Assessing sustainability of Indonesia’s electricity generation system

Recently our class of 2017 finished off their year in the MSc in Sustainable Energy Futures with the Sustainable Energy Futures Annual Conference 2017. The cohort was a very international one and many people focussed on topics related to their home country. One of them, Firra Gumilar, has kindly written this post about the work she presented at the conference looking at Indonesia’s electricity generation system.

 Indonesia is the largest economy in Southeast Asia and energy and sustainability are both pressing issues. The government has set out a clear strategy to promote energy independence and security between now and 2025 and then beyond to 2050. However the role sustainability plays in the current energy planning to enable this strategy has been called into question.

Caption: The Greater Jakarta metropolitan area in Indonesia, with over 30million inhabitants, is the second largest urban area in the world and the most populous city in Southeast Asia.
The Greater Jakarta metropolitan area in Indonesia, with over 30million inhabitants, is the second largest urban area in the world and the most populous city in Southeast Asia.

Working with Dr Kaveh Madani and Maral Mahlooji, from the Centre for Environmental Policy, my research assessed the performance of ten energy resources under a “System of Systems” approach. This approach allowed me to incorporate and consider the trade-offs and interlinks between the conflicting sustainability criteria used in Indonesia.

The main problem with the Indonesian government’s plan is the criteria applied to choose the best energy sources. The government has leaned towards economic and energy benefits while neglecting any environmental impacts. The national electricity planning draft [PDF, Indonesian] states that “… power plant development planning is based on the least cost principle …” (page 8, Line 32-33). This is repeated in the Power Supply Business Plan [PDF, Indonesian] of the country’s state-owned electricity company “… power plant development is optimally strived on the principle of the lowest cost of electricity supply …” (Page II-2, Line 9-14).

This is combined with a, seemingly, limited understanding of the interactions between the environment, energy sector and the economy in Indonesia’s electricity generation system outlook. This is highlighted by three points:

  1. Expected domination of coal in Indonesia’s future energy system
  2. Lack of awareness of the impact of various renewables on the local and national environment
  3. The knowledge gap between the central plan and local government’s implementation.

Current projections are that by 2025, Indonesia’s electricity generation will have doubled, but 50% of that will be supplied from coal-fired power plants. While, superficially, coal might support the national agenda of providing adequate and affordable energy, it poses a severe threat to achieving Indonesia’s climate change mitigation target where CO2 emissions are to be reduced by 26% (unconditionally) and 41% (with international assistance) by 2020.

Around 50 percent of Indonesia’s population continues to live in the rural areas with agricultural contributing 15 percent of GDP
Around 50 percent of Indonesia’s population continues to live in the rural areas with agricultural contributing 15 percent of GDP

The National Development Planning Agency provides a framework to achieve energy, land, and water security as well as climate change mitigation. However there are only limited considerations of the strong links and interdependency between the three systems. The collaboration and connected planning to consider trade-offs between systems that are needed to promote national sustainable development and energy security is missing. For instance, selection of hydropower as the dominant renewable does not mean it is sustainable as its land and water footprint is even higher than fossil fuels and alternative renewables.

The national energy planning mandate is not well-informed and well-executed at the regional or local level, mainly as a result of the knowledge gap between central and local government. Consequently, national energy planning fails to optimise local energy sources and to maintain sustainability of local natural and economic resources.

In my work I used the four sustainability criteria, as laid out in the National Development Agenda, to measure desirability: carbon emissions, land footprint, water footprint, and economy (levelised cost of electricity). I then applied weighting for these four criteria according to Indonesia’s local resources availability and limitation.

Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world with a total population of 250 million people, of which 43 percent are below the age of 25, land is an increasingly scarce resource.
Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world with a total population of 250 million people, of which 43 percent are below the age of 25, land is an increasingly scarce resource.

How my work was novel in that I used five different models to investigate the interactions and trade-offs between these criteria using a computational technique called MCDM (multi-criteria decision-making). The use of five different models and Monte-Carlo selection enable the methodology to account for uncertainties from different notion of optimality and variation in performance values, respectively.

The result of my research shows that not all renewables are equally desirable. In fact, nuclear and geothermal are the most desirable energy sources, while bioenergy and hydropower are the least desirable. Coal on the other hand, is considered as desirable for Indonesia’s electricity generation system in general, driven by its minimum land footprint due to the land scarcity status of Indonesia.

My work also highlighted that while national energy planning is essential to set the general target and outlook for the country’s energy portfolio, it fails to acknowledge distinct characteristics of natural and economic resources at the local and regional level. When my method was applied at this lower level the desirability differences between individual islands in the Indonesian archipelago for energy resources are clearly identified. This provides a more detailed analysis to inform local energy planning.

The research I have done over the last few months shows that for Indonesia to achieve long-term sustainability there needs to be radical changes in the framework for devising energy planning. Promoting energy sources based purely on economic benefit could lead to the eventual collapse of the ecosystem. Therefore, energy planners should acquire a holistic understanding of the strong interlinks between elements in the overall system. This also means any future electricity generation system in Indonesia needs to include a diverse mix of fossil-fuel and renewable sources.

Firra Gumilar

Firra GumilarFirra is originally from Bandung, Indonesia. During her undergraduate studies at Institut Teknologi Bandung in chemical engineering she worked on a project to introduce and build a biogas system for Ciporeat, a remote village in the eastern part of Bandung. She realised during the project that more than engineering skill is needed to successfully apply an engineering solution in the real world. This led her to pursue the MSc in Sustainable Energy Futures at Imperial College London. This multidisciplinary degree in energy was able to complement her engineering degree and expanded her views of the energy sector for future career opportunities.

With a scholarship from the Indonesian government, she intends to focus her future work on implementing a sustainable transition to achieve low-carbon economy in Indonesia’s energy sector. Along with the resources and support from Energy Futures Lab she hopes to use the results of her study to provide insight to the country and the wider Southeast Asia region.

She can be contacted by email on firra.gumilar16@imperial.ac.uk or firra.ghassani@gmail.com.

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