By Shoeb Kagda
As it seeks to sustain economic growth over the coming decades, Indonesia will need to ensure sufficient energy supply. Energy will be required to power new industries, light millions of new homes and support growing urban centers.
But even as the government boosts the country’s energy sources such as oil, natural gas, coal and renewables, it must at the same time keep an eye on protecting the nation’s natural heritage. The challenge for Indonesia is striking the right balance between ensuring self-sufficiency and protecting its environment.
These two needs are not mutually exclusive, say Dyah Roro Esti Widya Putri – Esti – and Satya Hangga Yudha Widya Putra – Hangga – the founders of the Indonesian Energy and Environmental Institute (IE2I). The sister and brother team are in the vanguard of fresh thinking that raises awareness about global warming and climate change while at the same time supporting economic growth. “We established IE2I because we realized that there are a lot of issues connected with energy and environment, not just in Indonesia but around the world,” notes Hangga, who recently obtained a Master of Science degree in energy and environmental policy with distinction at New York University and is now seeking to pursue a PhD.
“When I watched the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, I realized that global warming is real and we are starting to see its detrimental consequences. This is an issue not just for the United States or China, but it affects all of us and the only way we can solve it is if we work together.”
IE2I will therefore undertake research on energy and environmental issues by participating in and having focus group discussions (FGDs), meetings and conferences in Indonesia and abroad with influential policymakers, business leaders, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), universities and society, and finding the right solutions that fit the needs of the nation.
“We want to be able to make as many changes as we can and move the country in the right direction,” adds Hangga. “Indonesians are aware of the dangers of climate change, but there are people who care and people who don’t care, so that is why we are promoting climate change issues to affect behavioral change in communities.”
Efforts undertaken by IE2I are promoting sustainable practices at the village level. But changing mindsets will not be easy, he notes.
While many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Indonesia focus primarily on environmental issues, IE2I understands that energy and the environment are connected and cannot be viewed separately.
“We must start with the idea that the two factors are mutually connected,” notes Esti, who holds a MSc in environmental technology with a concentration on pollution management from Imperial College London and serves as chair of IE2I. “To address climate change we need to focus on both aspects simultaneously and connect energy and environmental issues.”
Having lived in five countries, Esti is well aware of the need for energy, especially in developing economies. “The question for all of us is how can a country and the world move to a more sustainable way of life,” she adds.
“Indonesia, as a signatory of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, must meet its commitments on reducing CO2 emissions but the government cannot ignore the needs of a fast-growing middle class,” she notes. “So the approach has to be top down as well as bottom up when addressing the dual aspect.”
“From the Paris Agreement, we see that countries are aware of the problem and want to make significant change,” says Esti. “Indonesian youth also need to understand that they have a significant voice and collectively they can make a difference.”
This is why IE2I focuses on education and working closely with the government and private sector to ensure that the country is on the right path. “Climate change is a multi-sectorial issue. We are not looking to blame any one party. We are focused on finding solutions,” she adds.
One project IE2I plans to launch focuses on the creation of Climate Villages where local communities are engaged to take better care of their environment. The institute is currently working with villages in Tuban and Bojonegoro in East Java to launch renewable energy projects. It also plans to cooperate with ministries, state-owned enterprises and private companies to achieve green growth in Indonesia’s rural areas.
According to Ahmad Thonthowi DJ, the third founder of IE2I who is also the executive director, rubbish accumulation is a major problem across the country but it can be turned into a source of renewable energy and a project to do that is already underway in Surabaya.
Right energy mix
As renewable sources of energy continue to grow, Indonesia’s energy mix over the coming decades will be very different from what it is today. Presently, renewables account for only 4% of the country’s total energy mix, but Hangga expects this to rise to 30% by 2050.
He notes that while the president and the government and both the executive and legislative branch will change in the future, the energy industry will always be around: “80% of investments in
Indonesia including mining come from the energy sector. If the government and the industry work together with the right policies and incentives, we can achieve a better energy mix and improve overall economic performance. Cheaper sources of energy will create competitive industries, which will drive the economy. Natural resources such as oil and gas are no longer seen as a revenue generator but a prime mover of the economy.”
Esti agrees, noting that as a country, Indonesia will be more aware of the impact of climate change going forward. “Indonesia will have greater awareness of where its strengths lie, and each major island will depend on different energy sources given their comparative advantages. For example, solar energy can only be implemented in areas such as Nusa Tenggara Timor (NTT), where there is enough direct sunlight exposure for electricity to be generated, as well as land area for solar energy to be installed, remembering that producing 1 MW of solar power requires approximately one hectare of land.”
ll of these solutions will depend on three factors, adds Thonthowi. “The three key factors will be implementation, implementation, and implementation. We already have a roadmap to a better energy mix, but we need to implement it consistently.” The three IE2I founders are well aware of the challenges they face in promoting a better energy mix for the country but they remain undaunted and hopeful that the future will be brighter for all Indonesians.