Indonesian villages struggle to get green energy
As Indonesia seeks to replace diesel and indoor fires with access to cleaner, healthier energy, advocates say bamboo is a viable solution, but early projects have had problems starting up
By Harry Jacques
SALIGUMA, Indonesia, April 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Crossing the glassy water of a mangrove-lined inlet on the east coast of the Indonesian island of Siberut, Mateus Sabojiat and Anjelina Sadodolu returned home by canoe to the village of Saliguma.
Back in their house, Sadodolu lit a wood fire to boil water before her husband left to work at the local government office.
“The electric current is only turned on when it’s time to sleep,” Sadodolu said.
The couple in their 40s, who have six children, live a few hundred meters from Indonesia’s first power plant designed to be powered by bamboo, one of three such facilities built to provide electricity to villages. isolated from Siberut.
But nearly three years after construction was completed, the Saliguma biomass power plant only provides electricity to some of the village’s 3,780 residents between 6 p.m. and midnight – and currently does not use bamboo as expected in the origin.
Due to issues with the factory battery and other key equipment since September, it instead ran on diesel – which provides more stable but dirtier power – until early April.
Ongoing repairs mean it still uses a combination of diesel and wood.
Rural communities in Indonesia have been harvesting bamboo for food, fuel and shelter for centuries.
Forest scientists say bamboo’s attributes – including the ability to grow quickly even in barren soil – could bring economic breakthroughs in isolated areas while reducing global warming emissions and providing energy.
“It’s a beautiful type of vegetation,” said Marcel Silvius, Indonesian director of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), an intergovernmental organization that helps developing countries implement climate action.
“It has a large root mass and brings carbon and water back into the soil,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
A 2018 article published in the journal Sustainability showed that bamboo has a high energy value and can sequester as much or more carbon than many other fast-growing tree species.
Forest scientists and environmentalists envision a green circular economy where communities plant bamboo plants on unproductive land, then receive both income and clean, affordable biomass energy that they sell to local power plants.
Such a system, they say, could help restore Indonesia’s 24 million hectares (59.3 million acres) of degraded land, reduce reliance on expensive diesel generators, and reduce imports. of energy.
It could also contribute to Indonesia’s goal of reducing its climate heating emissions by 29% from usual levels by 2030.
“We are not going to be able to connect all the islands in Indonesia with a single cable on a single network like in Europe,” said Jaya Wahono, founder of Clean Power Indonesia and bamboo energy pioneer in the country.
Clean Power Indonesia first planned a pilot bamboo power plant in Bali province in 2013, but it shut down after the public PLN grid offered only half of the 15 cents per kilowatt hour payment needed to make the project viable, according to Wahono.
In 2017, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a US aid agency, began distributing a $ 12 million grant to Clean Power Indonesia for the construction of three biomass power plants on Siberut Island with a capacity of combined output of 700 kilowatts.
Families living nearby have each received 100 bamboo plants, but the trees take several years to mature.
Residents of Saliguma said other available stocks were increasing too far for the factory’s offered price of 700 rupees ($ 0.05) per kilogram to be worth the effort to collect it.
“If I sell 10 kilos, it’s 7,000 rupees and I still can’t smoke,” said Leo, 46, a local indigenous man with a name, holding up a pack of cigarettes costing over 20 kilos of bamboo. .
He switched to selling firewood at the mill, but that business also ceased last September when the mill’s battery – needed to help regulate the energy produced from the combustion of biomass – broke.
Siberut’s other two factories still use bamboo but only produce six hours of electricity a day, due to a perceived lack of demand, officials said.
Clean Power’s Wahono attributed the problems in part to the 2019 transfer of assets from the foreign aid-funded project, under a rule on state ownership, to the Mentawai regional government, which has no experience in operating a power plant.
“This factory should be operating 24 hours a day,” he said.
The Mentawai government did not respond to requests for comment on why the Saliguma plant was underperforming.
Hari Kristijo, who oversaw the development of bamboo projects at Indonesia’s planning ministry, said the decision was made to only provide electricity in the evening as it was the peak demand period. which means lower production costs.
Many residents of Saliguma have expressed disappointment that the plant has yet to provide the daytime energy they need to save money on fuel and start businesses to boost the economy.
“Nature is beautiful,” Sabojiat said. “But what if you don’t have any money?”
The biomass plant was intended to help replace the burning of fuels inside homes with electric power from a central source.
Sadodolu and Sabojiat light a fire for about four hours a day to cook food and boil water.
“Sometimes his nose is black,” Sadodolu said, pointing to his 10-year-old son.
In 2018, more than 19,000 children under the age of five died from preventable pneumonia in Indonesia, according to the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF, which attributes a large share of these deaths to indoor pollution. due to the combustion of solid fuels.
Living without electricity also carries more immediate risks at night, as families resort to homemade candles using a cloth wick dipped in a can of kerosene, known locally as alito.
Stray cats, rats and toddlers can easily knock over an alito, said Sabojiat, lighting a small fuel bomb in houses made of wood and sago.
Five years ago, an alito started a fatal fire in a house near the Catholic Church of Santo Petrus.
Its occupant Aloisuis, in his forties, escaped with severe burns, but was unable to save his two-week-old daughter. He has since separated from his wife and is unable to work.
Villagers say near misses and anxiety are common.
Data from the Energy Ministry shows Indonesia’s electrification rate fell from 67% in 2010 to 99% a decade later, as isolated communities like Saliguma first received electricity. .
But in remote areas, it may simply mean that village centers have electricity while outlying settlements remain in the dark, said Putra Adhiguna, a Jakarta-based energy analyst at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. .
Gulu-guluk, one of Saliguma’s 11 hamlets, is a 30-minute motorbike along a slippery path from the biomass factory, and its 240 residents have yet to receive electricity.
“If we don’t have electricity, our economy is going nowhere,” said Daniel Sabailatti, 50, head of Gulu-Guluk, as children swam in the river and young men played sepak takraw. , a sport using a rattan ball.
Due to the dangers of alito, families spend around 20,000 rupees per week on batteries for portable torches, more than double what a household connected to the grid pays for electricity for six hours a day. Most are in debt, Sabailatti said.
Silvius of GGGI said bamboo biomass was an “underutilized” opportunity, adding that the start-up problems were not unexpected.
In February, two Indonesian universities released a roadmap to convert 500 MW of the country’s diesel generators to bamboo.
Wahono, who is currently working on a new 5 MW bamboo plant with GGGI in eastern Indonesia, said bamboo could be widely used as a feedstock as the government seeks to replace around 2,000 MW of diesel generators. pollutants over the next four years.
“It is in the interest of the world community,” he said. “We have to find a model that works for people and the natural environment.”
(1 USD = 14,510.0000 rupees)
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(Reporting by Harry Jacques; edited by Megan Rowling and Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)
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