Sat, 21 Feb 2004

Solar Home Systems to light up the lives of 2,750 rural families

P.C. Naommy, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Villagers living in 13 remote regencies throughout Indonesia will have electricity by the end of March thanks to the Solar Home System (SHS).

The SHS, which is an individual solar electric power unit, will be installed in 2,750 homes that are without electricity services from state electricity company PT PLN.

"As a country that lies along the equator, Indonesia has great potential for developing solar-based power plants. Even when it is cloudy, as long as there is light, there will be enough photons to be transformed into electric energy," said Adjat Sudradjat, the project manager for solar power development at the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT).

Adjat said on Friday that as a tropical country, Indonesia could harvest an average of 4.5 kilowatt hours (kwh) of solar radiation per square meter a day.

With the main components of a solar module and cells, an SHS unit is able to provide 50 watts of electricity to enable a family to light three lamps and watch television for five hours.

According to Adjat, the production cost for an SHS unit was about Rp 4 million (US$470.60) in Jakarta, but a lack of spare parts in the regions made the system more expensive once it arrived in rural areas.

"We have poor villagers who live in remote areas who are unable to receive electricity services from PLN, but we also have to face high production costs in building the systems," said Adjat.

He said the current nationwide solar-based electric capacity was only seven megawatts, which is pretty small.

Adjat said local administrations often failed to provide funding such alternative energy projects, and experience showed that people were careless when it came to maintenance of such projects.

To sustain the SHS project, local villagers who receive the units and the local administrations will be required to act proactively in maintaining and monitoring the usage of the SHS.

According to Adjat, a family that receives an SHS unit will have to make an initial payment of Rp 250,000 and pay a monthly charge of Rp 50,000 for maintenance. The local administrations, along with the BPPT, will monitor the use of the systems.

"These charges are meant to build a sense of responsibility among users," said Adjat.

Also included in this project are the installation of three water pumps (two units in Kupang and one unit in Cilacap, Central Java), and a hybrid photovoltic-diesel system for Pontianak, West Kalimantan.

According to Adjat, the funding for all of the projects, which cost a total of Rp 18 billion, will come from the state budget.

Adjat added that State Minister for Research and Technology Hatta Rajasa was expected to officially inaugurate about 500 Solar Home Systems in Belu, East Nusa Tenggara, on March 3.

The rest of the SHS units for the 12 other regencies, including West Halmahera (North Maluku), Sinjai (South Sulawesi), Morowali (Central Sulawesi), Ogan Komering Ilir and Ogan Komering Ulu in South Sumatra and Jambi are expected to be fully operational by the end of March.