A silent energy crisis

Posted on September 24, 2012

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Andry Yudha Kusumah, Waseda, Japan | Opinion | Mon, September 24 2012, 11:06 AM A- A A+ Paper Edition | Page: 6 Amid the energy debate on whether to conserve, convert, allocate or subsidize energy, Indonesia’s household sector energy policy has been maintaining two energy castes, the dirty and the clean. The dirty are those who are forced to rely on dirty, inefficient and traditional renewable energy sources to meet household energy needs for basic food preparation, including drinking, lighting and telecommunications. The clean are those who predominantly use clean, efficient and modern non-renewable energy sources to fulfill similar tasks. For years, their plights have been invisible, echoing silently as part of an ongoing, unheard energy crisis. The dirty are statistically staggering. As assessment done by the United Nations Development Programme and the World Health Organization in 2011 indicated there were at least 100 million Indonesians who depended on dirty biomass for cooking fuel and approximately 60 million without electricity. Anyone who endures this situation is likely to become less formally educated, face unproductive everyday hardships, and be forced to live a subsistence lifestyle. To an extreme point, death has been an exit strategy for 45,300 Indonesians who suffered acute respiratory problems due to indoor pollution. I have no doubt that energy policy makers and stakeholders are knowledgeable about this. But to my observation, they have to go beyond a demand and supply approach, a target based approach and infrastructural approaches. Instead they must focus on creating household energy independence that includes all. For so long, the focus has been on the energy needs of the clean. Reaching independence requires everyone using every available resource and I argue that placing equal importance on the dirty is good for everyone. At first, by focusing on the dirty, Indonesia can explore and prioritize locally available endogenous energy sources. The common understanding sees renewables as an alternative to fossil energy, however, fossil energy may also be regarded as an alternative energy if its availability is less dominant than locally produced energy. In the case of fuel, let us take the example of the Thai fisherman community, which made coconut oil from local coconut trees to power fishing boat motors and household electric power generators. Another example is Papua New Guinea’s Bougainville Island inhabitants, who power their diesel cars and sports utility vehicles solely on locally made coconut oil. In the case of electricity, take the example of bicycle generators to power basic mobile phones in Kenya where they don’t wait for local power companies to supply their grids for their villages. As for mechanical energy, take Japan, where people use bicycles for traveling within 5-10 km distance from home, instead of motorcycles or cars. All cases show that for household levels, human and renewable energy are the primary energy sources, while fossil fuels and local grid power lines are alternative energy sources. By modernizing the dirty’s energy sources, the clean can decrease their dependence on modern, non-renewable energy sources that are subject to international price mechanisms, which is good for everyone and the country. Secondly, by focusing on the dirty, Indonesia can disband the idea of poverty as a problem, and start to think of it as a solution to find more economical and sustainable ways of people from all social strata’s enjoying the quality of life. Take the case of simple technology electricity generation for basic telecommunication needs in Tokyo. After the Fukushima incident, portable hand-cranked cell phone chargers were on sale in Japanese electronic shops. They became popular because the Japanese needed to rely on themselves in times of disaster. The production cost of one unit in China is close to US$1, but in Tokyo, it was sold for $5 to $10 for each. Another example is Nippon Basics, a Japanese company producing a large scale of pedal powered water purifiers, named Cycloclean, in Bangladesh. Their products could purify 5 liters of water per minute. The bicycle needs one person to pedal any water source and once purified, it can be sold or consumed. Lastly, focusing on the dirty has the potential to maintain Indonesia’s national economic competitiveness. The experiences of Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and so many rapidly economic developing countries shows that as people leave dirty sources of energy, their economy and welfare develop, making them more competitive internationally. Take the case of China, where nowadays, the Chinese are demanding a better wage to sustain increasing daily expenditure. If China cannot decrease rising energy costs, its national competitiveness, which is based on cheap labor, cannot be sustained for long. When Indonesia can modernize the dirty’s energy sources, make them economical and utilizable for all social strata, there is a possibility that Indonesian workers’ quality of life will increase without substantial energy problems, thus making it possible to maintain Indonesian economic competitiveness. Focusing on the dirty’s energy sources is good. From there it is possible to identify the missing link of Indonesia’s energy mix, human energy and locally available energy. It’s on paper, but it’s not in practice. Therefore, it is important to assure that the current energy policy should provide equal appreciation for more investment in the dirty’s energy sources. The writer is a PhD student in international human rights and social development, at the Graduate School of Asia Pacific Studies, Waseda University, Japan. The opinions expressed here are his own

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