|Photo from Yayasan Mandiri|
Kami sampaikan bahwa listrik yang kini menerangi rumah mereka itu sangat bergantung pada air. Sedangkan air sangat bergantung pada hutan. Jika masyarakat senang dengan adanya listrik dan ingin terus menyala, mereka harus menyayangi hutan. Suriani, head of the Kelompok Simpan Pinjam Meratus Indah cooperative, quoted in Kompas 12/8/11
|Graphic from microhydropower.net|
The Kompas article describes how a remote village had adopted mikrohidro. This particular project generates about 8,000 watts, which is shared among 42 households at 200 watts/house. They use the electricity from 5pm until 7am unless there is some sort of special activity. The members of the community have regulations on what they can use the electricity for; lights and televisions are okay, but ice boxes and washing machines are prohibited. The idea, according to the head of the cooperative, is to conserve the electricity while discouraging "consumerism" in the village. Each household pays 40,000 (US$4.70) rupiah per month which pays for upkeep and maintenance. To be eligible to receive electricity the members have to sign a written agreement that they will help take care of the water catchment area.
|Drawing from here.|
The trees are protected because they help ensure a stable water supply, without which the turbine wouldn't work. Trees are an important part of the hydrological cycle because when it rains trees keep the water from entering the stream all at once. In addition to slowing the water down with their leaves, trees absorb thousands of gallons of water into their roots. Water is carried up through the tree and is evaporated directly out of the tree's leaves (transpiration), and is released back into the air. Eventually this makes it rain. If you cut down all the trees, not only does the water flow more quickly into the stream, you lose the storage capacity of the forest as well as the rain-generating aspects, and so you undermine your steady and dependable supply of water.
Benefits and Potential of Mikrohidro...
Water is an abundant resource in Indonesia. The UNDP estimates that the country has hydropower potential as high as 62.2 gigawatts, including 458 megawatts of mikrohidro. Thus far, though, only around 5 megawatts have been installed in rural areas, and it's estimated that only about 1 megawatt of this is being used. At the same time, about 40% of Indonesian households lack electricity, and over the next two decades electricity consumption is expected to grow by 450%. Though the state-owned electricity monopoly (PLN) has greatly increased its capacity (growing from less than 800 megawatts in the mid-1970s to around 21 gigawatts by the end of 2002), it has difficulties expanding the national grid for a number of reasons. A big limitation is the cost of the infrastructure required to deliver electricity from a large power plant to rural villages. Another problem is the company's finances; they are deeply in debt, which was exacerbated by the 1997 financial crisis. During the crisis the value of the rupiah declined sharply versus the dollar, which had the effect of greatly increasing the value of PLN's debt. At the same time PLN has to buy fuel and spare parts on the world market, and so a weaker rupiah makes these things more expensive.
|Renewable energy potential in Indonesia|
Mikrohidro also avoids many of the adverse environmental impacts of larger hydropower projects. Big dams lead to the inundation of large areas, which takes land out of production and often leads to the relocation of people (3). In addition big dams can hamper or all together stop fish migrations on rivers. Dams alter streamflow characteristics like velocity and volume, and thus have sometimes deleterious downstream effects. Many dams also eventually become useless due to the accumulation of sediment behind the dam; when a stream enters a reservoir the water current slows down, and so it loses its capacity for sediment transport. The sediment settles to the bottom of the reservoir, making it shallower and shallower over time. Mikrohidro projects use the existing water flow to generate power, so no dam has to be built.
But starting a mikrohidro project is not as easy as it seems. The gear is expensive, ranging from US$1,000 to $700,000, depending on generating capacity. Access to this kind of money is often beyond the reach of villagers, and so foundations, non-governmental organizations, and multi-lateral lenders provide funds, but demand is far greater than supply in terms of donors. In addition, Indonesia is still working to create a conducive business environment for mikrohidro. Though the government passed a law in 1995 to allow small power producers to sell electricity to PLN, it took a long time for the law to be implemented. New regulations were created in 2002 to make it feasible for independent producers to sell power to the grid. This makes mikrohidro attractive to investors. And the more investment you have, the greater the demand for equipment, which can spawn a domestic industry catering especially to the mikrohidro market. Still, a UNDP study indicates that even when mikrohidro projects go online in Indonesia, they frequently perform under capacity or don't function at all. It's estimated that one-third of all mikrohidro projects fall into this category. There are many factors contributing to this problem: in many cases local people lack the capacity to operate and maintain the equipment. In other cases spare parts are too expensive or just aren't available. That's where IBEKA comes in.
A Mikrohidro Crusader...
|Map from IBEKA|
Mikrohidro, and community development projects in general, are about empowerment. IBEKA has learned the valuable lesson that community participation is an essential ingredient in fostering a sense of local ownership. Mikrohidro projects help people make the connection between sustainable livelihoods and environmental well-being. Since people more immediately feel the effects of environmentally destructive practices, like cutting down trees in water catchment areas, they tend to think twice, and in many cases they create systems to regulate the resource and sanction people that break the rules. These are lessons that we should all learn.
(1) Kompas 12/8/11: Menjaga Alam Dengan Mikrohidro. Unfortunately Kompas doesn't allow you to read certain articles online without paying a premium.
(2) I got these numbers from a micro-hydro guidebook; I'm a bit dubious about the 90% figure. The point, however, is that hydroelectric power is much more efficient than systems that rely on fossil fuel.
(3) There is a rich literature on the human costs of large hydropower projects; during its 6 decades of work the World Bank has often been criticized for supporting these types of projects because of the impacts they often have on local communities.
REFERENCES AND FOR FURTHER READING
Christian Science Monitor Story on Tri Mumpuni, coincidentally written by a young lady that once screwed me out of a story when I was writing for the Asia Times, can be found here.
IBEKA's website (mostly "under construction") can be found here.