The Philippines is replacing energy-wasting light bulbs with more efficient fluorescent bulbs, promising to save millions of pesos - and bulbs - and to reduce debilitating power failures.

Cebu City, Cebu ─ Prodded by persistent power shortages, the Philippines government has turned to the humble light bulb to help end debilitating power failures in major urban centers, among them Cebu City - the fastest-growing in the country and second only to Metro Manila as an important industrial and cultural hub.

Under the US$46.5-million Philippine Energy Efficiency Project (PEEP), the government is offering 13 million energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) to replace traditional incandescent bulbs in Cebu City and throughout the country, setting aside US$18 million for bulb replacement.

"If 1 million incandescent bulbs are replaced with CFLs at the cost of an estimated US$1.5 million, the electricity demand will be reduced by about 50 megawatts (MW)," said Sohail Hasnie, ADB principal energy specialist." The impact on the power system will be equivalent to building a new 50 MW power station, which would have cost at least US$50 million and taken 3 to 4 years to build, and another US$2 million to US$3 million each year to operate."

Funded in part by a US$31-million ADB concessional loan, the project will defer investments of some US$450 million in new power plant construction. It will also save about US$100 million annually in fuel costs and avoid 300,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually by reducing power generation.

While the average incandescent bulb lasts only about 800 hours, the new CFLs last up to 10,000 hours, substantially reducing the residential customer's energy consumption and electric bill. Each customer can then save up to P400 (US$8.60) per bulb each year for the next 7 to 10 years.

Retrofit, Reduce, and Replace

The PEEP will retrofit government office buildings and public lighting systems with other efficient lighting options. It has established an energy service company as a one-stop shop to provide financial and technical support to companies and institutions planning to reduce energy consumption (such as hospitals, schools, government offices, hotels, and malls).

"With this project in place, the chances of brownouts are now getting slimmer," declared Energy Undersecretary Roy Kyamko during the recent project launching. "With the savings in megawatts, the load that will be prevented through the use of CFLs can be redistributed to other parts of the Visayas," he added.

In Cebu, privately owned businesses have resorted to using their own generators during scheduled power interruptions. The city's rotating brownouts, as frequent as three times a day, are caused by aging and inefficient power plants. "When there is a shortfall due to a breakdown or maintenance of power plants, we have outages, which are happening right now," said Ethel Natera, Visayan Electric Company (VECO) spokesperson, "If we don't interrupt our customers' power supply, there will be a problem in the whole system, resulting in a breakdown."

"If any plant goes down, then there will be outages because there is no more reserve supply," said Jaime Jose Aboitiz, VECO executive vice president. According to government data, peak power demand is 1,175 MW, while the total power supply is only 1,140 MW.

Energy officials are hopeful that with the PEEP, and new power plants in place by 2010, the critical power situation will be tempered. Besides VECO, other electric cooperatives are also being tapped to distribute about 2 million CFLs in the Visayas.

VECO residential customers can visit any of its branches with their latest bill, identification, and two functioning incandescent bulbs and receive six 15-watt CFLs in exchange.

ADB is the lead financing agency in the Philippine power sector, with a third of its total of over US$10 billion in domestic lending going to generation, transmission, distribution, and sector development support. ADB also participates in the government's power sector restructuring and power plant privatization program to encourage competition, which would help lower electricity costs. The focus of ADB's future power sector operations will be on promoting efficient and renewable energy, and on improving rural distribution systems.