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Inside Jakarta's pollution solution

September 27, 2023
tags:#Indonesia, #renewable energy, #coal, #ASEAN, #climate crisis, #solar power
by:Leo Galuh
'Once the public is aware of their right to a healthy environment, they will encourage the government to take appropriate measures.'

Cindy Silviana, 35, takes the TransJakarta Bus from her home to her office on a daily basis. She has been doing so for the past 20 years to avoid the cumbersome traffic and progressively worsening air pollution in the city. She also used to go for a morning walk before heading to work, but now avoids doing so due to the poor air quality. 

"I think Jakarta’s air now is pretty unhealthy due to the pollution. Instead of exercising outside and breathing in pollution, I prefer to do so inside my home," Silviana told FairPlanet, adding that she always wears a mask outdoors in order to protect her respiratory system from polluted air.

As a mother, she is also worried about her son’s health, who grew sensitive to the bad air quality.

"He coughs a lot. He has a dust allergy, and he needs to wear a mask always."

As the capital of Indonesia, the largest nation in Southeast Asia, Jakarta currently faces the most severe air pollution among its fellow ASEAN member countries. This is mostly a result of significant gas emissions originating from the surrounding areas of this megacity.

During the second week of August this year, PM2.5 levels in Jakarta reached 116.7 micrograms per cubic meter (g/m3). This figure is more than 23 times higher than the World Health Organization (WHO)’s safety threshold.

in fact, according to data from IQAir, a Switzerland-based air quality technology company, Jakarta is the most polluted city on earth for most of the days in any given month. Furthermore, the Jakarta Public Health Agency estimates that roughly 100,000 people suffer from acute respiratory infections each month due to air pollution.

In Indonesia, the reliance on fossil fuels remains high, according to Secretary General of the National Energy Council, Djoko Siswanto. The provisional emissions calculation for 2020 still reached 579 million tons of carbon dioxide. This figure has decreased in comparison to the dominance of fossil energy use in 2019, which reached 638 million tons of CO2. The decrease is attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic, which reduced public mobility and dampened industrial and commercial activities.

The Indonesian government stated that its New Renewable Energy (EBT) mix target in 2023 is 17.9 percent and that it aims to reach 23 percent by 2025.

The government also spent 26.7 trillion Indonesian rupiah (USD 1.7 billion) on the installation of energy-saving solar lamps, public street lighting and on the development of centralised solar-powered plants, rooftop solar power Plants and micro hydro power plants.

The Indonesian Ministry of Finance announced that the country will achieve net zero emissions by 2060.

ASEAN: a Solar Manufacturing Hub in the making? 

Indonesia, as the chair of ASEAN in 2023, hosted the 43rd ASEAN Summit in Jakarta from 5 to 8 September. Fabby Tumiwa, Executive Director of the Institute for Essential Services Reform (IESR), a think tank specialising in renewable energy, saw this is as a crucial moment for Indonesia to leverage its leadership to foster commitment and strengthen cooperation among ASEAN member states in advancing energy transitions.

"It will be in line with the Paris Agreement targets and encourage the development of industrial hubs and the use of solar energy in this region," Tumiwa told FairPlanet before the summit.

Tumiwa believes that Indonesia can forge alliances to make ASEAN a manufacturing hub for solar power plants components, which will spur industrial development and green economic opportunities while reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

He further noted that thanks to abundant resources and low technology costs, solar energy has become the cornerstone for attaining the net-zero emissions (NZE) targets in every ASEAN member country.

Vietnam currently leads the way in ASEAN with the highest installed solar power plant capacity, exceeding 20 gigawatts. It is followed by Thailand, which boasts approximately 3 gigawatts, Malaysia with roughly 2.2 gigawatts, and the Philippines with about 1.7 gigawatts. 

As of the middle of 2023, Indonesia’s solar photovoltaic (PV) installed capacity has only reached 0.2 gigawatt, Tumiwa said..

Moreover, Indonesia has not achieved full vertical integration in the solar panel industry, noted by Linus Andor Sijabat, Director of Business Strategy and Portfolio at Len Industri, a state-owned company specialising in industrial electronics and infrastructure. Len Industri has been involved in the photovoltaic industry since 1997.

Potential to realise Paris Agreement goals

According to Tumiwa, Indonesia possesses abundant silica resources capable of being refined into polysilicon raw materials, which serve as the fundamental building blocks for solar cells. The country's silica sand resources amount to a substantial 25.33 billion tons. In the meantime, as reported by the Indonesia Mining and Energy Forum, the total reserves amount to 331 million tons.

This is where the development of an ASEAN solar industry hub can prove advantageous, benefiting both Indonesia and ASEAN member countries by guaranteeing a steady supply of essential raw materials required for the manufacturing of solar cells and modules, he emphasised.

"In Southeast Asia, the industrial potential and supply chain for solar power plants components has also begun to develop," Tumiwa said. "In terms of material availability, Indonesia and Malaysia have the potential to meet the demand for polysilicon required for the production of wafers, ingots, and solar cells."

In order to meet the Paris Agreement targets, Southeast Asian nations must build a renewable energy capacity constituting between 39 to 41 per cent of their primary energy mix by 2030, Tumiwa added. The specific requirement for solar power plant capacity ranges from 142 gigawatt to 241 gigawatt.

As a region, Southeast Asia will require 240 GW of solar energy by 2030; it currently has about 24 GW of solar capacity, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.

Indonesia, with its solar power plants, aims to achieve a 34 percent renewable energy mix in the electricity sector by 2030, according to Tumiwa. The country requires solar power technology that is of high-quality, has consistent supply and is reasonably priced, he noted.

He also highlighted that climate threats are becoming increasingly serious in Southeast Asia, affecting food security and regional development progress. Heat waves are becoming more frequent and intense, as is heavy rain and tropical cyclones.

Tumiwa warned that without sincere efforts to reduce global emissions, achieving a 6 percent economic growth in the region, as per the current IMF target, will become even more challenging.

How does social media factor in? 

But experts emphasise that public participation is necessary too in order to raise awareness about climate change and the significance of the energy transition.

This year, Silviana founded her own self-funded media, COME, which stands for ‘Coolest Media on Earth.’ Through her platform, Silviana creates social media-based video campaigns, primarily on Instagram and TikTok, that target millennials and Gen Z'ers, believing this is the most effective method of raising awareness among younger people. 

A former journalist, Silviana generates content around solutions that "anyone can do," such as using public transportation, wearing masks outside the house or stopping the burning of trash.

She further shared that young people taking to Instagram to express their environmental concerns has become a popular trend in Indonesia.

She added that once the public is aware of their right to a healthy environment, they will advocate and encourage the government to take appropriate measures.

Image by Nefria Indradona.

Article written by:
Leo Galuh
Jakarta residents wearing masks in the street. As the capital of Indonesia, Jakarta currently faces the most severe air pollution among its fellow ASEAN member countries.
© Nefria Indradona
Jakarta residents wearing masks in the street. As the capital of Indonesia, Jakarta currently faces the most severe air pollution among its fellow ASEAN member countries.
Cindy Silviana.
© Cindy Silviana
Cindy Silviana.
Fabby Tumiwa, IESR\'s executive director.
© Nefria Indradona
Fabby Tumiwa, IESR's executive director.
Berlianto Pandapotan Hasudungan, Director of the Directorate of ASEAN Economic Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
© Nefria Indradona
Berlianto Pandapotan Hasudungan, Director of the Directorate of ASEAN Economic Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.