Meet Engr Isabelo Rabuya, Newton Fund Institutional Links Grant awardee.

Research topic: Capacity in research and development embedded in case studies related to energy in the built environment and for rural electrification

Host institution / UK university: University of Southampton (UoS)

Home institution: University of San Carlos (USC)

Describe your research collaboration in simple terms.

The 2017 Paris climate agreement set a goal in average global temperature rise, based on pre-industrial levels, to be well below 2oC. This collaboration develops research capacity in the University of San Carlos on two pathways to move towards the goal with case studies on renewable energy systems for small off-grid islands, and the reduction of energy consumption in buildings through design of retrofits based on whole building energy modelling.

What activities have you undertaken that target the economic development, welfare and poverty issues in the Philippines?

The team has done electricity user surveys in three small, off-grid islands. Gilutongan is an island in Cebu where majority of the 1,640 residents pay for electricity, cooking fuel and other necessities on a daily subsistence basis. Electricity is supplied from a diesel generator for only four hours at night with an effective rate of approximately PhP50 per kWh – five times more expensive than the typical grid rate. Renewable energy can transform people’s lives in this community if electricity is made available 24 hours a day, as it would improve the delivery of social services in health and education. People will also have the opportunity to generate additional income through the productive use of electricity in microenterprises. The Newton award has greatly helped the Philippine researchers with the mentorship by UK researchers on the design of renewable energy systems for off-grid communities based on the latter’s experience in sub-Saharan Africa.

How did your collaboration with the UK contribute to your institution in general or your career as a researcher?

USC’s collaboration with Southampton University resulted to a sharpened focus on research areas where potential national impact is high. The first is on improved energy access for low-income Filipinos in isolated and oft-neglected island communities; the second is on whole building energy modelling towards the implementation of measures for increased energy efficiency. Through the Institutional Links grant, USC has formed a strong 30-person research team composed of faculty researchers and graduate students. Besides the sharpened focus, researchers in the team also acquired knowledge and skills necessary to produce higher level work that will result to publications. The grant has jumpstarted USC’s Center for Research in Energy Systems and Technologies (CREST), which is now writing grant proposals for submission to various bodies, to move forward the work started in the Newton Fund grant. We intend to continue the collaboration with the University of Southampton by writing joint grant proposals for research funding.

What about the UK influenced your decision to collaborate with your partner institution?

The UK is a world pioneer in science and industry, which are main ingredients for the economic progress of countries. UK’s reaching out to the developing world through the Newton Fund has provided current and future researchers in the Philippines the opportunity to work with, and learn from, the best researchers in the field. We have experienced this through our research attachment in the UK and the work in the Philippines. Our project works on a global problem that will eventually contribute towards climate change mitigation. Renewable energy, and more efficient use of non-renewable energy, will lead to the reduction of greenhouse gases emissions, benefiting all of humanity. Fortunately, our partner institution works with us not just on a professional level, but as friends. We therefore see this endeavour as one where a more learned brother guides a brother needing assistance to solve a common problem together. Working with the UK is great.

Taking research further

Though the CHED-Newton Institutional Links grant, USC CREST was able to visit communities, talk with people, engage the local government and involve the stakeholders to better understand the problem. In an interview, Engr Rabuya said ‘We do research but at the same time, we contribute to the development of the community.’ 

The role of UoS was to help USC build their capacity in renewable energy, energy access and energy efficiency. UoS provided the technical expertise in the USC research including the technology and in understanding the situation of off-grid islands.

The partners had a seamless working relationship. ‘Working with USC is a big pleasure for us,’ Dr Majbaul Alam of UoS commented.

Proving the team’s dedication to research for development, USC CREST has taken the project further and gathered multi-agency support for funding, research capacity and influence on policy after the Newton Agham grant concluded in 2019.

The EU-ASEP, for example, is helping the team install solar PV systems for several households in three islands in Cebu through its Access to Sustainable Energy Programme-Clean Energy Living Laboratories (ASEP-CELLS) project led by the Ateneo de Manila University School of Government. The USC is also currently working with their partner ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability) on co-developing with LGUs a local energy efficiency and conservation plan for compliance to the new law on Energy Efficiency and Conservation (RA 11285).

USC has, since the project ended, developed courses on energy literacy and building energy modelling. Through CHED, the first course, ‘Energy Wise: Are You Green?’ is set to be provided to other universities in the country. Both courses will also be offered online soon.

Engr Rabuya and team have also published two papers on energy access. One is on a cost-effective power generation system for off-grid island communities and the second is on the electrification landscape of rural off-grid island communities in the Philippines.