31 October 2017
With its equatorial sunshine, oceans, volcanoes, and abundant coal, the archipelago of Indonesia is rich in energy resources. Yet this fertile country imports large quantities of oil—and exports biomass that could be used to generate low-carbon energy at home.
In 2014, the government announced its intention to reverse all that: to minimise oil consumption, triple its use of local coal, and grow its use of renewables more than eleven-fold by 2025. It’s also planning to get electricity to its 260 million people by 2020.
“The potential is there, the choices are manifold…and the price of choosing the wrong path is high,” says IIASA researcher Sylvain Leduc. “Site a power plant in an inferior place and you could double its cost.”
With inhabited mountains, jungles, and countless strings of islands to deal with, choosing the right technology for a location becomes vital.
“There are villages, for example, that may consist of several islands, several hours travel apart,” says Ping Yowargana, an IIASA science-into-policy specialist. “What do you choose for the people in these areas? Solar Photovoltaics or diesel? Solar PV is green, expensive, and can produce electricity everywhere. Diesel engines are cheap and easy to maintain—but fossil powered.”
Some answers to this and other quandaries have now emerged from the IIASA model, BeWhere, whose development was led by Leduc. He created it to analyse biofuel production in Europe, where BeWhere is now in common use. Now it has become more complex and is among the tools used to untangle knotty sustainability problems in the Tropics under the IIASA Tropical Futures Initiative.
With Indonesia, BeWhere has tackled one of its greatest challenges yet. The model has untangled a skein of issues, blending data on existing power stations, electricity grids, roads, and railways, and on the whereabouts and quantities of most of the country’s main energy commodities—natural gas, geothermal, bioenergy, and coal. It is taking into account distances to remote people and their likely electricity demand.
The result is a series of scenarios depicting the best places to site biomass and geothermal power plants, as well as what size they should be. Each scenario has different financial and environmental costs and benefits, says Piera Patrizio, a postdoc at IIASA.
“I think it’s the best approximation you can get of the potential of the country in terms of renewable energy,” she says.
Results show that increasing the proportion of energy from renewables from 6% today to 15% is financially feasible. But the 23% goal will impose costs on the whole energy supply chain. This means the government must consider a serious intervention, such as subsidies, carbon tax, or even structural reform of the sector.
The BeWhere team presented early findings at the Bali Clean Energy Forum last year, hosted by Indonesia. Now they are diving deeper to explore how they can connect with other topics such as land-use change and biodiversity, working with experts from Indonesian government institutions in the IIASA-led partnership RESTORE+.
Text by Aisling Irwin
Last edited: 10 November 2017
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