The Jakarta Post
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo's administration has boasted that nearly all households in Indonesia have electricity, saying that the country had reached an electrification ratio of 98.05 percent as of September.
However, does this mean that 98.05 percent of the nation’s households enjoy 24-hour electricity for all their electronics like residents in Java’s big cities enjoy?
In early January, the ministry’s Twitter account got flooded with angry comments after it told a PLN customer, Lucky, who complained about a 10-hour blackout in Manado, North Sulawesi, that he should be “grateful”.
“You should be grateful Pak Lucky that the blackout only lasted 10 hours. [Some of] our brothers and sisters in remote areas can’t even enjoy electricity. Minergi [the ministry account’s administrator] is sure that our friends over at @pln_123 have tried their best. If there are shortcomings, please understand. Thanks,” @KementerianESDM replied to Lucky on Sunday.
In the last eight years, the government’s data show that the electrification ratio jumped by 30.85 percentage points from only 67.2 percent in 2010 to 98.05 percent as of September 2018.
The ratio progress follows the escalation of power plant capacity from between just 25 and 30 megawatts (MW) in 2010 to 62.4 MW as of September 2018.
The government calculates the electrification ratio from the total number of households that have access to electricity compared to the total number of households in the country, which is estimated to be more than 60 million households.
In March, Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Ignasius Jonan said the government also included the electricity provided by the private power utility in the calculation of the national electrification ratio.
Out of the 98.05 percent, 95 percent comes from PLN, 2.5 percent from non-state electricity firms and 0.12 percent from the government’s solar-powered energy saving lamps (LTSHE) program.
Based on those figures, the government came up with the result in September that 33 out of 34 provinces had reached more than 80 percent electrification except for East Nusa Tenggara with only 61.01 percent.
“This [98 percent electrification ratio] has exceeded the target set in the medium-term development plan [RPJMN], which is 97.5 percent by the end of 2018. Next year the target is 99.9 percent,” Jonan said recently.
The remaining 2 percent of those who have yet to get access to electricity is estimated to be around 5.2 million people.
One of the measures the government will take next year to achieve the 99.9 percent target is to exempt the initial cost of electricity connection for poor households in West Java and Banten.
The cost of the policy, which targets 40,000 households in the two regions, will be sourced from PLN and 34 other state-owned enterprises (SOEs).
There is also the Rural Electrification Program (LisDes), which targets 122 of the least-developed regions, often referred to as the 3T (outermost, frontline and disadvantaged regions).
Jonan, the former banker, said the government would utilize renewable energy technology to overcome the obstacles in delivering electricity to the isolated regions.
But what is electrification?
However upbeat the government may be about its ratio, critics say its definition of the electrification ratio is imprecise.
President Joko "Jokowi (third left) and a number of ministers and officials push a button to launch the operation of a wind farm in Mattirotasi village, Sidrap regency, South Sulawesi on July 2, 2018. (Courtesy of /Presidential Palace)
In 2016, ADB published a study titled “Achieving Universal Electricity Access in Indonesia”, which started in early 2014. In one of its analyses, ADB said the government’s standard to calculate the electrification ratio lacked further explanation about what it means by electricity access.
“This regulation states that the rationale for measuring the electrification ratio is to assess the number of households with access to electricity, but it does not define what constitutes ‘access to electricity’,” the study refers to the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministerial Regulation No.13/2013.
The regulation was then revised with Ministerial Regulation No. 22/2015 on key performance indicators for activities under the ministry. But the regulation has yet to explain what kind of electricity a household will get; it only states a key target of “improved energy infrastructure”.
Furthermore, the study also concluded that there was no monitoring or measurement of whether this supply actually functions, especially for off-grid supply by both PLN or non-PLN programs.
“Unfortunately PLN and other government programs haven’t established comprehensive monitoring and evaluation procedures to confirm whether households with off-grid supply actually continue to receive the benefits of electricity after initial installation of the systems,” the study further said.
Institute for Essential Services Reform (IESR) executive director Fabby Tumiwa said the international measure for calculating the electrification ratio was based on head count, not household, as one house could be occupied by more than one family.
“The World Bank [WB] has even developed a concept that specifies a [benchmark] of quality and a minimum electricity consumption. What if the electricity can only last for a few hours, can you still say that the community is already connected with electricity,” he told The Jakarta Post on Monday.
The WB Group’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) report, which was published in 2015, states that the definition of energy access based on household electricity connection is a thing of the past.
“In the past, access to energy was usually considered synonymous with household access to electricity. It has been defined variously as a household electricity connection, an electric pole in the village and an electric bulb in the house.”
“[The definition] also ignores energy for cooking and heating needs, as well as for productive engagements and community facilities,” the report says.
Regarding the basis of its definition, the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry’s director general for electricity Andy N. Sommeng told the Post that the government was already using an international standard for the electrification ratio.
“You can look up on Google what is the definition of electrification ratio, so we [the ministry] don’t make up our own definition,” he said on Monday.
When asked about the gap of electrification between developed regions and 3T regions, Andy said it was not a problem of electricity capacity, but merely a difference in electricity consumption.
“It’s about the purchasing power, as most of the people [in 3T regions] are still unable to pay [for electricity]. Therefore, the government wants to increase the electricity infrastructure as much as it can so that it leads to better productivity for them,” he said.
The infrastructure projects he mentioned included the flagship 35,000 (MW) electricity procurement program, which was launched in May 2015. Of the power plants under that program, 7 percent had reached the operational phase as of September.
PLN shared the same definition as the government that electrification ratio is based on the number of households that have electricity connection, PLN regional business director for eastern Java, Bali and Nusa Tenggara, Djoko Rahardjo Abumanan, said recently.
“The common definition [of electrification ratio] is the amount of families that enjoy electricity. […] We use the data of families from BPS [Statistics Indonesia],” he said.
Almo Pradana, energy manager at the World Resources Institute Indonesia, conjectured that the government picked the scheme for reasons of simplicity as the international standard was much more complicated and costly.
“[….] partial electrification or only several hours per day is still counted as full electrification and treated the same as customers who have 24-hour electricity access,” he told the Post on Monday in a text message.
“And the quality of homes that are fully electrified by the grid, of course, should not be assumed to be the same as a house that only has solar-powered lamps.”