Climate of change: Green versus black

Welcome winds of change in a greening Indonesia

Wind turbines at the Sidrap wind farm in Sidenreng Rappang regency, South Sulawesi. Hills and mountains make up 53 per cent of the 2,500 sq km regency, located as high as 3,086m above sea level. A child taking a peek as sugarcane farmer Sundinge, 35,
Wind turbines at the Sidrap wind farm in Sidenreng Rappang regency, South Sulawesi. Hills and mountains make up 53 per cent of the 2,500 sq km regency, located as high as 3,086m above sea level.ST PHOTO: WAHYUDI SOERIAATMADJA
Wind turbines at the Sidrap wind farm in Sidenreng Rappang regency, South Sulawesi. Hills and mountains make up 53 per cent of the 2,500 sq km regency, located as high as 3,086m above sea level. A child taking a peek as sugarcane farmer Sundinge, 35,
A child taking a peek as sugarcane farmer Sundinge, 35, tries to start a diesel generator which provides electricity for his village, in Sidenreng Rappang regency, which is not on the power grid.ST PHOTO: WAHYUDI SOERIAATMADJA

Country keen to tap renewable energy as it powers up more homes, develops economy

The locals had never seen anything like it. Trucks gingerly navigating small roads as they carried 57m-long wind turbine blades, weighing 20 tonnes each.

The parts had come from Spain and landed at Parepare, a sleepy fishing town in Indonesia's South Sulawesi province. It took some time, but the trucks eventually transported 90 blades to a nearby hilly area called Sidrap.

The end result: Indonesia's first wind farm.

Called Sidrap, it generates 75 megawatts (MW) of electricity from its 30 wind turbine towers. It came on line in July, supplying homes and industries, and cost US$150 million (S$206 million). The owners are already gearing up for phase II, which would add 22 more towers and generate 65MW, with completion set for mid-2020. Phase II is expected to cost between US$110 million and US$120 million.

From the day the parts arrived at Parepare port, the project has drawn continuous attention. Nowadays, residents from other towns, as well as outside South Sulawesi, are often seen in the afternoon taking selfies with the picturesque wind farm in the background.

The operator and local government have made plans to start tourism by setting up proper viewing platforms nearer the wind turbine towers, and by roping in local villagers to work as guides as well as make and sell souvenirs.

  • 539GW

  • Total global wind power capacity last year - nine times Indonesia's power generation capacity from all sources.

  • 10 million

    Number of Indonesians without access to electricity despite an aggressive drive to boost power capacity.

Another wind farm, called Tolo 1 and with a capacity of 72MW, is due to start operating soon in Jeneponto, South Sulawesi. It is part of what investors hope will be a surge in wind and solar investment in Indonesia, driven by falling equipment costs, growing demand for electricity and policy changes by the government.

But Indonesia's move into wind power is late, lagging far behind Europe, China, the United States and elsewhere. Globally, wind power capacity totalled 539 gigawatts (GW) last year, according to the Global Wind Energy Council. That is nine times Indonesia's total power generation capacity from all sources.

Sidrap regency's secretary Sudirman Bungi, the most senior local bureaucrat, said he was not sure a wind farm would work in his area.

"We knew such projects exist only in Europe, in the Netherlands. The investors came to us to say they wanted to build towers to measure the wind. We let them, and have always given support," Mr Sudirman told The Sunday Times in his office in early September.

Tests proved the site was indeed suitable.

Sidrap, short for Sidenreng Rappang, is 183km north of the provincial capital Makassar, and has a population of about 300,000. Hills and mountains make up 53 per cent of the 2,500 sq km regency, located as high as 3,086m above sea level.

"As with all wind farms, wind speed and direction in the Sidrap wind farm area are reasonably predictable, but not totally stable. The wind does blow very consistently during the dry season, where it will predominantly come from the south-easterly direction," said Mr Niko Priyambada, senior project development manager of UPC Renewables Indonesia, the company that built and operates the wind farm.

"During the low wind period, which is usually in the wet season, other power plants interconnected to the southern Sulawesi electricity grid will act as back-ups," he added. For example, during the wet season, more hydro power is available.

The wind farm can supply up to 7 per cent of the local grid's power, helping boost the grid's reserve capacity, much of which is now expensive diesel-fired generation.

Mr Niko said state utility PLN is looking for cheaper sources of electricity to expand its customer base, such as smelters, on Sulawesi.

UPC Renewables Indonesia is the local arm of Hong Kong-based UPC Renewables, which has developed wind farms globally and owns projects in Australia, China and the Philippines. AC Energy, part of the Ayala Corporation from the Philippines, also recently invested in the Sidrap wind farm.

CREATING MORE TRANSPARENCY

In August last year, the energy and mineral resources ministry passed a regulation requiring PLN to publish standardised sale and purchase agreements for all types of renewable energy to provide transparency to private investors keen to build power plants. Indonesian law gives PLN monopoly rights to distribute power to users.

The regulation also, for the first time, provides clear guidelines on how PLN can decide power tariffs for each type of renewable energy.

UPC Renewables Indonesia is hoping to reach a power purchase agreement with PLN for phase two.

"Now we are doing an expansion... with the benefit of experience from the phase 1 project where we identified all the risks, which allowed us to offer a very attractive price to PLN," Mr Niko told The Sunday Times at the Sidrap wind farm.

For phase one, discussions on tariffs were conducted on an open book basis because there was not yet a feed-in tariff determined by the government for wind farm projects, and UPC Renewables Indonesia had to conduct a feasibility study and gather all wind resources data before coming to the table with PLN to reach a mutually agreed tariff, according to Mr Niko.

 
 

The next challenge was building Indonesia's first wind farm, including finding the right equipment.

Indonesia has been on a crash programme to dramatically increase its power generation capacity to fuel its economy. Coal has been a major focus along with geothermal and hydro. Very little solar has been added.

Total power generation capacity in Indonesia reached 59.74GW in 2016, data from the energy and mineral resources ministry last year showed. This compares to 53GW four years ago - about the same as Australia's total power generation capacity. Nationwide, 91.2 per cent of areas had access to electricity in 2016. This compares to Singapore's 100 per cent, Malaysia's 99 per cent and Vietnam's 98 per cent.

President Joko Widodo set an aggressive target of building 35GW of power generation capacity within five years when he took office in 2014. As of this April, only 1.58GW of this capacity had come on stream, while 17.02GW is under construction, most slated for completion by next year.

Despite this aggressive drive, an estimated 10 million Indonesians still have no access to electricity.

Some residents in Mattirotasi village near the Sidrap wind farm still use their own mobile power generator, with several households sharing one unit. Others in the village, which has a population of about 400, use oil lamps.

Cashew nut farmer Ilham Mustafa Kamal told The Sunday Times that UPC Renewables Indonesia had promised to help provide his village with electricity, but it has not happened yet.

"Three things that we demanded when they first came here: road repair, clean water and electricity. They said 'yes' but are yet to meet such commitments," Mr Ilham said.

Mr Niko said the firm has started to distribute solar panels to other villages near the wind farm and has yet to complete the ongoing programme to help the locals. Economies of scale and the topography provide PLN with a challenge to bring power cables to the hilly villages.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 25, 2018, with the headline 'Welcome winds of change in a greening Indonesia'. Print Edition | Subscribe