Indonesia Expat

Solar Energy: The Key to Sustainability in Raja Ampat

Indonesia’s islands span a distance equivalent to one-eighth of the Earth’s circumference. Understandably, one of the main challenges the country still faces is access to adequate, reliable, safe, and affordable power supply that reaches its thousands of far-flung islands. Last month, experts from around the world met in Raja Ampat for a research and implementation project on sustainable energy, clean water supply, and sustainable management of resilient islands.

According to the Indonesian Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs, of 17,504 officially listed islands within the territory of the Republic of Indonesia, as of July only 16,056 island names have been verified by the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN). Indonesia is today heavily reliant on non-renewable energy, however many islands are still off the grid, with citizens living below the poverty line.

The island of Sumba in East Nusa Tenggara province has set a standard in sustainability with its introduction of solar power and wind-generated energy through the Hivos Sumba Iconic Island Initiative, a project that aims to deliver 100 percent renewable energy to islanders by the year 2020. Many locals today no longer live in darkness in Sumba, which has helped to reduce poverty, improve health and economic development, while at the same time tackling climate change.

One of these hard-to-reach areas in Indonesia is the world’s diving mecca Raja Ampat in the West Papua Province. Participants of the ‘Workshop on Sustainable Islands’ ranged from NGOs to government officials, from both Indonesia and abroad. The event was organized by the Dutch University of Twente, together with the Raja Ampat Conservation Centre (RARCC) and Papua Diving, where the workshop was held.

Out of the darkness

Of the nine experts involved in discussions was Herbert Innah, a lecturer of Electrical Engineering at the University of Cendrawasih in Papua’s Jayapura, where he has lectured for 15 years. He was awarded a PhD from Kumamoto University in 2012 for studies in Monitoring of Power System Stability and is a member of a research group at the university that focuses on renewable energy. His current research involves the study of electricity and renewable energy resources and his main concern is the renewable energy penetration and electrification rates in Papua Province.

Based on data from PT PLN Papua and West Papua Region 2017, the total renewable energy penetration rate in Papua is only 6.027 percent – 6 percent from hydro/micro-hydro power and 0.027 percent from solar/photovoltaic (PV) power.

A whopping 93.973 percent comes from non-renewable energy, made up of 18 percent gas, 2 percent coal, and 74 percent diesel/fuel.

Papua province has an incredibly unstable power supply, but according to PLN, power outages and disruptions are improving. In June 2015 there were a total of 4,111 blackouts, and in June 2017 the figure was halved, with 2,269 blackouts. According to PLN, this decrease is due to better maintenance of the system.

Based on our research, however, many people in Papua say the system is still not reliable and they experience blackouts often on a daily basis,” Innah shares in an interview with Indonesia Expat.

Innah believes the type of renewable energy that would best suit the outlying and harder to reach islands in Indonesia’s archipelago–for instance those in Raja Ampat–would be the first solar, followed by power from the ocean: tidal, current or waves.

According to Innah, since 2016 the government has started to invest more in renewable energy, starting with the Bright Indonesia Programme (Indonesia Terang). This initiative has a goal of installing new renewable energy sources, particularly for remote areas in eastern Indonesia, which has an ambitious target of 97 percent of national ratio electrification by the year 2019.

When asked if Sumba’s sustainable island could be implemented on a large scale all across Indonesia, Innah was optimistic. “The government has also issued regulations, including tariffs, about renewable energy for electricity,” he shares.

So what is hindering more renewable-powered islands in Indonesia? “Sometimes this idea is still not interesting for the investor because non-renewable energy prices are still cheaper than renewable energy,” Innah says. “Lifetime operation is longer, except for hydropower.”

While there does not yet exist useful tidal current energy systems in the region, most participants of the workshop agreed this was a possible alternative. Singapore based technical consultancy firm Orange Delta has been working with Papua Diving and the RARCC in an attempt to implement tidal hydro turbines in Raja Ampat.

Dedicated to conservation

Max Ammer, director of the RARCC and manager of Papua Diving, is considered a pioneer in conservation in Raja Ampat. Two years ago he was awarded the Visionary Conservationist Award, granted by Conservation International for his “tireless efforts to reveal and protect the stunning natural beauty of Raja Ampat and promote its sustainable use.”

He started Papua Diving in 1993 to bring much-needed income to the local people, and he has been working on conservation since. In 2009, he established the RARCC, an NGO focused on engaging indigenous communities in the deployment of financially self-reliant projects and small businesses that stimulate conservation.

When Ammer first came to Raja Ampat in 1993, there was very little available locally, which resulted in him having to come up with alternative solutions. “Because of this we became more aware of the challenges to operate here, which was an interesting learning process,” he shares with Indonesia Expat.

“We learned to be very self-sufficient, which resulted in building the resorts ourselves and teaching local people useful building skills,” Ammer says.

“The pressure on the environment has changed from illegal fishing practices to now irresponsible tourism and floating garbage. There are, however, good solutions to drastically reduce these impacts. In the towns better waste collection is necessary. Waterways to the sea need catchment areas. Regulations need adjusting. Better guidelines and laws would make the situation improve,” says Ammer.

The RARCC is working together with the Japanese company Murata Manufacturing and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) in an innovative energy management system that combines multiple power sources, inverter units, and energy storage systems. Through this, Ammer has been able to realize approximately 27 Kva solar panel field. Instead of storing the energy in batteries (3/4 of the cost for a solar panel system is normally absorbed in the batteries), they use the energy to store compressed air in air banks, which works well for them since the air is required for scuba diving.

Ammer believes solar energy is the answer to providing clean electricity to locals in Raja Ampat. “For local households, small-scale solar systems are a very good option because currently a lot of oil lamps are used and the fumes that come out of these pose a serious health problem.”

Teaching self-sufficiency

According to Ammer, practical, low-maintenance systems are needed, along with training of locals to maintain or service these systems so they can be self-reliant. “It is essential to work with all stakeholders. We want to present ready-to-be-implemented solutions.” Where solutions do not yet exist or need further research to be realized, “we want to facilitate that,” Ammer states. “When fairly priced small-scale solar systems will become available, we believe there will be a good market for them.”

Storing energy is an even more challenging issue on remote islands compared to the generation of energy itself. Hans van Mameren of Energy Renewed Pte Ltd shared new solutions for sustainable islands, including “modular panel storage tanks that are easy to transport and to install.” He also discussed the use of hot thermal oil for the heating of water used in kitchen and showers.

All participants of the workshop agreed that the key to creating more sustainable islands in Indonesia is education. The local community should be educated and their economic lives improved,” says Innah. “They have to understand the importance of maintaining the island for the future, while also being supported by knowledge and a good economic situation.”

Innah shares that one of the most interesting things covered during the workshop is that the biggest challenge we face in creating sustainable islands is the community itself. “We have to ask the question of how do we convey the idea of sustainable islands to the community and synchronize it with their culture and way of living?”

Indonesia already has a government-run, community-driven development programme titled PNPM (Program Nasional Pemberdayaan Mandiri) Peduli, which aims to strengthen the capacities of Indonesian civil society organizations to reach and empower marginalized groups and improve their socio-economic conditions. Innah believes, “If this PNPM Peduli programme is run in a proper way and reaches communities on remote islands, the concept of sustainable islands will happen.”


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