Remote area electrification in Indonesia

Rapid, widespread technological change has myriad complex impacts, with remote area electrification being a critical case in point. Electrification boosts local business, industry and education opportunities and enhances global connectedness. Less often considered are the social fractures and even conflicts that can occur, along with the social structures and cultural values that are altered over time. It is vital to the long-term success of electrification projects that communities and social scientists are closely involved throughout the planning, implementation and follow-up phases. This is particularly the case for major electrification rollouts. 

This project performed groundwork for deep and far-reaching research into social impacts and enablers associated with electrification and related energy initiatives in remote parts of Indonesia and, in the longer term, Australia. The project’s main contribution to remote-area electrification planning is arguably its articulation of the need for, and initial steps undertaken toward, bridging macro-level energy resource and technology cost data gathering with local-level ethnographic field studies. 

The team gathered and began analysis of data on archipelago-wide energy resource availabilities, potentials and related technology cost factors. Field studies focused on a landlocked area in West Kalimantan and a remote island chain in Maluku, producing both individual case studies and scope for generic comparison of variables across the sites. The combination of macro-level data collection, high-level network participation, seminar presentations, ethnographic studies and field visits generated valuable insight into the under-researched area of remote electrification. This is of benefit to industry stakeholders, government representatives, academics and communities alike. 

The project took place against a background of Indonesian leaders attempting to balance the nation’s rapidly growing economy and infrastructure against the need to maintain its cultural integrity and rich biodiversity. Renewable energies are becoming more accessible and technologies simpler, more efficient and more affordable, but coal and other old-guard energy interests remain strong. As evidenced in many countries, well-intentioned renewable energy programs in remote areas can produce enormous benefits, but can also create new social problems and often have limited long-term success. 

With major electrification initiatives under way – such as Program Indonesia Terang – the team was involved in broad resource and economic data gathering, as well as leading granular village-level studies. The primary purpose was to build bilateral, interdisciplinary teams, and create solid policy-relevant data through co-learning with village- and district-level leaders. 

The project provided benefits to both Indonesia and Australia through the bilateral nature of the research. Of broader significance, it called attention to contrasting and parallel factors and challenges with renewables-driven remote-electrification aspirations in both countries. While population sizes and per-capita GDP differ significantly between Indonesia and Australia, both nations have large areas with sparse populations (desert and ocean respectively) and share a need for innovative energy provision solutions, with microgrids a particularly strong case in point. 

The aim of this project was to ‘identify appropriate touch points for policy enablers to assist with uptake of renewable technologies for remote-area electrification in Indonesia’. Objectives included mapping electrification types and levels in Indonesia, understanding local-level stakeholder renewable energy knowledge and aspirations, and exploring social impact and acceptance factors around electrification. 

Team leaders visited villages to discuss issues and aspirations and engage in common activities, and two Masters students spent more than three months in their respective village areas. Team members engaged with researchers from leading universities in the provinces in which case study villages were located – Tanjungpura University (Pontianak, West Kalimantan) and Pattimura University (Ambon, Maluku) – most of whom are connected to local communities, although rarely to those under this particular study. There were meetings throughout the process, and two seminars at Tanjungpura University in West Kalimantan, which brought together university and NGO stakeholders. 

This project contributed substantively to the collaborative building up of macro-level data on energy resources and related economic considerations in Indonesia. The main small project activities were directed to ‘ground up’ ethnographic studies. The local-level studies highlighted insights around socioeconomic and cultural issues that can only be developed through deep study into single village cases. Further to this, the ongoing attempts to bridge the macro/quantitative and micro/qualitative approaches form a component of major rollout preparations under way. 

The unique and progressive nature of the ethnographic dimensions of the project was praised at the international Anthropology symposium at the University of Indonesia in 2016. 



Reports and presentations

Report on barriers and policy enablers for uptake of renewable electrification technologies at macro- and micro-levels. Presented at the Energy Cluster component of the AIC Research Summit in Surabaya. 

Dr Richter delivered a presentation carrying the project title at the AIC-Energy forum in Canberra.