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More Than Just Bioenergy

This article was published in Koran Tempo on March 6, 2019.

The massive political event to be held in Indonesia this year will not only decide the course of Indonesia for the next five years, but also the course of the world. Indonesia is the 5th largest carbon emitter globally, which enlists this country as one of the key players in determining the world’s success in fighting climate change.

In the second round of presidential debates in February both candidates proposed strategies to maximize the use of bioenergy. Joko Widodo even targeted the mandatory use of 100 percent biodiesel fuel (B100). However, the debate did not touch upon the main problem in achieving Indonesia’s target of renewable energy, which is the nation’s coal-based electricity system.

The quick count done by the World Resources Institute (WRI) Indonesia based on plantation statistics, the reports from Coaction Indonesia and the outlook of Indonesia’s palm oil project that the B100 program will require 56.98 thousand tons of palm oil annually by 2025. If the plantation does not increase its productivity, those demands could encourage 7.2 million hectares of land clearing. Only through the increase of plantation productivity through intensification can this land clearing be prevented.

The candidates should have viewed the achievement of the renewable energy mix target through the lenses of intensification instead of the expansion of palm oil as bioenergy.

In fact, both of the candidates’ focus on bioenergy in increasing the renewable energy mix is not in line with the General Planning for National Energy (RUEN). It sets a much lower target of bioenergy than electricity in the renewable energy mix. Based on RUEN, the target of increasing the renewable energy mix to 23 percent in 2025 or 92.2 million tons of oil equivalent will be achieved by increasing the use of renewable electricity to 75 percent, while the rest will be sourced from bioenergy and coal bed methane.

Looming over the incredibly high target is Indonesia’s alarming level of reliance on fossil fuels in terms of emissions, especially considering the plan for the 35 thousand megawatts project, which is dominated by coal plants. With this plan, WRI Indonesia projects the annual energy emission to reach 1.516 million tons of CO2 in 2030, exceeding the estimated land use emission of 1.342 million tons of CO2.

Achieving the renewable energy target by 2025 is certainly not an easy task and the government cannot rely solely on bioenergy. Other strategies to increase renewable energies must also be managed seriously. Currently, the development of renewable energy is still centralized PLN, which has limited financial and human resources. It is feared that the centralization of responsibility could slow down the development of renewable energy.

The demands from household, industrial, and commercial sectors should also be taken into consideration. For instance, as prices of renewable energy technology, such as solar panels, decline, demands for solar panels from household consumers increase. This is a way to save electricity costs.

Moreover, many industrial and commercial industries have begun to consider using renewable energy for its business, such as the member companies of the Clean Energy Investment Accelerator (CEIA), a joint initiative by WRI. This great demand needs to be accompanied by supporting policies.

The issuance of Ministerial Decree of the Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources on the Utilization of Rooftop Solar Panels at the end of 2018 definitely deserves to be appreciated. However, the regulation has not been able to boost the interests of PLN customers in investing in solar panels since only 65 percent of excess electricity exported to the PLN system will be compensated. This is contrary to the Regulation of PLN’s Director, which grounds the export-import system of rooftop solar panels, that states that 100 percent of electricity exported to PLN’s system will be compensated.

The industrial and commercial sectors also face the same financing constraints experienced by domestic sectors due to the capacity and parallel costs. Other alternatives such as the power-wheeling scheme do not have a clear mechanism, so they tend to be used between businesses.

The government continues to synergize its renewable energy policy. There are only six years left to achieve the 2025 renewable energy target and this requires innovative and sustainable strategies. The involvement of consumers should be supported by more inclusive regulations to support the development of various renewable energies.

The achievement of those targets will fully depend on the elected president who will take office until 2024. Whoever is going to lead our country for the next five years is hopefully aware that Indonesia needs more than just bioenergy.

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