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Powering the Clean Energy Revolution - Verne Energy’s John Altomonte

March 09, 2023 – Redge

Photography by : Antonio del Rosario

Lightspeed

The world has always looked to science fiction to inform science fact. And for sci-fi enthusiast John Altomonte, naming his company “Verne Energy Solutions” after the father of the genre, was an easy decision.

Hailing from a background in environmental science and management, John decided that the name “Verne” was perfect, as the adventures his chosen author wrote about were similar to the tasks he himself had set out to do. “My main focus is to combat climate change and how I can fight it to the extent of my ability as a single person.”

His Nautilus, his vehicle for climate-changing dreams, came in the form of a company committed to sustainable technologies and future-forward policies as in his words, “renewable energy is the only pathway towards sustainable development,” he quips in an interview for Alike.



And given the world’s increasing population, as well as the massive energy requirements of new technology, there seems to be no limit to his market. But unlike big names funding multi-billion-dollar entities, he believes the way forward is down towards the population’s center, in the grassroots. “Money helps, sure, but there are always vested interests in big business,” he ruminates, “transitioning away from centuries-old industries requires lateral thinking…and morals.” So instead of approaching an Elon Musk, Bill Gates, or Masayoshi San, John advocates for a model that puts end-users and communities at the forefront.

AI-powered analytical tools, bioreactors that convert waste into energy, down to the classic solar panel and battery combinations are just some of the technologies that Verne has access to. “Micro-grids are actually a very promising solution to power progress,” says Mr. Altomonte, “the idea is that instead of relying on one huge national grid, we have micro-grids that service the local population.” He cites a recent collaboration with one of the country’s largest logistics companies. “We designed a sustainable, scalable energy roadmap for them (the company), showing them how to shift to 100% renewable energy in a few years,” the young CEO proudly states. It’s a glimpse of the future that is especially relevant given the Philippines’ high vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.

But while a nation of pure clean energy is possible, John shares that the main hindrance towards leaping into an energy utopia isn’t in the availability of technology, but in awareness and entrenched interests.

Botanical expedition in the Pantabangan-Carranglan Watershed Forest Reserve


Coal Me Maybe? (Not).

Fossil fuels still account for the majority of the Philippines’ energy supply. While the current Administration under President Marcos has pledged increased efforts toward hydro, geothermal, and biomass policies, the gap remains wider than 20,000 leagues.

“A lot of the pushback is institutional,” John confides, “and that has to do with the lock-in of carbon. We need to increase penetration of renewables at utility scale, and simultaneously increase access to power for underserved communities- a twin problem that requires massive effort.”

He highlights the importance of regulators and policymakers to enable shifts in policy and for the private sector, NGOs, and civil society to help in implementing those changes. “With the right incentives, I’ve no doubt that there can be a just energy transition.” John gives as an example his work at WWF-Philippines’ Corporates for a Better Planet Initiative. “We’re currently working with some of the country’s biggest companies on sustainability and decarbonization, and hopefully setting up a national alliance for climate action.” And while he says demand is less than ideal, there is more than enough hope.

Speaking on his policy wishlist, John says “there is one landmark legislation that is redefining the global energy transition, the United States of America’s Inflation Reduction Act, that provides an unprecedented amount of incentives for renewable energy. I’m hoping (the Philippines) follows suit.”

He believes such a move would address two key concerns—job creation, and energy security. “It would also make the country more attractive to international investors!” A win for everyone…except, perhaps, those trying to build more coal…


A Plant-based Lifestyle

While John fights against fossil fuels for work, in his spare time, he studies their modern-day descendants: plants. “We basically go out in unexplored forests, discovering, cataloguing, and naming new species,” he explains, narrating his work with the Philippine Taxonomic Initiative (PTI).

Going from a plantito in the pandemic down into the rabbit hole of botany, John says he enjoys placing organisms into the vast web of modern science, leading expeditions into deep forests and wide mountain ranges. “It’s overwhelming at first because when you step into a jungle, everything is basically just… green. But then you start to notice differences, and there are just so many facets of an environment to study, from a plant’s structure to its ecology and how it coexists with everything around it…it’s a lot of work, but fun!” He laments though that threats from worsening climate-related events and illegal logging are whittling away at the Philippines’ already degraded landscapes. A recent effort by John and the team at PTI is to designate certain forests as Protected Areas, hopefully preventing further loss of the country’s pristine environment.

Work aside, John Altomonte also enjoys reading. “It requires less (electric) power!” he says, highlighting his recent pick-up of a 150-year-old leather bound novel by his company’s namesake, “people don’t read as much as they should.” Physically, his strict exercise regime which includes cycling, weightlifting, tennis, and running, is drawn from his days as a 3-peat champion varsity baseball player. He also prioritizes a sustainable lifestyle by sleeping a LOT, eating the right food, and keeping a stable work-life balance. “Also having a person who believes in you is amazing,” he says of his partner, Hannah.

Keynote Panel: Investing in Green Hydrogen 2022, Singapore


New Clear Dreams

For anyone who dares venture into the mysterious isles of entrepreneurship, John advises them to “learn as many different things as possible!” He believes that people focus on specialization too much, shoehorning themselves down a specific path, when being a generalist makes you much more adaptable.

“Pulling in all these different backgrounds and specializations has been so important for me and is severely under-rated.” Coming from someone on the cusp of his 30s yet with a clear view of his route in life, these are words that can certainly fuel many an aspiring futurist for the years ahead.


Get in touch with John through email and linkedin.



—alike.com.ph

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