Bioenergy can bring clean power to remote areas of Indonesia

Areas of the archipelagic nation are under-serviced by public energy suppliers. Tree-based bioenergy offers the chance to not only provide power but also a source of livelihoods to these remote communities that is also environmentally friendly.

 

The three Indonesian provinces of Papua, Nusa Tenggara Barat and Nusa Tenggara Timur feature household connection rates to the mains electricity grid ranging 36–64%, the lowest in the nation. The provinces share other similarities: lower population densities; difficult terrain; a scarcity of the usual sources of energy for electricity production; and greater distance from production centres.

‘Our research shows that bioenergy production from biomass can help meet these challenges not only for electricity production but also help improve livelihoods and ecosystem services in these areas’, said Dr Sonya Dewi, Indonesia country coordinator of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF).

Dr Sonya Dewi, Indonesia program coordinator, World Agroforestry Centre. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Robert Finlayson

Dr Sonya Dewi, Indonesia program coordinator, World Agroforestry Centre. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Robert Finlayson

Dr Dewi was speaking at the Bali Clean Energy Forum, held at the Nusa Dua Convention Center, 11 February 2016. Officially opened by the vice-president of the Republic of Indonesia, Jusuf Kalla, the forum brought together representatives of 26 countries; the private sector; experts in the field of energy; civil society; and young people. It was hosted by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources in cooperation with the International Energy Agency (IEA), which Indonesia joined in 2015 along with China and Thailand. ICRAF hosted a session on bioenergy at the forum, moderated by ICRAF’s interim Southeast Asia regional coordinator, Dr Ingrid Oborn (see Indonesia set to expand use of bioenergy).

Potential areas suitable for development of bioenergy, according to Dr Dewi’s research, were scattered, remote villages without electricity provided by the state electricity company (Perusahaan Listrik Negara/PLN), which had land available for planting food and energy crops or such species that weren’t being effectively used; and villages that already had PLN services but whose rates of use were low because they could not afford the cost and which also had land or existing crops that could be intensified for energy production.

There are as many as 12,000 villages in Indonesia without services from the state electricity company, PLN. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Robert Finlayson

There are as many as 12,000 villages in Indonesia without services from the state electricity company, PLN. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Robert Finlayson

The characteristics of villages with low rates of use of PLN services had been identified by the research as typically located inside, or on the margins of, land designated as ‘forest’ by the Government, especially ‘protection’ and ‘conservation’ forest statuses; or in areas with mangrove forests; those that mostly used firewood for cooking and other domestic uses; had poor road infrastructure with only seasonal access by cars; and in which the main source of livelihoods was forestry.

‘Coupled with such villages are areas with extensive degraded land or other areas that are suitable for underused species. These areas could not only produce bioenergy crops but also improve local people’s livelihoods’, said Dr Dewi. ‘Restoring the functions of degraded land would also have a beneficial effect on the provision of ecosystem services’.

Nypa is a promising bioenergy plant that deserves further research. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Robert Finlayson

Nypa is a promising bioenergy plant that deserves further research. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Robert Finlayson

Further, she noted that studying the feasibility of an underused species, such as Nypa fruticans, can uncover more efficient and effective ways of producing bioenergy while also maintaining ecosystem services and improving farmers’ livelihoods. Nypa exists as a natural system in tropical mangrove forests and saltwater swamps, with which Indonesia is plentifully endowed, with the longest coastline in the world straddling the equator. Importantly, most areas where nypa grows are designated as forest land, hence, there would be no competition for land. Nypa is very productive as ethanol feedstock and tapping can be maintained for up to 50 years. According to some literature it can also grow on peat without any drainage system so, potentially, it could be part of peat restoration. In many areas in Indonesia, for example South Sumatra, in the past five years emissions from conversion of mangrove forests to other uses have become the largest source of greenhouse-gas emissions. Using nypa in such habitats could provide livelihoods’ options that might prevent further conversion. Nypa could also play a role in maintaining ecosystem services, including as habitat for aquatic fauna species, and as part of strategies for mitigation and adaptation to climate change.

However, realizing all these opportunities would require supportive local policies and aspirations in line with national policies, which at this time are not yet in evidence. There would also need to be a high demand for ecosystem services—such as improved water supply from restored watersheds—from ‘downstream’ areas of higher population density and land-use intensification, who would be willing to pay for the services provided. Local labour would need to be available for expanding areas of bioenergy-crop production, including the capacity to manage any bioenergy program. Investment would also have to be made in improving road infrastructure and financing mechanisms and partnerships found to fund the developments.

‘Such investments, apart from the benefits to potentially hundreds of thousand or even millions of citizens, would also directly contribute to meeting Indonesia’s commitment to Sustainable Development Goal 7: ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all’, said Dr Dewi.

 

 

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This work is linked to the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry

 

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Rob Finlayson

Rob Finlayson

Robert Finlayson is the Southeast Asia program's regional communications specialist. As well as writing stories for the Centre's website, he devises and supervises strategies for projects and the countries in the Southeast Asia region, including scripting and producing videos, supervising editors and translators and also assisting with resource mobilization.

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