Renewable energy on Sumba Iconic Island

Posted on Posted in Work in energy development

I have been invited to visit a couple of renewable energy projects’ sites on Sumba Iconic Island with Hivos‘ team. My thanks go to Sandra Winarsa and Maya (Laily Syukriah Himayati), who helped facilitate my visit. As renewable energy graduate with experiences in supporting the management of projects in developing countries from Europe, here is what I’ve learnt.

Note: This post is focused on my initial impressions on the current energy situation in Sumba with thoughts about the priorities in energy provision on the island. A post with more technical info on practical renewable energy deployment in Sumba will follow. 
Visiting renewable energy sites in Sumba with Hivos, local government officials, representatives from India's Nomura Research Institute and Panasonic Japan
Visiting renewable energy sites in Sumba with Hivos, local government officials, representatives from India’s Nomura Research Institute and Panasonic Japan
Sumba Iconic Island Project
Sumba Iconic Island Project

The project preparation phase could take up to one year and need not to be followed by the project implementation, because the community is not ready to take over the project ownership. 

As the renewable projects are meant to be taken over the local community for operation and maintenance (O&M), it is crucial that the locals understand what benefits the technology will bring to their lives. The project preparatory phase, I’ll call it pre-phase, is suited for that: to work with the leaders and families in the local community to explain them what it means for them to have the technology installed on the ground and how it would influence their lives. In many cases, the people already recognise the benefits of having electricity, because they’ve been using kerosene for a long time and they know it is an expensive source of power and it makes them reliable on its supply. So they are happy to switch to the renewables, mainly hydro and solar as long as there is a technical assistance provided to train them in using the technology. This is the easier group to work with, I think.

The second group are communities living completely without electricity, so they don’t know the benefits of having light and charging their appliances. Few questions might arise in their heads:

  • Why should I spent my money paying for electricity, when I am used to living without it?
  • Why should I spent my time operating and maintaining a technology I didn’t have before and I don’t know if I really need it?

More effort must go to into working with this group, to change their mindset and to show them the benefits of having light and electricity. Children can study at night and adults can continue with their craft work after the sun sets. Life doesn’t need to stop when it’s dark as it does now in many places in Sumba.

Small hydro in Sumba village
Small hydro in Sumba village

Since the Indonesian Independence in 1945, we became truly independent last year, when we stopped using kerosene. 

Solar Panels in Sumba village
Solar Panels in Sumba village
Convertors are an important part of a solar PV system
Convertors are an important part of a solar PV system
Energy stored in batteries provide enough power for the households during the night
Energy stored in batteries provide enough power for the households during the night
GIZ's EnDev worked on the manual for operating the solar system
GIZ’s EnDev worked on the manual for operating the solar system

Electricity is a luxury in Sumba, the lights could switch off any time with no assurance of having them back on that night. Communal houses, hospitals, households need to have back-up generators to switch on when this happens, which is rather expensive to maintain. The costs of electricity generated by the renewable energy sources in Sumba (mainly hydro and solar) is lower for the households using it, compared to using diesel or kerosene. The problem is, that the Indonesian government subsidises the fossil fuels for households and thus keeps the electricity expenses artificially low. If a household decides to install a solar rooftop energy system to generate electricity, they could never sell the excess electricity to the national grid (and therefore gain a little profit for recouping the initial costs) due to lacking policy support and no feed-in-tariff, FIT, scheme at the moment. Having said that, however, Indonesia has a sophisticated FIT system to attract the independent solar producers, who focus on producing the electricity for the supply to the national grid.

Communal house in Sumba powered by a back-up generator after a power cut
Communal house in Sumba powered by a back-up generator after a power cut
Small scale renewable energy based offgrid systems would be enough for needs of the people
Small scale renewable energy based offgrid systems would be enough for needs of the people

So what’s next for Hivos?

Scaling up renewable energy projects is not an easy task to do. The deadline 2025 for Sumba becoming 100% renewable is approaching and the funding comes only for certain periods, always for a few years – there is no funding that runs until 2025. From what I’ve understood, Hivos is constantly looking into possibilities to cooperate with like-minded organisation and for financial support of the Sumba Iconic Island project. Right now, majority of the funding comes from the Norwegian Embassy in Indonesia.

Visiting a local hydro power station in Sumba
Visiting a local hydro power station in Sumba
The traditional meets the technology in Sumba
The traditional meets the technology in Sumba

I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to visit projects on the ground that have potential to be scaled-up, if the funds are provided for it. Once again, the technology exists and these success stories prove that most of the communities are ready to take over the responsibility for maintaining and operating them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *