The Philippines, by the aid of 1980, has attained 446 MW of installed geothermal power generating capacity. The ranks second, after the United States, among countries utilizing geothermal energy for power generation.

In the 5-year (1981-1985) national energy development programme, it is envisaged that additional generation units will be installed to increase the share of geothermal from the present 9.8% to 18.6% of the nationwide power generation, or to 16.58 million barrels-of-oil equivalent

How the Philippines managed in such a short time to be a leading user of geothermal energy and the reasons for optimism as to its further development are discussed. The strategies that went into its rapid development and which will be relied on for the expansion programme are presented and rationalized.


For a country that does not produce its own oil, the Philippines has, as we have found out later, unwisely placed too much reliance on petroleum for the energy needs of the country. Up to 1979, about 93–95% of the country's energy needs was supplied by oil.

When the oil crisis commenced in 1974, the Philippines embarked on an energy strategy designed to reduce dependence on petroleum. The first approach to this philosophy works in the energy supply side mandating accelerated diversification from depletabtes to alternative sources of energy with emphasis on indigenously abundant and regenerative forms. To achieve this supply objective of the government, geothermal was tapped as one of the major indigenous sources of energy.

This paper will demonstrate why the Philippines has put a lot of confidence on her geothermal resources.

Historical Development

Geothermal studies in the Philippines were initiated by the Commission on Volcanology in Tiwi, Albay in 1962, with research funds provided by the National Science Development Board. Very limited in-house expertise was relied on to carry out the research project while a few qualified people undertook crash training in geothermy in New Zealand and Italy.

On April 12, 1967, for the first time in the country, an eiectric bulb was lighted using geothermal energy. One of the shallow gradient holes managed to bring up steam and with a small borrowed turbogenerator, electricity was generated. That initial success provided the impetus to carry the research undertaking forward. The next step was the completion in 1968 of a larger well at a depth of 641 feet. A 2.5-KW geothermal pilot power plant was then tapped to this well for demonstration purposes. The well, after 13 years, is still alive and is also now being used to evaporate sea water in connection with a pilot salt-making plant.

By 1970, the Government, recognizing the benefits that can be realized from geothermal energy ordered the National Power Corporation (NPC) to develop and exploit the Tiwi field. Because of very limited skilled manpower locally available to carry out the massive undertaking, a service contract was entered into in 1971 by the Corporation with Union Oil of California through its subsidiary, the Philippine Geothermal, Inc. for the latter to develop the steam field while NPC put up the necessary generating plant This important decision somehow prepared the country when the energy crises of the seventies came.

The Philippines began using geothermal energy commercially in July 1977 with the operation of a 3-MW geothermal pilot power plant in Tongonan, Leyte. The steam was supplied from one of the wells drilled by PNOC-Energy Development Corporation (EDC). However, it was only in 1979 that large scale geothermal power was started to be harnessed in Tiwi, Albay and Mak-Ban, Laguna. Two 55-MWe plants were commissioned in each of these areas, adding 220 MWe of generating capacity to the Luzon grid and displacing 2.73 million barrels-of-oil equivalent in 1979. This was followed in the ensuing year by an additional two 55-MW plants each in Tiwi and Mak-Ban and two 1.5 MW pilot plants in Palimpinon, Southern Negros, placing the total geothermal power generation capacity to an amazing 446 MW by the last quarter of 1980. This means a displacement of about 5.5 million barrels-of-oil equivalent which at the current crude oil price means a savings of US$176 million annually in the country's foreign currency reserves.

With 446 MW of installed capacity, the Philippines now ranks second among countries using geothermal energy, surpassed only by the United States. The Philippines, however, is now the largest developer of the hot water-dominated type geothermal reservoir, even surpassing New Zealand who pioneered the utilization of this type of resource.

The 1973–1980 Energy Scene

There was perhaps no single event of international import in the last decade that could compare with the energy crisis of 1974. It brought drastic and serious economic dislocation to develop and developing countries alike and clearly demonstrated the mistake of overdependence on foreign sources of energy. For the Philippines, it provided one of the more severe tests in recent times of the nation's economic and political resilence.

A clear view of the energy scene emerges when we look at the country's energy mix (Fig. 1). On a sectoral basis, industry uses almost 43% of the total energy consumption followed by transportation amounting to about 36%. From another viewpoint, power generation consumes about 33% of the energy supplies. Looking at the sources of energy supply, it is seen that geothermal presently delivers about 4% of the country's energy needs. This is translated into 446 MW of installed capacity.

The Philippines is committed to a program of industrial and economic growth. On this assumption, there is little choice but to consume more energy commercially. An interesting picture comes up when we look at the percentage contribution of industries to GNP accounts and energy consumption per capita (Fig. 2). The curve slopes very steeply at an industrial contribution-to-GNP range of between 15% and 35% which is where the Philippine economic planners place the situation in the country at present and for the next ten (10) years. This applies tremendous pressure for expansion in the power sector. The Philippine strategists reacted sharply to this situation and put a very high priority on electricity production with geothermal at the top of the major indigenous energy sources to fulfill the supply objectives of the government.

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