With assistance from the PNPM Rural Mandiri program, villagers in a remote district in Jambi, Sumatra, have harnessed the power of a river to create a sustainable and affordable supply of electricity.
Unlike the crowded island of Java, Indonesia’s sparsely populated outer islands—Sumatra, Sulawesi, Kalimantan and Papua—are home to small communities spread out and separated by great distances. These distances create serious challenges to the development of road systems, power and water supply, as well as the provision of health services and education.
Because of these challenges, it is often prohibitively expensive for PLN, the state’s electricity company, to provide electricity to isolated communities. Craft workers and home industries have to use expensive, diesel fueled generators to run their power tools. Farmers are often forced to sell their produce at low prices as they have no means to store or process produce. Poor householders must either limit their activities to daylight hours or spend a significant proportion of their income on kerosene for lamps. Schools cannot light class rooms or operate computers and health workers cannot safely store vaccines.
Abdul Aziz, a farmer and carpenter, is the head of a community-elected team in the village of Peradun Temeras in the Jambi province, Sumatra.
‘The village consists of 130 families. Most of the people here are farmers, growing rubber or coconut to sell in Bangko, the nearest major town,’ said Abdul.
When communities in the sub-district were invited to submit a proposal for funds under the PNPM Rural program, villagers were unanimous in their decision; their top priority was securing a reliable and affordable electricity supply.
‘Only a handful of households could afford a generator. The cost to light a small house with kerosene lamps cost 450,000 rupiah per month—around half of the basic wage in the district. Poor families had to live in the dark after sunset.’
Abdul’s team decided that the best way to provide electricity for their village was through a micro hydro-electric power generation system.
‘The vegetation here is thick and the rainy seasons are long. Solar power was too unreliable. However, we have a plentiful supply of water, so we decided to try to harness the river’s energy to generate power.’
Under the program, a community is usually required to utilize their own resources. This includes building materials, labour and existing facilities. The program then provides additional funds to secure equipment, materials or other resources required.
The project required a massive commitment from community members. To build the 250 metre causeway, groups of local women carried 580 cubic meters of rock and men worked together to dig a wide trench in the clay ground.
‘We set up 21 small working groups, with each responsible for an 11 metre stretch. No one was paid for their labour, we all knew the reward would come when the village had electricity,’ Abdul explains.
The generator now supplies electricity to all 130 families in the village. The generator has a total capacity of 50,000 MW, which provides power from 3pm to 7pm each day.
‘We’ve only had blackouts twice this year. Each family pays 500 rupiah per watt, which is less than what people living in urban areas pay. To light a small house, it now costs less than 40,000 rupiah a month.’
‘Children can study at night. Women can use equipment to make coconut milk. The school now has a computer. As a carpenter, I’ve purchased power tools to make door frames and other timber products. My income has gone up significantly,’ Abdul says.
‘The entire community has benefited and we achieved it through our own hard work, but it would not have been possible without the funds from the PNPM program.’
Reference: Let there be light