This article is part of a series to celebrate Earth Day on April 22.
Indonesia is a tropical country with year-round sunshine. My research on how Indonesia can generate electricity entirely from renewable energy has calculated the country has the potential to generate about 640,000 Terrawatt-hours (TWh) per year from solar energy. That’s equivalent to 2,300 times last year’s electricity production.
Southeast Asia’s largest economy produced 275 TWh of electricity from various power plants with a total capacity of 69.1 gigawatt (GW) last year. Coal, gas and diesel power plants supplied almost 90% of electricity. The rest comes from power plants using renewable energy – hydro, wind, geothermal, solar and biofuel.
The domination of non-renewable energy power is expected to last until 2050.
Even though Indonesia has abundant solar energy, state power firm PLN, currently the only electricity supplier, can’t tap into it right away as it is bound by contracts it has signed with various power plant operators. These contracts last for a minimum of 20 years.
The government predicts the use of solar energy in electricity production will only account for less than 10% of the total energy mix by 2050.
I argue that, with its abundant sunshine and unique topography, Indonesia should be able to generate 100% green electricity from its solar energy by 2050. The government needs to set attractive policies for both customers and power providers to make this happen.
Here are three reasons why Indonesia has the potential to generate its electricity entirely from solar energy:
These prices are well below the cost that Indonesia’s state power firm, PLN, needs to generate electricity, at around US$79/MWh.
To meet the 2050 figure, the government must generate 50 GW from solar energy each year, starting 2021, and connect it to power grids.
This is likely achievable, considering that building solar PV projects is much faster than for fossil power plants.
A solar PV farm needs a maximum of two years of construction, while coal-fired power plants need at least three years to complete.
To supply electricity at night, the PV system will need battery storage. Battery prices have also fallen by 87% since 2010, to $156/kWh in 2019. Prices are expected to continue to decrease to $61/kWh by 2030.
Complementing batteries, pumped hydro energy storage is also able to store electricity during sunny days and quickly distribute it when electricity generation is interrupted during cloudy weather.
However, last year, Climate Action Tracker (CAT), an independent research organisation tracking climate action, reported that Indonesia has failed to reduce carbon emissions. CAT concluded that no concrete measures are being taken, and rated Indonesia as “highly insufficient action”.
Fossil fuel power plants and transportation still contributed 34% of Indonesia’s emissions in 2017. This could become much larger as energy consumption increases unless Indonesia shifts electricity generation to renewables as other countries do.
The vast and consistent abundance of sunshine in Indonesia, in combination with the low and falling price of solar PV, means 100% renewable electricity with zero emissions is eminently feasible for Indonesia to achieve in 2050.
If you could enjoy environmentally friendly electricity without worrying about the bill, wouldn’t you be happy?