Saturday, March 15, 2014

Green Energy for the Future

It’s hard to imagine a world with no energy resources. But does anyone realize that within the next 12 years, Indonesia’s oil reserves would run dry if there was no further exploration?

Within the next 30 years, Indonesia’s gas reserves would also be depleted and about 70 years later, its coal reserves.

While there are many arguments about when these fossil-based energy resources will run out, one thing is certain: at some point in the future it will. Then, what should we do?

Our current way of life heavily depends on the availability of these energy sources for electricity generation, transportation and more. Imagine what would happen if we had to live without electricity, phones, air travel, and the ability to conduct electronic financial transactions.

On the other hand, fossil-based energy sources produce emissions that cause wide-scale pollution. These emissions result in climate change, which manifests itself in disturbed weather patterns and more frequent natural disasters. This affects crop production and creates flooding and landslides around the world, also in Indonesia.

We must change our way of life, but more importantly, change energy management to prevent wastage and environmental degradation.

While energy use is essential to our social activities, it also drives economic growth.

Gross domestic product growth strongly correlates with energy supply. Some researchers say the rate of GDP growth is inversely equal to twice the growth of the electricity supply. In this regard, if Indonesia wants to increase its GDP, the country must have the right strategy to increase its electricity supply. But without the right strategy and with the high population growth rate, if we follow this premise, Indonesia’s GDP will decline.

The government’s position right now in dealing with the country’s energy needs is quite dilemmatic. While it understands the high cost of using conventional fossil fuels and pushes for energy supply growth, the development of green energy is inadequate.

Various actions have been taken to encourage the development and use of this energy source, through policies, research, and even measures such as the use of bio-ethanol, or pushing for the development of hydro, geothermal, and solar power plants to reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses.

Today, Indonesia’s electrification rate has reached 80.1 percent, so it means 20 percent of the population is still without electricity. Most of these are located in remote parts of the archipelago where the electricity grid is far from their reach. This has resulted in lagging economic and social development.

Rather than waiting for the grid to reach them, some have experimented with micro-hydro power plants, by using local watersheds as energy resources. Once electricity is available, these communities slowly but surely improve their economic and social well-being.

With the rise of Indonesia’s middle-class, the need for transportation will increase. In 2013, there were 104.211 million vehicles in Indonesia, with an annual increase of around 10 percent. This staggering number presents Indonesia with a challenge to ensure a reliable fuel supply.

With the country’s oil production gradually decreasing, the only option is to import. This places a heavy burden on the state budget. In 2013, Indonesia imported oil worth of $150 million per day, not to mention fuel subsidy costs that reached Rp 200 trillion ($17.3 billion). The only option therefore, is to develop new types of fuel sources.

One of the most promising is ethanol. It can be mixed with gasoline for use in conventional internal combustion engines. Ethanol is derived from starch-rich plants such as corn, Jatropha and sugar cane. Some of these plants take a short time to mature for harvesting. Therefore it can be planted between the harvesting and planting months without disrupting food production.

Plants such as sweet sorghum can be one solution. This African native is rich in starch, not a food crop for Indonesian people, and it has short planting time. It also has more starch than sugar cane. Moreover, it can be planted in almost all locations in Indonesia , making it a good source of ethanol.

Unfortunately, the development of green energy sources don’t always go smoothly. For example, when the government pushed for the use of Jatropha plants as a source of biodiesel, many farmers and companies started planting it. But due to poor management, this initiative did not go far.

Understanding the potential, the government finally made a policy in 2013 pushing Pertamina to buy biofuel from the producers.

Indonesia must grasp the importance of green energy. If it can be developed properly, it will have many positive results.

It is clear that to ensure a better future for Indonesia’s next generation, green energy is the best option.

Yono Reksoprodjo is head of Permanent Committee on Green Energy at Kadin Indonesia

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