Are We Aware of Our Power Quality?

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Considering that I live in a place often considered as developed area in Jakarta, I never really bothered to be conscious about electricity. Setiabudi is one of sub-district in South Jakarta, bordering to Central Jakarta, and is a home to a business district with multiple high-rise buildings. The sub-district hosts numerous companies, luxurious apartments, hotels, and several government offices. With that kind of profile and a very rare power blackout event, I assumed that the quality of electricity in the area I live in was fine.

When I installed Electricity Supply Monitoring (ESM) device, my assumption was proven wrong. I see spikes and spikes of unstable voltages, occurring every day.

As a developing country, Indonesia is keen on promoting essential services development. That includes infrastructure and power. With its staggering 250 million citizens, Indonesia has yet to reach 100% electrification ratio. Currently, average nationwide electrification ratio stands at 87%, prompting the government to push an ambitious 35,000 MW power project promised by President Jokowi.

This project aims to provide sufficient energy access across Indonesia, including remote areas. Apart from electrification ratio, challenges regarding power in Indonesia also stem from power infrastructure and power quality. Increasing population in the cities is not effectively followed by increase in power supply and the development of new distribution and transmission lines. This creates grid overload and often, untidy connection lines that creates voltage surge and power blackouts.

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Jakarta and its surrounding areas happen to experience less of power blackouts. This is often interpreted as good power quality by its residents, which is not wrong. One of the indicators for good power quality is the frequency of power blackout, but that is not the sole indicator. Power service needs to have balanced supply and peak load satisfied, deliver power with minimum frequency and voltage deviation, impulse- and surge-free, and maintain high and effective service performance. While Jakartans experience rare power blackouts, deviation in frequency and voltage remains unmonitored. Several residents noticed dims in their lightings, but then that was it. Not many makes the connection of that event to instability in power voltage.

Let’s leave Jakarta and fly to Kupang, the capital city of East Nusa Tenggara. At the end of 2015, this city made a headline for the inauguration of Indonesia’s (current) biggest solar photovoltaic power plant. Sudirman Said, then Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources, mentioned that Kupang experience power crisis due to minimum reserved margin. The queue for power installation reaches 64 MW and power blackout is an everyday issue. Several areas experience less than one-hour blackout, while others suffer from hours of no electricity supply.

According to PLN Statistics in 2014, the national annual system average interruption frequency index (SAIFI) in Indonesia was 5.81 hours/customer. While the number shows that every PLN customer suffers from less than a minute power blackout in a day, many customers report hours of no power supply. Medan, the third largest city in Indonesia and located in Sumatera, has the same problem. Its residents constantly express their frustration over frequent unannounced power black out to Perusahaan Listrik Negara’s (Indonesia’s power utility company) Twitter account. A friend of mine, of whom lived in Balikpapan (in Kalimantan) for a good one and a half-year, also conveyed the same complaints over power blackout. While Jakarta and Jawa Bali is often considered premium area for electricity, other islands face lack of access to power and the ones already powered up, experience power quality problems.

Prayas Energy Group (PEG) in India initiated Electricity Supply Monitoring Initiative (ESMI), a project for power quality data crowdsourcing. In collaboration with PEG and World Resources Institute (WRI, USA), Institute for Essential Services Reform (IESR) is currently piloting ESMI in Indonesia. ESM devices are used to crowdsource (record and log) power data from several locations in Indonesia. The data taken are minute-by-minute voltage and power blackout frequency. The data collected from ESMI are then made public so citizens and in extension, local authorities, can monitor electricity supply in their area. We call this evidence-based feedback, of which citizens are able to use the data to engage with utility company for better power services.

ESM devices are currently installed in greater Jakarta and Kupang. Points of installation were carefully selected based on several criteria, including geographical spread. We also aim to collect power data from different neighborhood types, because most cities and towns in Indonesia fall under mixed-used area, such as residential/commercial area or residential/industrial area. Does it make a difference? Do Jakarta and Kupang differ significantly in term of power quality? Do residents in both cities have some aspiration about power quality in their neighborhood?

Let’s see.

Hening Marlistya Citraningrum, Program Manager for Sustainable Energy Transition