When the sun sets on the remote Indonesian island of Sumba, nearly half the population is plunged into darkness. Rambu Cinta, 37, has lived without electricity for most of her life.
“Before at night we didn’t have anything to do,” said Cinta, chewing betel nut on the porch of her thatched roof house in West Sumba, “So after we had eaten dinner we just went to sleep.”
Cinta’s family is one of 100 households that are now getting electricity from a nearby micro-hydro power plant.
The plant is part of the energy revolution underway in Sumba, with the island aiming to be completely powered by renewable sources by 2025.
Umbu Hanggar, the head of Cinta’s household, said having electricity has increased the family’s quality of life.
“When we got electricity, the women could weave floor mats at night and we can get extra income from that and the children can study and read books very well at night,” he said.
Some 60 per cent of the people in Sumba connect to electricity and 20 per cent are now using renewable energy.
The plan to completely power the island through renewable sources by 2025 is being driven by the Dutch NGO, HIVOS. The NGO said it wants Sumba to become an icon for renewable energy.
The project was formalised three years ago, when an agreement was signed between the Dutch NGO, the Indonesian state energy company and the central and local government.
“The reason why we are tapping into environmentally friendly energy is because in Sumba there are so many renewable energy resources,” said Adi Lagur, the Sumba Iconic Island field co-coordinator from HIVOS, “We can use solar, wind, and water and from animal waste.”
Last year a Sumba Iconic Island taskforce was set-up that includes a steering committee, working groups and a national secretariat.
Early this year the project also received US $1 million from the Asian Development Bank to further develop renewable energy in the eastern part of Indonesia.
Adi Lagur said it’s not just about saving the environment. Renewable energy makes economic sense because the Indonesian government can’t subsidise diesel fuel forever.
“We don’t want this community to suffer because they can no longer afford diesel energy without the subsidies,” he said. “So that’s why we need to start thinking now about using energy that is already here and part of this environment.”
One of the ongoing renewable energy projects in Sumba is a micro-hydro project 600 metres above sea level.
“This area is not connected to the state electricity that uses diesel generators, but here the wind is strong and good for wind energy so why not tap into that?” explains Amelia, a graduate from Indonesia’s top technology institute in Bandung, from the micro-hydro station.
Along with two of her colleagues from a local renewable energy NGO, Amelia is trying to address the uneven development between west and east Indonesia.
Amelia said that while people waste electricity in the Java, in the country’s remote east some don’t have electricity at all.
“At night they [people in Sumba]don’t even have a light to turn on to study. So I want to do something about it. It's not fair. In one place we are very high class and then here it's very sad even though we are one nation,” she said.
This project that Amelia is working on will provide two lights for 22 households. Each house will also get one power point.
It might sound like a small step, but for some villagers that will cut out a 7-kilometre walk to charge their mobile phones.
Sumbanese have also being learning to make bio-gas from animals waste. Heinrich Dengi runs a popular local radio station in Waingapu, and like most Sumbanese has pigs in this backyard.
“The chemical reaction from the bacteria of the pigs waste turns into bio-gas,” he explains, “And the the bio-gas is connected to the kitchen with a pipe … and then we can go into the kitchen and turn on this gas just like turning on a water tap and then we can light the stove.”
Sulaiman from the Indonesian electricity company is promising that East Sumba will be using 100 percent renewable energy by the end of this year.
“My target is that from the end of 2013 East Sumba will be not be using diesel energy anymore,” he said. “For East Sumba I will not be using the diesel generator, it will just be a back-up. ”
When solar was installed in parts of East Sumba last year, children in some villages were able to watch television for the first time.
Aside from entertainment, it’s a window into what is happening in the capital Jakarta 2,000 kilometres away, said Yunus, one of the villagers.
“It's important to know, particularly in the lead up to the presidential election next year,” he said. “Before we just voted based on gossip, but now we know what is going on and we can make an informed choice of who to vote for.”
This article was first broadcast on Asia Calling.
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