Solar, wind, water and biogas from animal waste. These resources are key components for producing renewable energy in Sumba, an island in central Indonesia. The “Sumba Iconic Island” programme is an initiative of the Dutch humanitarian development organisation Hivos, and aims to achieve 100 per cent renewable energy and 95 per cent electrification rate by 2025.

The international NGO Hivos and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) are implementing organisations in this ambitious undertaking. Support and participation comes from a wide range of stakeholders: local population, government (local and national levels), private sector, universities, as well as the national electricity company (PLN).

Norway is an enthusiastic supporter of the project, providing funding both to Hivos and to the ADB. Norway has a long history promoting clean energy, environmental initiatives and poverty reduction. Almost all energy produced in Norway comes from hydro power, and promoting the use of renewable energy is a political priority.

Sumba Island is situated in one of the poorest provinces of Indonesia, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT). The population of close to 700 thousand is spread over about 350 villages, most subsistence farmers with no access to electricity. When the Sumba Iconic Island programme started, only 25 per cent of the population had electric light, and with the inhabitants scattered around an 11 thousand square kilometres large island full of hills, it wasn’t economically viable to increase this access due to the high cost of expanding the grid.

Renewable energy based on the sun, wind, rivers and animal dung changes things. Small scale, off grid energy production makes electric light and gas based cooking available to people who used to rely on expensive kerosene, and crop irrigation available to farmers who couldn’t afford operating petroleum based water pumps. Access to energy makes significant difference to poor people in rural areas. It’s even affordable, as Hivos’ Eco Matser states: “Renewable energy is the best and most cost-effective solution for people on remote islands such as Sumba.” This is good news, not only for the people of Sumba, but for many remote islands and poor villages, in Indonesia and elsewhere.

So, does poor people really need to watch television? Well, possibly not (although the informational side of this was obvious during last elections), but there are many more uses for electricity. Darkness no longer stop children from studying, farmers from repairing their tool, women from weaving cloth or articles for use or sale, villagers from meeting, and so on. With electricity, schools can use computers and photocopiers, fields can be irrigated to increase crops, small organisations can function better. Access to energy increases peoples’ quality of life, and now about 60 per cent of Sumba’s population have the opportunity to use electricity, and a large and increasing part of this is from a renewable source.

“Sumba Iconic Island” components:

  • Biogas  Animal dung (manure) is collected in a biogas incubator, where it’s fermented. The resulting methane gas is used for cooking and lights. The remaining slurry is then used to fertilise soil for growing produce.
  • Micro Hydro  Water is collected from smaller streams and electricity is generated using a small turbine for use in the local community.
  • School Electrification  Solar panels generate electricity for use in schools, where it’s used for lights, computers, musical instruments and more.
  • Irrigation  Solar panels generate electricity for water pumps irrigating fields, increasing crops.

The renewable energy made available by the initiatives in the “Sumba Iconic Island” programme stimulates activities previously not possible for poor people, for whom use of petroleum based generators were not an option due to the cost of investments and operations. The lives of the people benefitted are improved, through environmentally friendly means. The hope is to replicate this other places, helping more poor people improve their lives.