On one day when I was back in the UK at the turn of the year it was very cold, below freezing, and there was no wind. A day earlier, we experienced the other extreme of winds to 140 km with occasional gusts to hurricane strength. In neither condition is it possible to generate power from wind farms.
There is expanding investment in wind energy in the UK, as it is perceived as a key element of the country’s reduced reliance on fossil fuels and focus on renewable/clean energy over the ensuing decades. Investment in wind farms is also subsidized through a premium on household electricity bills.
There is no doubt that the country receives a large share of the winds that go round the globe. However, the average citizen does not adequately realize that the rating of a wind unit is presented as if the unit is working at full capacity, whereas within the working range of acceptable wind speeds the efficiency of a unit is often down to as little as 20%.
Wind is no more than a peripheral option in Indonesia, where wind levels are mostly modest. The total potential for wind as a percentage of all other renewable options is very small, a few percent at most.
There are a few schemes being promoted such as in Aceh and West Java but while these projects will contribute an element of power to local situations, wind is not a serious option for the future power requirements of the country. Further, other perceived hybrid solutions for eastern Indonesia, where there is more wind, are not properly thought through, nor would be adequately rewarded under current arrangements.
The potential for hydro is very large, in the order of 75 GW. Even allowing for the lack of viability of certain projects, that still leaves an impressive amount of power generation from hydro schemes, with many small-impact run-of-river projects available to be developed.
A good number of run-of-river projects have been taken on by developers but a number of factors have delayed development. These include lack of finance and/or unclear feasibility, unsatisfactory analysis of technical elements and cost of development. In some cases the tariff allowed does not provide an adequate return on investment, while inability to secure water rights is another reason for lack of progress.
In future, potential concessionaires will have to demonstrate some positive signs of progress or else they will not be allowed to enjoy unlimited access to water rights. Hence, in overall terms progress in bringing these projects to fruition has been painful, with an underlying theme of lack of investment interest in taking such schemes forward.
There are also a few large reservoir projects, one or two of them in progress. These obviously need much more detailed environmental examination. When these projects are driven by water supply requirements it is difficult to match this up with a hydro-power output, such as exists at Jatiluhur.
Two ministries are involved for such dual-purpose schemes and ministerial coordination from the start has always been difficult to the detriment of efficient overall development. This problem remains.
Indonesia enjoys 40% of the world’s geothermal resources, and the government highlighted the drive to develop geothermal when it proposed that 40% of the 10,000 MW second ‘crash program’ in 2006/7 should be geothermal. The $700 million Sorik Marapi project in North Sumatra is now underway, but the next Kamojang development in West Java still seems to be stuck in the bureaucratic maze, while we await clarity on what next for the Suoh Sekincau project in West Lampung, potentially one of the biggest in the world.
Work needs to be done in the bureaucratic process to move these known geothermal projects and others already identified to proceed faster. There need to be satisfactory returns for investors on what is a potentially high-risk activity, and clear lines between exploration and implementation that can be smoothly followed through with minimum fuss between the jurisdictions of Mines and Energy and PLN. This would be contrary to what was proposed at the March Indonesia Infrastructure event – another layer as the project moved from one jurisdiction to another.
A fairly recently reported PLN investment for solar development, in the order of $150 million, adds to quite a number of private sector initiatives that are taking place in eastern Indonesia, for instance, with its high sunshine rating.
Elsewhere there is interesting research taking place towards being able to store solar energy beyond the limited period that current technology allows. Overall, solar has a sensible part to play as part of an overall energy mix, although it is still some way from providing a reliable bulk baseload energy bank.
Indonesia has an estimated potential of 50 GW of power that can be developed from biomass sources. There are a good number of bio-waste projects around but there is little action to report.
On biofuel crops there is significant potential for development in many locations across the country – preferably with no conflict with food requirements – and the government has been actively subsidizing biofuel to stimulate development. Biofuels have already been successfully tried out on diesel power units and have been introduced into the transportation sector.
The policy is that by 2025 20% of transport fuel will be biodiesel and 15% bioethanol, similarly for industrial and commercial enterprises. However, taking note of the considerable technology drive worldwide towards finding viable renewable energy alternatives to fossil-based fuels, it is quite likely that these future objectives as a percentage replacement will be revised.
Finally, a note on nuclear which, while carbon free and deemed clean, is not renewable like hydro or geothermal. The Japanese disaster at Fukushima initiated much rethinking in many countries on nuclear energy policy.
In Germany nuclear energy currently provides 23% of the country’s power output. However, backtracking on a statement that nuclear would form an important foundation element of Germany’s power requirements in the future, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has stated that the country will phase out its dependence on nuclear by 2022 and increase its wind energy percentage by 18%.
As a media commentator added, it looks as if coal in some form or other is back on the table, otherwise there would be significant shortfall in the country’s power requirements. It is clear that the statement has been driven by realpolitik in response to poor election results and made without real consultation with industry. The cost to make this change in commitment would be simply enormous with pronounced negative impact not only on Germany but also on the Eurozone generally, since Germany is the industrial heartland for mainland Europe.
Indonesia has its nuclear champions with locations supposedly remote from the ‘Ring of Fire’ such as Batam, but it has to be argued that priority should be given to pursuing more vigorously the development of the huge capacity available in geothermal and hydro. Further effort is needed towards provision of off-grid gasification power facilities flexible enough to accept feedstocks as diverse as coal, woody biomass or waste, and therefore suitable for use in remote locations as well as urban areas.
Come what may, coal will remain a foundation for Indonesia’s and Asia’s power requirements for many years to come and, while renewables will play an increasingly important part of the overall energy mix, the stimulus for coal will be to find or apply ways, several technologically already developed, to make it more attractive, that is cleaner.
Coal upgrading, beyond mere drying but through torrrefaction, holds the promise of converting middle-rank coals into low-emission coking coal and improve margins while adding value nationally, a requirement under the Mining Law.
It is of recent interest that a regional joint venture, PT Total Sinergy, has commenced construction of facilities in Banten and Kalimantan, one in proximity to a PLN coal-fired generation facility and the other in proximity to mining,
Coal is still a major world energy resource, as highlighted in a complementary paper in this issue of GlobeAsia.