no solar energy, we would get water from the pump using containers,” recalled Nonma Infante, an owner of one of the village’s largest multi-purpose cooperatives. “It’s good that there’s solar energy now so we can have water in our homes.” Marubay’s initiative powered more than just water. It also supplied energy for computers, printers, and even a public announcement (PA) system that echoed throughout the entire village. “Whenever anybody in the community had a problem, you could broadcast it using the solar-powered PA system,” said Teresita Corbito, a local drinking water distributor. Reynan Infante, the barangay secretary also vouched for the system’s effectiveness, especially in potentially disastrous situations. “In terms of communication to the mainland, we also had a solar-powered radio,” he shared. “So it was easy for us to get in touch with them, especially in case of emergency.”
It is because of the social cooperation of the community that the Marubay water supply system operates so well. PIN, through its hired consultant Dr. Edwin Celestino, conducted focus group discussions with the residents of the community to learn more about the impacts of this local initiative. Residents’ answers showed that there was direct community participation in decision-making about the water system. The barangay council was quick to repair faults and respond to community needs. In a unified effort to remain efficient, the community sought to reduce wastage of materials, labour, and money. All transactions of the barangay were monitored by the treasurer, who provided transparent monthly financial reports.
Overall, the study served as an outstanding example of the benefits of renewable energy for effective public services. The final report yielded the following recommendations: (i) greater investment in renewable energy technology; (ii) the incorporation of local government units into its development and deployment; (iii) the creation of a strong communication and advocacy campaign among relevant stakeholders; and (iv) the identification of local people who can oversee the management, operation, and maintenance of the power systems.
These findings were presented in August by Dr. Celestino in a report entitled, “Case Study of the Marubay Rural Renewable Energy Technology,” at the “RE-defining Energy: Creating Synergies in Adopting Renewable Energy Solutions” symposium. International resilience specialist Kathlyn Kissy Sumaylo-Pearlman also presented her study, “Baseline Assessment on DRRM Gaps and RE Resiliency in Northern Samar” virtually. Stakeholders in attendance included government officials, non-government organisations, youth activists, journalists, academic professionals, and the Northern Samar Electric Cooperative Inc. (NORSAMELCO).
Rei Josiah Echano, the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Officer, said: “Renewable energy should be given prime importance. The lessons and experiences from Barangay Marubay will be scaled up in the whole Northern Samar, as part of everyone’s commitment.” At the end of the event, participants echoed this promise towards the inclusion of renewable energy in provincial developmental plans. PIN then led the formation of a technical working group to be composed of local experts from both the government and academia to spearhead this goal.
The REACH Project, done by People in Need, in partnership with Entrepreneurs du Monde (EdM) and Malteser International (MI), and with the financial support from the European Union (EU) through the Access to Sustainable Energy Programme (ASEP), is hopeful that this will bring the province one step closer to the formalisation of a local council to guide the government on all matters of renewable energy. With the Marubay solar-powered water system, the region has a model that other communities can emulate. “I want all barangays like us, who started from nothing, to keep their hope alive!” says Barangay Captain Mendoza. His community’s initiative shows that hope shines brightest when it sparks solutions that care for both people and planet.
DISCLAIMER: The following article consists of excerpts from Dr. Edwin Celestino’s “Case study of the Marubay rural renewable energy technology.” Dr. Celestino was hired by People in Need in the Philippines to document this community and present his findings at an advocacy symposium. The Barangay Marubay solar-powered water system project is not associated with PIN Philippines or the REACH Project.