Jocot de Dios, CEO, General Electric Philippines
The Head of GE in the Philippines outlines the company’s role as system integrator for the national utility’s ‘advanced metering infrastructure integrated solution (AMIIS)’, and how the project seeks to radically transform the country’s power sector by acting as a catalyst to efficient household energy consumption.
GE has been selected by Meralco as the systems integrator for the Philippine utility’s new advanced metering infrastructure integrated solution (AMIIS) project. What are your expectations for such a cornerstone project for GE Philippines power division?
Clearly, this will change the face of the power sector in the Philippines. The contract represents GE’s first AMIIS order in the Asia Pacific region, which will enable Meralco to offer prepaid retail electric service. GE’s solution also gives the utility a flexible meter data management system to address regulatory requirements, implementation of open access and retail competition. After conducting a pilot, Meralco plans to deploy its AMIIS solution to 40,000 customers within its service area, which covers the metro Manila region.
As you can imagine, working with a great partner like Meralco is an honour for GE, and the project will revolutionize the way Filipinos consumers manage their electricity consumption, and the way they view power, similar to the way pre-paid cell phones revolutionized the market around the world. Traditionally, electricity in the Philippines is one of the three most expensive around the world. We don’t have subsidies like other countries: consumers have to pay a lot more relative to citizens of other countries of the ASEAN region.
GE does not necessarily have the ability to change this situation; neither do independent power producers. The Philippines does not have abundant natural resources, except for geothermal, which means that we are always subject to expensive fuel prices. What we can hope to achieve is managing a better way of consumption of power by customers. The AMIIS project is a platform by which consumers are provided the ability to take control of power use and consumption. We are giving customers the ability to know at any given time of the month what their power consumption is. They are going to have the ability to work with a budget, rather than using power and only discovering their total consumption on the last day of the month. They will be able to lower the amount they pay for power consumption even if the cost of power is not necessarily made cheaper.
This will involve integrating the different systems of the various vendors in the country, partnering with Meralco, who supplies the meters, and communicating with each other in order to come up with a system that will allow consumers to understand their consumption. All of this will involve more efficient management of power facilities in real-time.
Do you think that the structure of the archipelago is going to be a challenge in terms of getting the smart grid implemented across the Philippines?
Every corner of the Philippines has a cell phone and a cell tower: implementing these systems when demand is high should post no more problems than this achievement. The challenge will be to educate consumers about demand side management: when to use power, which appliances consume the most, and how to program consumption. We know that power is always more complicated but it doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. It is going to take time but a partnership with Meralco is synonymous with success. They are going to spend on massive infrastructure because they really believe in the project. Once we consolidate a large footprint we will go to the areas that it makes sense from a deployment perspective.
Do you see this project serving as a catalyst for new more cost-effective, efficient power consumption in households?
Certainly, yes. This is the reason why there is a pilot testing 200 meters; there will be a second pilot of several thousand meters in 2014. GE’s AMIIS package features program management; end-to-end system architecture, design, and implementation; a prepaid energy management system; a meter data management system; automated customer notifications via SMS, processing of prepaid energy top-ups, as well as over-the-counter transactions and handling of voice calls, including for customer service requests. We are definitely going to expand the footprint.
Collaborating with local partners is one of the most important factors for successful operations in Asia and it seems you found your perfect partner to work with— Mercalco. What did your company bring to the table for the largest electrical distribution company in the Philippines?
GE’s solution will play a crucial role in the overall smart grid initiative of Meralco. It is expected to bring about greater efficiencies in power distribution and improved customer engagement, while also helping them prepare to meet future challenges.
On top of that, GE is a technology company. Innovation is our battle cry. We always bring the know-how in every single project we work on. We are also bringing expertise and experience from all over the world. In fact, one thing that we brought to Meralco is their chief innovation adviser, who is an Ex GE employee.
Are you willing to implement a similar collaboration at the ASEAN level? If so, how and when?
Yes of course. We are already working on that. We remain committed to working on similar ventures in the future, which we believe can help grow businesses. Currently, there are different initiatives underway–possibly some activity in Vietnam. But now, as to the level of progress, we don’t have accurate information yet. But we usually collaborate and converse on a very high level. Apart from that, Singapore also has a small grid. Then, on the Meralco side, if they say they want to go to a specific country, we will introduce them to our counterpart.
How different does the company look today compared to when you took over almost two years ago in January 2012?
Generally, things look a little more feasible. Speaking about our activities, I would like to think that GE is seen not just as a technology provider or supplier but as an innovative company that partners with companies and people to try to make lives better. We have created multiple projects in multiple areas across our different businesses in the Philippines. In terms of power, we are looking to participate more often with the industry, not only in terms of supply. We really foresee GE bringing true value to the Philippines. We are here, but there is still a lot to be done.
GE is consistently rated globally as a leading innovation company. How does your product mix and match the specific needs of the Filipino market? What are your ambitions for GE power in the Philippines?
We want to be a dominant and significant player in the power sector. We definitely have the technology and the know-how to meet the challenge and that is what we will do. We will help nation building by supplying the best equipment.
GE has had a presence in the Philippines since 1890. It was the company who first installed electric lights in the streets of Manila. Today, how does this commitment to the country translate beyond the bottom line?
On the CSR side we have GE volunteers very active towards different national necessities. We have a strong focus on developing better education. We help in each and every single disaster that often happen in this lovely country. We train our employees by sending them around the world to improve their global expertise. We love to show to our GE colleagues how well qualified Filipinos are and what a Filipino can do. We are trying to connect the GE world to our best Filipino employees.
What should people understand when it comes to managing a company in the Philippines? What would what be a piece of advice you would offer?
Every country in South East Asia is unique by itself. In the Philippines you have to be mostly patient. You have to trust your regulators. They are a lot of good people working for the government and there is business to be done. Be patient and you will be successful.
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