Greenpeace Calls for Renewed Vigor in Asean’s Renewable Energy Drive

By Ethan Harfenist 25 September 2013

JAKARTA — Greenpeace Southeast Asia laid out an argument on Tuesday for a concerted push for renewable energy in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), focusing on both the economic and environmental benefits of a greener power policy.

“The deteriorating climate should be Asean’s top concern, given that the region is experiencing frequent and more intense extreme weather events due to climate change caused by carbon emissions,” said Amalie H. Obusan, regional climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

Launched at the 31st Asean Ministers of Energy meeting in Bali, “Energy [R]evolution: A Sustainable Asean Energy Outlook” emphasizes the socioeconomic advantages of pursuing renewables in a roadmap detailing how the regional group could safeguard its energy security.

“The Asean region, with its rapid pace of economic and population growth should play an important role in this global solution as the E[R] report clearly shows that a low carbon development path is possible,” Obusan said.

The report said sustainable energy sources—such as wind, photovoltaics and geothermal energy—could comprise 70 percent of the region’s total electricity generation by 2050. This is due in part to a “democratization of energy production,” according to Greenpeace—access to solar panels could bring electricity to remote or deprived Southeast Asian communities currently unconnected to electricity grids.

Costs and Benefits

The exploitation of green-energy sources across Asean could, the report said, result in US$2.8 trillion worth of investment, $2.7 trillion in fuel-cost savings and 1.1 million jobs by 2030.

“There is already a strong global movement for reducing the dependency on fossil fuels by increasing the share of renewable energies,” said lead author Sven Teske, renewable energies director at Greenpeace International.

“The Asean countries have more than enough natural resources to become a leading player for clean, renewable energies. Renewable energies are more competitive than coal, utilize indigenous local resources and create more employment. Using more renewables is now an advantage for the economy, not a burden and reduces their dependence on dirty, imported fossil fuels like oil and coal.”

Indonesia, a net importer of gasoline and one of the biggest markets for natural gas in the world, has in the past acknowledged the need to gradually switch over to renewable energy sources, but the obstacles—bureaucracy, corruption, funding and land law among them—remain as plentiful as the sources themselves.

On Sept. 20, state-owned electricity company Perusahaan Listrik Negara forecast that Indonesia would need at least $77.3 billion to sufficiently develop renewable energy as a source of electricity by 2021.

Mochamad Sofjan, head of the renewable- and new-energy division at the Jakarta-based company, said that amount would be enough to add another 13,000 megawatts to the country’s power grid over the next eight years.

“During that period, we will build power plants with hydro, geothermal, biomass and solar as energy sources,” Mochamad said.

PLN, which provides much of the power to the country’s population of nearly 250 million, believes renewable energy will contribute at least 20 percent of the country’s electricity needs by 2021.

“Currently, 86.3 percent of our power plants are powered by conventional energy, while renewable accounts for only 13.7 percent,” he added.

Facts on the Ground

In April, Israeli business website Globes reported that Ormat Technologies, a subsidiary of Israel-based renewable energy company Ormat Industries, had signed a joint-operating contract to construct a 330-megawatt geothermal power plant in Tapanuli, North Sumatra. The project would be Indonesia’s largest to date, after the Wayang Windu plant in West Java.

Refurbishment of existing infrastructure—as opposed to new, big-ticket renewable-energy projects—is another avenue along which Indonesia has taken some steps.

Entec Indonesia, the Bandung-based subsidiary of its Swiss parent, Entec, worked with a local firm in West Sumatra to develop the Salido Kecil mini hydroelectric plant in a fairly remote area 50 kilometers south of Padang.

The plant was built almost a century ago to power the local gold mining operation. Ardi, Entec Indonesia’s project manager, told the Jakarta Globe that the company replaced the three turbines and installed a new generator to improve the power station’s output.

“We were able to use the existing superstructure because it was in good condition,” he said.

The plant’s 660 kilowatts, at a cost of 4,500 tons of CO2 per year, has the potential to power almost 1,000 homes.

Green politics

Greenpeace warned, however, that Asean’s renewable-energy outlook was inextricably linked with the contours of its political landscape.

“Climate change is a wholesale problem requiring a wholesale solution, one that needs the absolute cooperation of every nation in the region,” said Obusan.

“For the sake of a sound environment, political stability and thriving economies, now is the time for Asean to commit to a truly secure and sustainable energy future—one built on genuinely clean technologies, economic development and the creation of hundreds of thousands of green jobs.”

Additional reporting by Tito Summa Siahaan.