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Solar Power on the Sandalwood Island
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Wednesday, 02 May, 2018 | 15:08 WIB
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TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - For the people of Sumba in East Nusa Tenggara it seems likely that kerosene lamps will soon be a thing of the past. Parts of Sumba are now powered by sunlight, water currents, and the wind, all of which are in abundance on the island. The Sumba people-with the help of the government and the Dutch non-profit Hivos-are set to turn the island into an icon of renewable energy in Indonesia. The plan is for Sumba to get its entire power supply from renewables by 2025. 

A number of programs have been launched since the Sumba Iconic Island declaration eight years ago, programs such as Proyek Terang (Project Illumination), aimed at distributing renewable energy to villages. Sumba communities have joined the initiative as partners, allowing the distribution of clean electricity to the island's villages, homes and schools. The program managed to improve Sumba's electrification ratio to around 43 percent as of last year, 12.7 percent of which came from renewable sources.

Let There Be Light

Proyek Terang, or Project Illumination, is working with Sumba villages to provide access to renewable energy. 

AT the end of January, after conducting his sundown prayers, Wee Wula village chief Julius Magonaga saw his house go dark. Apparently, Julius's power generator had stopped working. His brightly-lit patio, where his guests were sitting and chatting, turned pitch black in an instant. Several guests immediately took out their portable lanterns. Soon, the patio and sitting room were again lit up and the guests resumed their banter over dinner. 

Luckily, some of Julius' guests that evening had brought their solar-powered portable lanterns with them. These lamps, known as solar photovaltoic, or solar PV lanterns, are now used by a handful of the village's residents at night.

The solar lanters were distributed by Project Illumination, an initiative aimed at providing renewable energy to villages in Sumba, East Nusa Tenggara. The project, launched in December 2015 and concluded in March this year, was the brainchild of several institutions, including Hivos, Winrock International, Yayasan Rumah Energi, Village Infrastructure Angel, and the Millennium Challenge Account-Indonesia. 

Although the program ran for several years, many villagers have yet to enjoy lighting and electricity. "Fewer than 30 percent of the village's population have access to (electric) lighting," said Julius, explaining that Wee Wula has a population of around 1,000. Only one to two lanterns per household were given to the 30 percent. Most in Wee Wula use kerosene lamps at night. Meanwhile, most of the village's roads are unlit.

Some of Julius's guests that night had solar lanterns from Project Illumination. Among them were Maria Rami Ate, Dominggus Bili and Samuel Belibi. Although these lamps are not as bright as generator-powered lights, their owners have become more productive during the night hours.

Dominggus Bili's workshop and convenience store, for example, are now open through the night. "More and more customers drop by because many of them can only come in the evening," said the 32-year-old man.

Maria Rami Ate, 59, can now come to meetings with other women in the village or to church gatherings at night. "(The lanterns are) very beneficial," she said.

Dominggus and Maria only had to pay Rp50,000 to join Project Illumination. But their solar lanterns have to be charged at the project's partner charging stations. Charging costs Rp2,000, and lanterns can last anywhere from two days to one week, depending on how frequently they are used. "I'm thankful that (the lanterns are) available now when we don't yet have state electricity," said Samuel Belibi. 

The people of Wee Wula have waited a long time for electricity to arrive. As in other villages, utility poles have been erected in front of Julius's home by the state-owned electricity company PLN. But no cables have been installed. A small minority of residents can now enjoy lighting from the PLN's solar-based power supply or have enjoyed it at one time. "But there are places where the electricity isn't working well," said Julius. 

PLN's electricity project has not been successful because villagers object to the fee, said Julius. Each household is required to pay Rp250,000 for installation as well as a monthly subscription of Rp36,000. "They don't have the money." 

Read more inspiring Outreach stories in Tempo English Weekly Magazine

 


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