Even as its neighbours join the rest of the world in turning increasingly away from coal, Indonesia is charging full steam ahead with new coal plant construction, putting any hope of aligning with a 1.5°C average global warming target under the 2015 Paris Agreement in serious jeopardy along the way.
A recent analysis by the Jakarta-based Institute for Essential Services Reform (IESR) concluded that the country cannot build any more coal-fired generators beyond 2020 if it is to have any hope of fulfilling its Paris promises, reports Mongabay News.
Analyzing four possible scenarios, IESR found only one in which Indonesia hit the 1.5°C target by more or less immediately “scrapping the dozens of coal-fired plants being built or planned,” phasing out coal completely by 2048, and ratcheting down its emissions from a peak of 274 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) in 2028 to zero within two decades.
In a second scenario, in which Indonesia is compliant with a 2.0°C global target, there is still no room whatsoever for any new coal-fired power plants.
The first scenario is “highly unlikely,” writes Mongabay, as Indonesia’s “energy consumption growth is among the fastest in the world, and the government is relying mostly on coal-fired plants to feed that demand,” with coal accounting for 60% of the country’s energy mix in 2018.
But that percentage won’t drop much over the next decade should Indonesia proceed on its current path: “Under the government’s latest electricity procurement plan, the installed capacity of coal plants in the country is expected to nearly double over the next decade from the current 28 gigawatts.” At the moment, “39 coal-fired power plants are currently under construction, and 68 have been announced, which will maintain coal’s dominance of the energy mix at nearly 55% by 2025.”
Such a trajectory is dangerous, IESR Executive Director Fabby Tumiwa told Mongabay, because it will lock Indonesia into a high-carbon economy, with the new coal plants generating between 700 and 800 million tons of CO2 by 2030. That output will surely put the multi-island nation out of steps with its neighbours, Mongabay writes, with San Francisco-based Global Energy Monitor (GEM) recently identifying Indonesia as the only Southeast Asian country to pursue new coal plant construction in the first six months of 2019.
Mongabay identifies Thailand as being particularly determined in its turn away from coal, noting its January removal of “two major coal plants, the 800-megawatt Krabi and 2,200-MW Thepa facilities, from its energy development plan.” Community resistance also led the country to shelve another 3,200-MW project. After committing to allowing only 12% coal in its electricity mix, down from 25%, Thailand is “making a major pivot toward clean energy, announcing an ambitious plan to build the world’s largest floating solar farms to power Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.”
And “while the region as a whole is home to three of the world’s top 10 biggest networks of planned coal power plants, construction of new plants in Southeast Asia has actually fallen dramatically since peaking at 12,920 MW new installed capacity in 2016,” Mongabay notes, citing GEM. “In 2018, only 2,744 MW of new coal-fired capacity entered construction.”
As a major job and revenue generator for several Indonesian provinces, coal has a significant and, in immediate economic terms, entirely understandable hold over the country of 264 million.
“Of course, coal power plants can’t just be closed down, because there’s going to be economic and financial consequences,” Fabby told Mongabay, adding, “we need energy transition. We also need to anticipate the economic consequences that might happen.”
That’s one more reason Indonesia urgently needs policies that encourage renewables, writes Mongabay. “While the government plans to increase the share of renewables in the energy mix from 7% at present to 23% by 2025, progress has been sluggish,” in part because “there are currently no carbon disincentives to encourage investment in renewable energy, while coal-fired power plants continue to receive hefty subsidies.” Mongabay also mentions the government’s spectacularly unfortunate “hitching of its renewable wagon” to palm oil-derived biofuel.
But Fabby said it doesn’t have to be this way, noting that Indonesia has yet to exploit its huge potential for solar, as Vietnam is currently doing.And sticking to coal will likely prove a devastating choice. Speaking with local media, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, a former energy adviser to the Indonesian government and now head of the IESR-affiliated Indonesia Clean Energy Forum (ICEF), called for “revolutionary” policies to promote renewables immediately and rapidly because “in a short time, coal will become the enemy of the world”.