Indonesia's green ambitions

Indonesia's green ambitions

Largest floating solar plant in Asean is part of a push to raise share of renewable energy across the vast archipelago.

Work has begun on a 145-megawatt floating solar power installation in the Cirata reservoir, 50km southeast of Jakarta. The largest such project in Southeast Asia, it is scheduled to start supplying electricity in late 2022. (Photo courtesy of Masdar)
Work has begun on a 145-megawatt floating solar power installation in the Cirata reservoir, 50km southeast of Jakarta. The largest such project in Southeast Asia, it is scheduled to start supplying electricity in late 2022. (Photo courtesy of Masdar)

Construction of the country's first floating solar power plant, along with other renewable energy installations, mark a new phase in Indonesia's green quest to phase out dependence on fossil fuel and achieve its goals of net zero emissions by 2060.

The state power utility Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN) announced last month that it would increase the share of renewable energy to more than half in its 2021-30 procurement plan, a significant rise from 29.6% in its previous plan released in 2019.

The new 10-year plan is "greener" as the share of renewables will reach 51.6% with fossil fuels reduced to 48.4%, said Arifin Tasrif, the minister of energy and mineral resources.

The minister acknowledged that in a sprawling archipelago like Indonesia, providing green power generated by low-carbon plants poses many challenges, especially in regions far from areas where electricity demand is concentrated.

The challenge has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has slowed economic activity and resulted in a supply-demand mismatch, with a surplus in the Java-Bali and Sumatra electricity grids. The energy ministry estimated earlier this year that Java and Bali islands could be oversupplied by up to 41.5%.

To light up remote regions and bigger but less populated islands such as Kalimantan and Sulawesi, Mr Tasrif said the government was pushing ahead with plans to develop an interconnected, inter-island power grid, or the Nusantara grid.

The project is expected to materialise by 2024 on all four major islands -- Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan and Sulawesi -- while also achieving the target of 100% electrification by connecting remote, frontier and less developed regions by next year. That goal is very close to being met, approaching 99.4% this year.

The energy ministry will also assist lower-income residents by providing 80,000 power installations, highlighting a Southeast Asian regional problem: how to make electricity supply affordable enough amid increasing demand but with supply that still relies mostly on costly, imported fossil fuel.

Dr Nuki Agya Utama, executive director of Asean Centre for Energy (ACE), said discussions have been held across various sectors about how to increase the share of renewable energy and make sure it is affordable enough. He estimated the cost of potential investment in the power sector at US$450 billion between now and 2040, with most of it going to renewables.

"The energy supply for power generation will increase the potential investment and possibilities to increase renewable energy at the same time. We have to make sure to select what technology will be suitable enough. So, in that sense, we will try to optimise the current power supply," Dr Utama said in an interview with Asia Focus.

While the region is still relying substantially on power generation based on coal and gas, an alternative such as clean coal, or coal engineered to have lower emissions, "will enable us to provide a more affordable energy price", he pointed out.

Sergey Makarov, principal adviser for the Asean-German Energy Programme (AGEP) under the German development agency GIZ, said that floating photovoltaic (PV) or solar power plants and offshore wind power will also drive the energy costs down in the region.

"You can combine hydropower with PV using the same space and connection to the grid, for example," he told Asia Focus. "The region has huge potential here, while offshore wind power, though not yet quite common in the region, also has huge potential in terms of driving costs down."

Indonesia is paving the way to lower-cost power with a 145-megawatt (MW) floating solar installation in the Cirata water reservoir, 50 kilometres southeast of Jakarta in West Java.

The project, expected to be the largest in Southeast Asia, is a joint venture between PLN and Masdar of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Construction began in August and the plant is expected to start operating commercially in the fourth quarter of 2022.

As each Asean member state has agreed to reduce coal emissions, Dr Utama said the region has also agreed on "clean coal" technology, which is outlined in the Asean Plan of Action for Energy Cooperation Phase II from 2016-25.

"This programme area focuses on making sure we will have less emissions than we previously have. Clean coal technology is a super-critical option that Asean is now choosing," he said.

Leaders of the member states -- excluding Myanmar whose military leaders were barred from the Asean summit events last week -- endorsed the regional plan for a lower emissions in a joint statement issued on Oct 26.

"We look forward to the endeavours of Asean Ministers of Energy Meetings in the future to explore an aspirational long-term regional target towards lower-emission energy systems in the region that can contribute to lowering greenhouse gas emissions, in accordance with common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities of Asean member states," the joint statement said.

A regional target for a lower emissions is necessary as lenders are backing away from unsustainable and environmentally destructive energy projects.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB), which has contributed $42 billion in financing for the region's energy sector from 2009 to 2020, recently announced that it has approved a new policy to support universal access to reliable and affordable energy services, while promoting the low-carbon transition in Asia and the Pacific.

"Energy is central to inclusive socioeconomic development, but the expansion of energy systems has come at the cost of harmful impacts on our climate and environment," president Masatsugu Asakawa said in a statement.

"This new policy locks in our strong commitment that the ADB will not fund new coal power production," he said.

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