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Solar Indonesia: where do we place 10 billion solar panels?

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Andrew Blakers's picture
Professor of Engineering, Australian National university

Andrew Blakers is Professor of Engineering at the Australian National University. He founded the solar PV research group at ANU. In the 1980s and 1990s he was responsible for the design and...

  • Member since 2021
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  • Sep 13, 2021

By mid-century, Indonesia will be an industrialized country of 335 million people. Full electrification of transport, heating and industry to remove all fossil fuels means that electricity demand will rise to 9000 Terawatt-hours (TWh) per year.

Indonesia lacks significant wind resources, and so will rely mostly on solar. Each person will need about 20 kilowatts (100 square meters) of solar panel to enjoy similar energy services to Singapore, Europe, North America and Australia – about 7 Terawatts (TW) in all.

People will enjoy cheap solar energy, a stable climate and blue skies. There will be no more greenhouse emissions, coal mining, coal dust, coal mine fires, power station explosions, power station smog, power station ash, gas fracking, oil drilling, oil spills, oil-related warfare, car exhausts or urban smog.

But where will we put the 10 billion solar panels that we need? Indonesia is a densely populated country with vast areas of natural land that must not be destroyed to host solar panels. A recent study has answered this question. It turns out that Indonesia has ample space.

Indonesia also has vast off-river pumped hydro energy storage, far more than enough to balance a 100% solar powered energy system during the nighttime and rainy periods.

Indonesia has a land area of 1.9 million km2 and a maritime area of 6.4 million km2. The required area of solar panels in 2050 is 35,000 km2. This is where to install the required 10 billion panels:

  1. Rooftop solar: solar can be accommodated on residential, commercial and industrial rooftops amounting to around 1 TW.
  2. Agrophotovoltaics (APV) entails the co-location of solar panels with pasture or crops. This dual use of land is an additional income stream for farmers. Many countries have developed APV systems up to grid-scale. Indonesia has 210,000 km2 of low-growing crops. Assuming an average APV coverage fraction of 10% is applied to all low-growing crops except rice, 2 TW could be placed here.
  3. Former mining sites already have existing electricity distribution/transmission lines and transport infrastructure which could help developers reduce capital costs in solar PV deployment. We found 2,300 km2 of disturbed land, enough for 0.5 TW. Plans are afoot for an initial 2.3 GW solar plant in ex-mining areas.
  4. Floating solar PV (FPV) is rapidly growing, with several Gigawatts installed to date. Indonesia is the only equatorial archipelago. Tropical storms, large waves and strong winds are very rare in the inland sea. We found an area of 700,000 km2 which has not experienced any wave over 4 metres height or wind stronger than 15 metres per second in the last 40 years. This area is enough to generate 180,000 TWh, which is 20 times larger than Indonesia would ever need. Indeed, its large enough to power a fully electrified global economy of 10 billion affluent people in 2050.

A 145 MW floating solar PV on Cirata Reservoir will start operating at the end of 2022, with 857 MW to follow. Sunseap Group (a Singaporean solar energy company) and Batam free zone authority have signed a memorandum of understanding for a 2.2 GW floating solar farm project located on the Duriangkang Reservoir in Batam Island, Indonesia.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 13, 2021

Interesting outline, Andrew. It seems like you start with the assumption that Indonesia must get to 100% solar-- is that a specifically stated goal or mandate in the country? Or are you treating this more as a though experiment of showing how it would be possible? Recognizing there aren't abundant wind resources, does the nation have any other clean options or is it just solar vs. imported fossil fuels at this point? 

Andrew Blakers's picture
Andrew Blakers on Sep 13, 2021

Indonesia in 2050 is imagined, of course. However, there is no reason that Indonesia could not emulate nearby Singapore in terms of industrialisation and growth in energy demand.

Indonesia only has solar as a significant renewable energy source. But its solar resource is enormous, and very uniform across the year which obviates energy storage.

Indonesia has large coal reserves, and until recently had planned new coal power stations for decades to come. This pipeline is now set for serious pruning. Shockingly low prices have recently been contracted for solar power in Indonesia.

Anthony  Lusich's picture
Anthony Lusich on Sep 15, 2021

Solar in Indonesia? Why aren’t they doing geothermal? They have some of the biggest volcanos on the planet.

Andrew Blakers's picture
Andrew Blakers on Sep 15, 2021

Becase geothermal is expensive compared with solar PV, and because the geothermal resource is a tiny tiny fraction of the solar resource.

Anthony  Lusich's picture
Anthony Lusich on Sep 28, 2021

From what I can tell geothermal could provide for 5% of Indonesia’s electrical needs. While it is more expensive, it is a baseline source that operates  95 percent of the time. 

Doug Houseman's picture
Doug Houseman on Sep 15, 2021

Even if PV efficiency were to double, some countries would struggle to find places for panels.

If the UN goal of 1000 kWh per individual/year is an actual goal for developing countries, many more countries will struggle to find land that is available for solar.

The next question is "what does large scale (gigawatt and larger) solar do to the local ecosystem?"

There is no such thing as a free lunch. Someone/thing always pays.

Andrew Blakers's picture
Andrew Blakers on Sep 15, 2021

In my article, I assume that Indonesia catches up with developed countries and also electrifies everything. Per capita electricity consumption rises 30-fold to 27,000 kWh per year. And still the area of solar panel needed is less than 0.1% of Indonesia's land and ocean area. Environmental impact remains very small, especially in comparison with a fossil fuelled energy system.

There will be no more greenhouse emissions, coal mining, coal dust, coal mine fires, power station explosions, power station smog, power station ash, gas fracking, oil drilling, oil spills, oil-related warfare, car exhausts or urban smog.

Andrew Blakers's picture
Thank Andrew for the Post!
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