Mon, 23 Sep 2002

Wanted: A visionary to implement alternative power

Vishnu K. Mahmud, Contributor, Jakarta,

Last week, sitting in my darkened room -- courtesy of the Great Jakarta Blackout part 2, I began to wonder about mankind's thirst for electricity.

Nowadays, everything we do requires electrical power, be it in the form of batteries or wall sockets. Our entertainment systems, communications hardware and cooking utensils are now a part of our daily lives and a power outage reduces us to scramble for traditional alternatives: candles, wood and gas.

As it stands, Jakarta's power grid is provided by the state electricity company PLN from a number of generators scattered around West Java. Although the network grid, not the generator itself, was the primary fault of this latest power failure, it got me thinking of other environmentally friendly alternatives for power generation.

When a megalopolis like Jakarta goes dark, hundreds of backup diesel generators light up to provide emergency power for the various office buildings, businesses and public service institutions. Imagine going down the main roads in the city and seeing a mini haze-like atmosphere from the smoke of all the generators in the area powering up at once. It is not a pretty or healthy sight.

If, at some point, the laws are changed to allow competition in the electricity service industry, some entrepreneurs should be able to give PLN a run for its money in some areas. In the meantime, there is loads of information available for free on the internet; data that may give the next Indonesian visionary start- up ideas to provide better services to the country.

Solar power was supposed to be the answer to all our problems. The sun is plentiful everywhere in the archipelago, with the exception of those areas where forest fire haze is a major factor. The only problem is that the expensive storage technology and relatively low energy efficiency has not made photovoltaic cells an effective tool to generate electricity at present.

However, the technology keeps improving. Solar power was only used extensively for calculators and wristwatches, but now photovoltaic cells can be used to heat water, run radios and power laptop computers.

Some cars have been designed to run with sun power exclusively (check out for interesting stories).

Closer to home, the tiny village of Sukatani, West Java, had a project to install "Solar Home Systems" in order to bring electricity to the remote community. Where before activities slowed down at nightfall, Sukatani began to develop economically and socially with the help of the various items many of us city- dwellers take for granted: electric lights, radios and TV. You can read the impact of the program at

You can also get more information at the Solar Electric Power Association website (, Solar ( or Solar News (

Wind power is another clean renewable resource that can be implemented in Indonesia. Ideally used in the high mountains or by the seaside, wind is an effective renewable energy resource that can power homes. The devices themselves (huge windmills), however can appear rather ungainly, standing at least 10 meters tall, and may be a hazard to the local wildlife (birds) or kitefliers.

The Danish Wind Industry Association ( has tons of information online and even invites users to download their entire site! Denmark is the world leader in wind-based energy generation and is hoping to promote wind energy abroad.

There are many other alternatives to power generation that include Tidal Energy, Geothermal conversion and others. You can review them at the International Council for Local Environment Initiatives website ( and read the various studies about the alternative fuels and their consequences.

Of them all, wind and solar power can be considered the easiest power generation method to implement on the consumer level. Homes that have alternative power generators not only cut costs but can also contribute to the city electrical grid during peak hours, as they do in California. Of course, the local laws and infrastructure will have to be changed first.

This information is out there for everyone to see. All we need now is the political will and/or a courageous entrepreneur to build a business providing clean and efficient energy to the masses. It would not only be a money making venture, but would help the cities clean up the pollution in which we all have to endure.