A Cadet Engineer’s Journey to Lead Philippine Geothermal Production Company

Engineer Napoleon “Nap” Saporsantos, 57, aimed to become part of the country’s Top 50 corporations but got more than he bargained for when he left a three-year teaching stint to join Philippine Geothermal Production Corporation (PGPC, then Philippine Geothermal, Inc.) as a cadet engineer in 1991.

This homegrown talent literally did the rounds, starting out in the Facilities Engineering Department, then moving to process engineering and operations to eventually take charge of one of the pioneer geothermal plants in Southeast Asia in 2017.

But it was not an easy path. He recalled facing rejection from leading corporations early on in his career in the late 1980s after graduating with a degree in chemical engineering. He was also quite intimidated by any leadership role until his mentor’s words became his guiding principle to this very day.

“No one succeeds without going out of their comfort zone,” Engr. Saporsantos recalled his mentor saying.


Taking on the challenge of a growing geothermal industry

There was little demand for renewable energy during the early years of Nap’s career with PGPC, as the world relied heavily on fossil fuels. At that time, the company was already breaking boundaries on its steam production.

Geothermal power also plays a vital role in sustaining many communities. A few decades ago, geothermal companies enhanced support for their host communities by addressing basic needs such as water, power supply and employment.

He recalled that the main challenge was how to make such support sustainable. “We have to teach them how to fish. Today, our partners and the communities themselves run the programs.”

Through partnerships with LGUs, the company has provided livelihood trainings to its host communities in order to equip them with skills for income generation, such as preparing homemade meat products and doing mechanical work for motorcycles.

Today, the industry faces an even bigger challenge in a more competitive environment as the race is on towards the nation’s goal to increase its renewable energy mix to 35% by 2030. To achieve this goal, PGPC can contribute a steady source of energy with its 24/7 operations, regardless of the country’s changing seasons.


Strong commitment towards growth

SM’s acquisition of a controlling stake in PGPC in 2022 paved the way for a meaningful investment in the growing renewable energy sector.

“What I really appreciate about SM is its increased local presence. Within a matter of a few years, we were able to secure additional prospects. We were also able to heavily participate to help organize the National Geothermal Association of the Philippines to increase the representation of geothermal power in the country,” Engr. Saporsantos said.

PGPC is now exploring five different locations in the country to supplement the supply of geothermal energy. These are in Northern Luzon: Kalinga, Daklan, and Cagayan; and Southern Luzon: Mount Labo and Malinao.

With these developments, he is excited for all the employees of PGPC who will be able to boost their career experiences to include the end-to-end process of exploration to development of geothermal plants. “This is something that they will be proud to claim ownership to, the experience of taking part in this milestone in the geothermal industry in the country and seeing projects through from start to finish. This is a vital skill they will now possess as the world shifts to green energy sources,” he said.