Taking Indonesia’s Islands to Renewable? It’s All Down to Going Local
“When you are young and idealistic, you want to have impact. But you also want to see that impact in action. You want to see your work implemented and you want to see concrete results. You want to see that what you are doing can really improve lives.” – Marco Occhinero is unequivocal about his ambitions and motivation.
Together with 11 fellow MSc SELECT students, he has spent the last few months working in close collaboration with Dutch NGO HIVOS and a network of local stakeholders. Their goal: to help drive the conversion to renewable energy sources in the Indonesian island of Sumba – an ambitious plan known as Sumba Iconic Island.
Only 25 percent of the island is currently powered by off-grid renewables, the rest relying on a mixture of diesel and kerosene for fuel. Within the coming years, HIVOS and other organizations working in the region want to take Sumba to at least 95 percent renewable electrification.
The InnoEnergy students are part of this effort. Together, the 12-strong team has built a project focused on leveraging solar, biomass and potential wind-turbine energy sources to drive living standards, education and economic opportunity in the remote village of Tamberra in the North Western province of the island.
An integral part of their MSc programme, Tamberra is the group’s second year project – or Integrated Project of the Year – an entirely student-led initiative that deploys technical, engineering, innovation and soft skills to address real-world challenges. And as challenges go, says teammate Noemi Cerra, this one is multi-faceted.
From Big to Local
“We heard about the Sumba project from second-year students in our first year on the MSc programme. So we knew that the stakes were high from the outset. We knew that although we were a team of 12 people, resources were going to be tight,” says Noemi. “Not least of all in terms of time.”
To have concrete and measurable impact, the team members realized they would need to tighten their focus and adjust their objectives to fit a smaller scale plan. The Tamberra community, part of the Doka Kaka area, would fit the bill in terms of size.
However, theory was one thing. Practical understanding of the village infrastructure, local economy and needs, was another.
“We knew we would have to work face-to-face with stakeholders like HIVOS and their network of local partners on the ground if we wanted to see real impact,” says Noemi.
That meant a road trip to Sumba. And with it, the challenge of intercultural communication.
This is where the first year of the Masters programme came into play as a foundation, says Marco.
“The real added value of the MSc is the mixture of technical, engineering and science skills with soft-skills development. From the beginning of the programme, we were challenged to build cross-cultural communication competencies – from working in culturally diverse teams and groups to the way the programme itself is structured, with one cohort in Netherlands, one in Portugal and the third in Sweden and both intersecting and collaborating continuously.”
The field team was well prepared, he says, to negotiate and build relationships with the diverse organizations that they met in Sumba as the members began to put together a real picture of the island’s needs.
And then there was communicating findings and drawing conclusions with the rest of the team in Europe – a challenge, says Noemi, that also found its answer in the experience that the programme had already delivered.
“The ability to collaborate from different locations using basic tools like email or Skype was something that we had already mastered in teamwork on the programme. From the start, SELECT students are split between Barcelona and Stockholm, so we knew how to communicate across distance. We came to Sumba armed with this training.”
The training and experience paid off, as the students were able to forge strong ties, not only with high-level managers within HIVOS, but with contacts closer to the ground within the HIVOS ecosystem. Taking it, as Marcos says, from big to local.
A key partnership with the Sumba Hospitality Foundation has opened up further opportunities for concrete results, says Noemi.
“We share the same social objectives – to improve life, access to education and to drive the local economy in a more sustainable way. The Sumba Hospitality Foundation is on the ground, providing in-situ vocational training for local people in hospitality. We are working with them to provide technical support.”
Innovation in Action – With Concrete Results
The SELECT team aims to use its experience and knowledge to create an integrated model for off-grid electrification in Tamberra that can be adapted and implemented in other villages in Sumba to drive autonomous use of renewables and open up opportunities for local people to develop their own economies – what the team calls “the economics of sustainability.”
Presentations of findings have already been made at the University of Indonesia and Bandung Institute of Technology, and the team is optimistic that it can build a case study based on Tamberra that can be shared with the wider community, accelerating Sumba’s transition to off-grid renewable electrification in the next few years.
But the findings work both ways, says Marco. There have been major takeaways, he believes, for himself and for his teammates.
“We will graduate with hands-on experience of teamwork and field work. The project has taught us the importance of communication and of flexibility when things change. We’ve built a base not just of technical skills but also of economic and social understanding. Quite simply, it has broadened our horizons.”
Members of the team: Noemi Cerra, Giulia Torri, Fabia Miorelli, Haseeb Tahir, David Duque Lozano, Srilakshmi Gopalakrishnan, Àurea Solé Carulla, Federica Tomasini, Marco Occhinero, Swati Nair, Siddharth Raghav Murali, Sachini Nuwandika Wimalasiri
Images provided by: Fabia Miorelli