Solar and water
In Bali for a long weekend and visiting the East Bali Proyek Miskin, the island has entered the dry season and there is plenty of sunshine. A few years back we put solar panels into our six schools that are part of the project, in an area unserved by the grid, and these have been a great success.
Part of the trip was to see how solar has been embraced in eastern Indonesia, one of the sunniest areas of the world, with places like Kupang enjoying an average of seven hours of sunshine per day per annum.
Certainly the private sector has been increasingly active in including solar as part of the power supply for developments in the islands. While support conditions provided by the state are awakening to the challenge, much more is needed. Incentives to invest in solar power, which have been encouragingly provided in other countries, could be improved.
The price of solar panels has come down dramatically in the past year or so, partly due to over-production in China, and naturally this has encouraged further interest, but the installation price per energy unit remains high at a little more than twice that of coal and 1.75 times that for hydro.
However, if installed properly maintenance costs are low and the return on investment can be attractive. Just like hydro or geothermal, once installed the feedstock is free.
Solar needs a greater boost as part of the energy mix in the right areas, such as eastern Indonesia with its thousands of small communities, many of them without power.
There is also the incentive of carbon credits. For instance, a 10 MW system can earn 10,000 carbon credits per year which at $20/credit would put $200,000 into the cash flow.
Furthermore, for future developments across the archipelago and future expansion and upgrading of the city of Jakarta, solar energy should be seriously considered as part of the energy requirement for a given case. Along with energy efficient design – refer to the Green Building Code – a significant impact can be made on the demand side of the energy equation.
Cooling down the humans
Each of us humans is a little heat island, and since there are 7 billion of us on the planet now, 3.5 times as many as in the 1940s, we are generating that much more heat. Still we would not survive without the heat of the sun on the planet.
Nor would we survive if there was no water, the most precious of the planet’s resources that is being used at an acclerating rate to support our vastly increased world population.
It is interesting to note that concern over world water is receiving increasing attention in the international press, and rightly so. Distribution across the world is uneven and always has been and natural changes with time occur and will continue to occur. Past civilizations have disappeared or had to move because of major changes to available access to a river or lake.
However, the expansion of the population of humans and the complementary greatly increasing need for access to and conservation of water has had a significant impact on water resources across the globe, the natural cycle of the atmosphere, and changing areas of distribution, complicated at times by sunspot activity at the heart of the solar system.
Not so long ago I read an interesting paper that showed that the rise and fall of the water level in Lake Victoria in Africa could be matched directly to sunspot activity.
In Indonesia, we have one of the wettest areas of the planet, which has encouraged lush green coverage for millenia and, while distribution creates drier regions as in the eastern part of the archipelago, everywhere receives annual rainfall. There is no reason why much better use should not be made of the resources available, with currently less than 1% of all rainfall being harnessed for use.
There are 131 water basins across the country but unfortunately some 100 of them are in stress mode, with particularly severe conditions arising in dry seasons and some river beds completely drying out, with resulting hardship to rural communities that rely on the flow of these rivers.
Major connurbations such as Jakarta and Bandung expanded hugely over the past 50 years and damaged the natural groundwater flows that were able to supply the smaller populations of the past through natural replenishment.
While attempts to harness surface water flows, such as through Jatiluhur reservoir for Jakarta, are significant and vital, the amount available still falls far short of requirement.
Plans for increasing reservoir storage are already on the drawing board, but it is an urgent matter to push plans into implementation and deal seriously with the natural issues that will arise with the consequent inevitable displacement of people.
Much more attention needs to be paid to the proper socialization of one of the most important issues that, with no action taken, will otherwise adversely impact on the ‘inevitable’ growth and health of the major conurbations of Jakarta in particular and also Bandung. Weaning people off the use of groundwater can never be properly implemented unless a reliable surface supply is in place.
In addition to new sources of captive surface supply, much more serious attention should be paid to dirty water capture and reuse and application of research and lessons learned elsewhere.
Singapore, for instance, has now developed a large well-funded facility to look at many practical solutions to use water and waste efficiently; it has to because the water naturally available within the country is insufficient to its needs.
Planning and implementation policies for reuse of water, along with currently almost non-existent decent sanitation, should become a necessity for further domestic and commercial city expansion, and even for smaller urban communities, across Indonesia.
After all, today’s 130 million urbanites are going to increase to over 200 million before mid-century. With a 7% growth rate and 50 million Indonesians now in the middle-class band, a number which happily is steadily increasing, it is time to put pressure on the water/sanitation sector, which is also sound policy for the many still struggling to make ends meet. After all, who wants to live in a cesspool?