Geothermal Energy: A Solution To Indonesia's Fossil Fuel Reliance?

The state utility company of Indonesia, Perusahaan Listrik Negara, have caused controversy by signing a new investment deal for a coal-fired power plant in Suralaya. The plant which would be running under a subsidy from the company would increase the total capacity of the Suralaya Power Plant to 6025 megawatts.

This increased total capacity is a step in the right direction in terms of trying to meet the Presidents 35000 megawatt target however it is also seen as a step in the wrong direction in regard to using more renewable energy.

Analysts already believe the government has been slow to act on using more renewable energy sources and this does not help the government’s case. It’s predicted that by the year 2050 still more than 50% of the nation’s energy will be produced from fossil fuels, which is especially poor for a country like Indonesia as they have great potential to produce a lot of energy from renewable sources but are still heavily reliable on fossil fuels.

The nation has ignored the information from the International Energy Agency which states that the carbon dioxide produced when coal combusts contributes more than 0.3 degrees of the 1 degree Celsius average increase in global temperatures.

In 2018 Indonesia consumed more than 115 million tons of coal, keeping in line with the trend of a 10 % increase in usage per year from 2014. Along with this Indonesia exported a further 300 million tons of coal in 2018 and their dependence on oil and gas stayed unchanged.

People argue that Indonesia should not be using that much coal, and instead should look to their renewable options. One of those being geothermal energy.

It is believed that 75% of the Presidents 35000 megawatt target could be fulfilled just from geothermal power. This is based off rough calculations and more explorations would be needed to prove the number however it does show the great capacity this option provides.

Geothermal energy works by extracting the hot steam from underground and converting it into electricity using a generator. Indonesia has great potential for this due to it being located on top of the worlds centre if volcanic cracks. Geothermal energy is seen as a very reliable source as it works interrupted and isn’t reliant on certain weather conditions like wind farms or solar power.

Geothermal energy can also be used for other industries such as a greenhouse heater for agriculture, or hot springs for the tourism sector.

Geothermal power plants also emit around 97% less carbon than what a coal fired power plant of the same capacity would.

There is hope Indonesia may start using more renewable energy. Arifin Tasrif was recently appointed as the nation’s new energy minister and he has expressed a renewed interest in using renewable energy sources, along with reducing the amount of oil and gas used. However any change in the countries energy sector requires 100% commitment from the government to make the change. This commitment could be stricter regulations, stronger law enforcement and more incentives to use renewable power.

For example, the government could incentivise firms to build geothermal power plants by offering big subsidies. Geothermal exploration is an expensive and high risk job, leading to lower profit margins than alternatives. Subsidies to geothermal energy would make it a more profitable option, and if higher taxes were bought in on fossil fuels then there would be a definite shift.

However, at this current moment in time, geothermal energy remains a very much underdeveloped sector in a country where it has great potential. Government incentives have the potential to work but only if they are committed to strongly.

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