Mike Wootton, Founder and Chairman of Langogan Power Corp, Philippines, tells GovInsider about future plans to boost the country’s hydropower capabilities, and where to lunch in both Manila and Manchester.
How is technology changing your organisation?
Hydropower is a well-established technology with a long history, and some installations have been in operation for over 150 years. The efficiency of the turbines which generate the power are continually being improved, but we must use what is available now. Small hydropower plants can be operated remotely even by just using a mobile phone, but in Asia it is common to employ people, so we also have employees at the power stations.
For office-based activities, we work from home and communicate via the Internet, which saves us from having to fight through Manila traffic and increases productivity. Undoubtedly, the internet service in the Philippines is in dire need of improvement; otherwise we cannot get the proper benefit of the technologies that are available.
What is the greatest challenge that you overcame in 2016?
The greatest challenges in 2016 have been gaining the many approvals and permits needed to develop the hydropower schemes. All over the world, the need for more detailed analysis and study is becoming necessary in order to obtain approvals for development.
The Philippines is a particularly difficult business environment in which to develop renewable energy, despite the fact that it is a win-win solution for all stakeholders. There is plenty of advocacy around to encourage the use of renewables in preference to fossil fuels, but there is insufficient motivation to developers to actually invest in and put up renewable energy facilities. It’s a lot easier, cheaper and faster to put up diesel generation facilities in areas off of the main electricity transmission grid.
Our undertaking here is an entrepreneurial venture and as such it has been extremely difficult to get financial backing other than out of our own pockets. I wish that the world was an easier and more welcoming place for entrepreneurs; they are, after all, the main driver of economic development.
What is your top priority for 2017?
Undoubtedly, the top priority for 2017 is to start serious construction on two of our three hydropower projects. We have to close on financing (a major project in itself) and give the contractors the order to go and start construction. Each of the projects will take about two years to build until they are in commercial operation. It has taken us nearly ten years to get to this point of “just about to start construction” and people’s expectations have been raised.
Now, we are at last at the final pre-construction stage, and we have to move fast in order to meet the expectations of our stakeholders who have been very supportive over this time. We cannot let anybody down. So the rest of 2017 looks like quite a lot of hard work, but then nothing worthwhile comes too easily!
Which tool, technology or technique do you think will make the most difference to your industry this year?
Hydropower locations are generally in hard-to-reach places; we have to ‘follow’ nature. If somebody were to invent construction methods that would enable us to build access roads faster through difficult terrain, mountains and jungle, or if there were a faster way to construct 2.1m diameter pipelines between 2 and 5 km long, then I’d be delighted—we could finish construction faster. Problem is, any such methods would also have to fit within tight budgets. To be able to construct fairly heavy civil engineering that works cheaper and faster would be great.
On a wider note, the ready availability of low-priced heavy-lift helicopters would also be very welcome.
What has been the best advice that you have received in your career?
I have had so much advice! One good piece of advice was not to be too optimistic; it’s easy to be disappointed or to get plans wrong and disappoint other people. Another was about determination and the need to work through so many problems resolutely in order to succeed, as giving up is not an option—“If you are going through hell, keep going”.
Yet another was about planning; to always expect that something will go wrong and to allow for that eventuality in your plan. The final one is to follow the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do to you.
And finally, which restaurant should we visit for lunch when we are in your home town?
Well Manila is not really my home town, it’s a temporary lodging; albeit that I now know it as well as if it were my home town. I’m generally into simple meals, but last week I had an excellent dinner at the 22nd floor restaurant of Discovery Suites in Ortigas. If I were back in Manchester in the UK, we could go to one of the Chinese restaurants around Whitworth Street.
This series is run in partnership with our colleagues at Asian Utility Week – the expo for digital innovation in the energy sector.