That night, I was sleeping. A furry creature suddenly jumped onto the bed and landed on my feet. I almost screamed until it meowed slightly – when my eyes got used to the total darkness in the room, I finally managed to see the homeowner’s fat tabby cat.
It was a night I spent in Kepayang, a village deep in Musi Banyuasin regency in South Sumatra. There was limited electricity in the village from a small diesel generator and it only came online from 6 PM to 10 at night to conserve fuel. And so everything went dark afterwards; several houses had their own generator but they also rarely used it past 10.
No power grids? Well, I reached the village by the river – on a small machine boat departing from Musi River in Palembang, the provincial capital city. It was a three-hour journey with a short stop at a floating PERTAMINA station along the way. Truthfully, I was scared, but it was the shortest route – land transport was even more grueling and longer.
The villagers were wishing for better, cleaner, more affordable energy access – and while an extensive power grid was less likely to come into the village shortly, renewable energy available locally could provide them with the option. But they did not know where to start.
I can go on with more stories (and I love telling them), but I will cut to the point: energy access, even a sustainable one, remains a big challenge in Indonesia. And when access becomes a luxury, having the option to choose an energy source is what, a utopia?
Among all the privileges I have and have had, gaining access to (relatively) good electricity access is one thing I took for granted. As it is one of the essential services, it should not be a privilege to some – but when I had the chance to understand Indonesia (somewhat in the whole sense of inequality) by coming to numerous remote villages across Indonesia, including Natuna islands (do you have any idea where that is?); a helicopter view or a number showing nearly universal electricity access simply does not cut it.
In 2019, IESR probed energy access quality in two provinces with the least electrification ratio in eastern Indonesia using the multi-tier framework (MTF) developed by The World Bank’s ESMAP. The findings corroborated our initial hypothesis: access does mean quality and Indonesia’s current access indicator, the electrification ratio (ER), is no longer sufficient to promote productive uses and development. Over 70% of households surveyed received only Tier 1 electricity access; they only have power for 4-hrs/day and it can only be used to power small devices such as lamps and radios.
Prior to the study, we had argued that the government’s LTSHE program (distribution of energy-saving lamps kit to remote, unelectrified communities) should not be claimed as electrification, but rather pre-electrification, due to its very limited use for daily and productive uses. It is also important to redefine energy access and to look at and measure access beyond connections. Our recommendations include optimizing the use of local renewable energy, as renewables have proven to be a democratic energy source, and renewable technologies, including solar energy that has entered Indonesia’s mainstream energy policy, are much cheaper than costly grid expansion and diesel generators.
The luxury of choosing your energy source
A couple of weeks ago, I saw a commotion on Twitter over Apple iPhone’s newest feature: Clean Energy Charging. It is only available in the US and per its official explanation: “…your iPhone gets a forecast of the carbon emissions in your local energy grid and uses it to charge your iPhone during times of cleaner energy production.” Comparing how we choose clean energy in Indonesia and the US is definitely an apple vs. orange debate – so let’s take a close look into Indonesia’s journey towards energy democracy.
Indonesia has a rigid, vertically integrated power system with one state-owned company, PLN, having sole operational authority over power generation, transmission, and distribution (for us muggles, it is effectively a monopoly). Okay, technically there are independent power producers and private companies having a business license (“wilayah usaha” or “wilus”) – but most of us individual consumers get electricity from PLN (then for the sake of discussion, I will refer to consumers as PLN’s consumers). Our power generation is still dominated by fossil energy (and ~60% from coal), so it is not hard to deduce that the electricity we are using now is also fossil-based.
It was 2013, the year when consumers could “legally” pick their own energy source – through rooftop solar PV installation. That year, PLN’s president director issued an internal regulation permitting parallel operation of consumer’s rooftop solar PV with PLN’s grid. The terms: net-metering, 1:1 export import tariff, minimum bill applied. No big launch, not even a proper socialization – but it was one hell of a milestone.
At the individual level, solar energy is the only feasible renewable energy source we can utilize to power our activities (I have one on my roof!). And with this in mind, IESR began the groundwork to mainstream solar energy in Indonesia’s energy landscape in 2016 – playing a significant part in the issuance of the first ministerial regulation on rooftop solar PV, driving active involvement of diverse stakeholders in promoting solar energy, pushing for better regulations (the OG ministerial regulation had been revised twice and replaced once), and until now, battling a setback as the ministry attempts to “limit” rooftop solar PV penetration.
We believe that energy is an essential service (among five: sandang, pangan, papan, colokan, paketan), and we firmly support the notion that consumers have the right to choose their energy source – renewable, more sustainable ones capable of delivering high-quality energy access. It should not be a privilege or a luxury. Between 2019 – 2021, we asked people across Java-Bali if they were willing to shift to solar energy – and there is a market potential (early adopters and early followers) of 13% in Greater Jakarta, 19% in Surabaya, 9.6% in Central Java, and 23.3% in Bali. Businesses also have similar interests: 9.8% market potential in Central Java and 21.1% in Bali. They are no small numbers, yes?
Now, are current policies, business practices, narratives, even our own personal perspectives and lifestyles – sufficient in supporting the rights for us consumers, society, to choose our own sustainable energy sources?
I had a hard time summarizing this long writing – so I just want to say thank you for reading this in full and for supporting our work. You can help us even more by sharing this with others.
Till we meet again.