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An employee checking switches inside the control room at the unussed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant in the Philippines. Image Credit: AFP

Manila: Red and yellow alerts are up over the main Luzon power grid, an interconnected network for electricity delivery from producers to consumers.

Meanwhile, consumers as well as government agencies are urged to conserve energy as electricity production and consumption gets perilously close to "danger zone", where heightened summer demand is close to matching dwindling supply, leaving no room for spare power, and possibly resulting in rolling blackouts.

Luzon (land area: 109,965 km²) is the country's biggest island, where Manila is. The Philippines faces a smoldering summer that’s drying up hydro-electric dams as the country sizzles with record-high temperatures.

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Amid calls on consumers to conserve power, the National Grid Corp of the Philippines (NGCP) has issued a “yellow” alert status to the Luzon grid from 1 pm to 11 pm on Wednesday.

Local media reported that currently, the grid's total capacity is as follows:

  • Available capacity: 13,607MW
  • Peak demand: 12,874MW

19 power plants down

With 19 power plants on “forced outage”, and some others running on “derated” capacities, a total of 1,969.3MW has become unavailable to the grid, local media reported.

In a tweet, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. urged for the adoption of “energy-efficient practices”, and unplugging unusused appliance.

“In light of the recent Red and Yellow Alerts in the Luzon Grid, I have instructed the Department of Energy (DoE) to closely monitor and coordinate with all stakeholders to address the situation,” he stated.

“I have also directed all government offices to set the standard in conserving energy and minimising power consumption.”

“At this time, it is crucial that we all work together to ensure a stable power supply for the next couple of days. Let's adopt energy-efficient practices and stand together to overcome this challenge.”

Cause of shutdowns unclear

It’s not immediately unclear what caused the forced outage of key power plants. The Philippines, reliant on hydropower, is facing severe temperatures, which already forced thousands of schools to skip face-to-face classes and go on a “hybrid” mode.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said 17 areas experienced a “dangerous” heat index on Wednesday, April 17.

Plans to build 20 more hydropower plants are afoot, but construction takes time. 

Supply vs demand

Joe Zaldarriaga, Meralco's Vice President for Corporate Communications, informed local media that selective power interruptions were enforced in specific regions to manage energy supply-demand balance amidst the summer's peak heat.

Since the 1990s, the “dry” summer months usually bring yellow at red alerts as power consumption spikes and supply thins out.

The government is spearheading developments of renewable energy, primarily hydro-electric power, while the private sector pours resources into solar and wind energy.

The power generation gap during summer months and the unsubsidised electricity in the Philippines – typically 30 per cent higher than neighbouring countries – has become a key downside for potential investors.

There are growing calls for the installation of small modular nuclear power plants in Luzon, the biggest island where Manila is, but licensing and construction takes time. Moreover, a not-in-my-backyard kind of campaigns against nuclear energy must be dealt with.