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Jakarta Post

After B20 policy, biomass is our energy future

  • Dadang J. Mutaqin

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, January 7, 2016   /  04:49 pm

Indonesia started using 20 percent biodiesel blending (B20 blending) on Jan. 1. If the policy is successfully implemented, it will enhance the country'€™s energy security and improve the capacity to reduce carbon emissions. The policy is also one of the biggest government achievements in the energy sector because currently Indonesia is the only country in the world that has a B20 blending policy.

After B20, Indonesia has also planned to implement a B30 policy in 2020 especially to supply energy for transportation, microbusiness, agriculture and fisheries. It is predicted that B30 will be the highest point of biodiesel blending and it will be difficult to enhance the blending percentage without technological modifications to machinery.

Biodiesel is not the only type of renewable energy in Indonesia. As a tropical country, Indonesia is rich in biomass energy especially from forests and agriculture. Biomass energy is defined as energy that is derived from wood and other plant matter.

Like biodiesel, biomass energy has several benefits. One is that it can provide a cleaner environment because biomass energy has the characteristic of being carbon neutral, which means that it can create carbon emissions but the trees with which biomass is produced can absorb carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesis.

Based on data from the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry, the utilization of biomass energy in Indonesia is still around 2 percent of total energy consumption.

This situation contrasts with the use of biomass energy in developed countries, many of which are subtropical, where producing biomass is much more difficult than in developing (tropical) countries.

For example, in Germany, renewable energy makes up 11 percent of total energy consumption and biomass alone supplies 40 percent of total renewable energy. Biomass energy in Germany mostly comes from two sources '€” agriculture and forestry.

Approximately 40 percent of timber production in Germany is allocated for generating energy. Most biomass in developed countries is converted into electricity and heat in cogeneration systems.

Taking into account developed countries'€™ experience in using biomass energy, Indonesia should improve the utilization of biomass as one of the energy sources to enhance energy security. There are several reasons why Indonesia has to use biomass in the future.

First, Indonesia has abundant biomass sources especially from forestry and agriculture. Indonesia has around 120 million hectares of forests, 60 percent of which are production forests.

Production forests have a huge potential as sources of biomass energy. They can be planted with tree species that are suitable for biomass energy.

Many faster-growing species are available in Indonesia for energy purposes, such as calliandra, white leadtree and earleaf acacia. Moreover, Indonesia has approximately 10 million ha of plantations including rubber and oil palm. They also provide huge biomass sources.

Presently, most of the biomass from these areas is not utilized and is often burned in land clearing. Instead of burning biomass, it would be better to use it for energy. Therefore, we can reduce land and forest fires and at the same time we can enhance energy security.

Second, converting biomass into energy only needs low technology. It means that improving the utilization of biomass energy is low in capital investment. We do not need high technology. It is different if we compare it to other renewable energy such as solar and wind, where energy cultivation needs high capital investment, technology and human skills.

Power plants that currently use coal as their energy source, with small technological modifications, could be converted into biomass-fired power generation stations. Another alternative would be to blend coal and biomass in a certain proportion and use them for coal-biomass fired power plants.

Third, the use of biomass energy can contribute to poverty alleviation by improving access to basic needs and improving people'€™s productivity. Indonesia has a huge area and the capacity of the government to provide energy for all regions is limited.

Most people in remote areas cannot access electricity, which reduces their productivity.

This situation has occurred mainly because transporting coal and fuel to remote areas is expensive. Therefore, we have to utilize every potential energy source in remote areas. One of them is biomass.

Establishing biomass-fired power plants in remote areas could enhance the electrification rate and would improve regional economics. Industries and businesses would be much more varied, which would maximize people'€™s productivity in remote areas and reduce poverty rates.

Fourth, using biomass energy, especially from forests, can reduce deforestation rates. This can occur if we plant trees for energy on critical land. The deforestation rate on critical land in Indonesia is around 250,000-300,000 ha annually.

Planting trees for biomass energy (forest-based energy) on critical land could be the best strategy to reduce deforestation and restore the economic, social and environmental function of forests.

Forest-based energy could also be implemented outside forest areas, such as on ex-mining land, which often creates environmental problems after the end of mining concessions.

In order to enhance the contribution of the forestry sector to energy security, the Environment and Forestry Ministry has a target to establish 300,000 ha of forest plantations for biomass energy from 2015 to 2019. However, this policy will not run well if the policy is not supported by stakeholders, especially the private sector, and also users of biomass energy such as state electricity company PLN. Integrated policy has to be formulated involving various stakeholders for the utilization of biomass energy especially for generating electricity.

Furthermore, to boost the implementation of biomass energy policy, the government should develop pilot projects that are integrated from upstream to downstream.

East Indonesia could be the best location for pilot projects because there are a lot of biomass resources and the electrification rate is still below the national average.

The writer, a member of the Asia and the Pacific Policy Society and an alumnus of the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University (ANU), works for the Directorate of Forestry and Water Resources Conservation at the National Development Planning Board (Bappenas). The views expressed are his own.

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