An Indonesian family of farmers eat under the glow of a light bulb, as the women weave and young men play with cellphones.
Until two years ago, most people in Kamanggih, a village on the island of Sumba, had no power. Now 300 homes have access to 24-hour electricity produced by a small hydroelectric generator in the river nearby.
“We have been using the river for water our whole lives, but we never knew it could give us electricity,” Adriana Lawa Djati said.
While Indonesia struggles to fuel its economy, Sumba is harnessing power from the sun, wind, rivers and pig dung in a bid to go 100 percent renewable by 2025.
The project, called the “Iconic Island,” was started by Dutch development organization Hivos and is now part of the national government’s strategy to almost double renewables over the next 10 years.
Sumba, in central Indonesia, is an impoverished island of mostly subsistence farmers and fishermen.
“So much has changed since we started using electricity. The kids can study at night [and] I can weave baskets and mats for longer and sell more at the market” Djati said.
While just about 30 percent of Sumba’s 650,000 people have electricity, more than 50 percent of it comes from renewables.
Hivos’s field coordinator for Sumba, Adrianus Lagur, said that the NGO hoped the project would be replicated by other islands in East Nusa Tenggara Province.
“The idea is not to give handouts. We support the building of green energy infrastructure, but it’s up to the people to manage this resource and keep it going,” Lagur said.
Indonesia is the world’s fourth-most populous country, with about 250 million people, and is Southeast Asia’s biggest economy. Yet it is one of the region’s least electrified, partly because it sprawls over 17,000 islands. More than 6,000 are inhabited. Building infrastructure over such a vast area is difficult.
Economic growth is about 6 percent annually, but Indonesia is so short of energy that it has scheduled power cuts that cripple cities and parts of the capital.
Indonesia plans to boost its capacity by 60 gigawatts over a 10-year period to 2022. At least 20 percent of that is to come from renewable sources.
“Indonesia has been a net importer of oil for years and our oil reserves are limited, so renewables are an important part of our energy security,” said Mochamad Sofyan, renewable energy chief of state electricity company PLN.
Electricity and fuel subsidies have also been a burden on the state and a drain on the economy.
Small-scale infrastructure, like mini-hydroelectric generators — known as “microhydro plants” — and small wind turbines that power Sumba are not enough to close the national energy gap, even if they were built on all Indonesia’s islands.
Massive hydropower and geothermal projects are needed to tackle the problem, Sofyan said.
“Indonesia has enormous hydropower potential because it rains six months of the year in most parts. So that will be a big part of the answer to the energy shortage,” Sofyan said.
Sofyan said there is also concern that Sumba’s target to be powered 100 percent by renewable energy is unrealistic.
“In the long term, we see Sumba still relying somewhat on diesel generators. It will be powered predominantly by renewables, but I don’t think it will be able to switch off the grid,” Sofyan said.
Hivos admits its goal is ambitious, saying it is “inspirational and political” rather than technical, but the NGO believes the target may be achievable.