Bioenergy to address the dilemma of fuel for cooking in Indonesia

01 May 2017 | Ibnu Budiman

The Indonesian Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources (MEMR) noted that total consumption of Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) rose to 6.67 million metric tonnes last year, up 1.5 percent from 2015. But, domestic production of LPG has dropped to 2.24 million metric tonnes in 2016 from 2.27 million the previous year. This has forced imports to rise to 4.42 million metric tonnes in 2016 from 4.3 million in 2015. This LPG shortage is rooted from a massive centralised energy program in 2007 by the government to switch kerosene to Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) as cooking fuel. Meanwhile, BPS recorded that 24.8 million households still primarily rely upon on firewood for cooking.

Analysis of the LPG programme found that it has delivered most benefits to higher and medium income households in suburban areas. In fact, it hasn't succeeded in significantly alleviating the average number of energy-poor people in rural areas. This situation becomes a driving force for those people who remain using woody biomass as their daily cooking fuel. Actually, as the number of LPG users increase and kerosene use declines, the number of firewood users has remained the same or even increased. Some people who already have access to LPG, still like to use firewood due to their preference for the better taste of food cooked by firewood. The firewood cooking has been a cultural tradition and social practice for rural people. Even for businesses, the firewood tradition matters, a tofu company in East Java maintains the way of its production by using wooden and stone devices as well as firewood.

Consequently, it is adversely impacting local wooded ecosystems and contribute to the deforestation rate which is estimated to have reached 2.5 million hectares per year. One of the direct causes is linked to human activity such as taking firewood for cooking by community surrounding forest. The firewood cooking also causes indoor air pollution and negative impact on respiratory health. It generates high airborne particle matter and black carbon concentrations when the firewood is burned in the room with poorly ventilated furnaces and cook stoves.

To respond to the problem, Green-Win is supporting a bioenergy programme in Indonesia called BIRU (biogas for households) to change the practices of rural populations. The programme has installed 16,015 digesters in nine provinces in Indonesia from 2010-2016. The Indonesian government provides grants to the programme so rural people are able to use the biogas for free. Biogas is categorised as clean renewable energy from second generation biofuels. Feedstock to produce biogas is plenty in Indonesia, most existing biogas uses farm manure and slurries in rural areas. Biogas also has many different end-uses, such as cogeneration to produce electricity and heat, to power lights and to drive vehicles.

The Indonesian government has several biogas programmes from different ministries which are mostly connected with BIRU. The biogas programmes come from the Ministry of Forestry and Ministry of Agriculture (MEMR) in form of integrated farming programme. In those biogas programmes, the government used to hire YRE as an Indonesian NGO and Hivos as implementing partner. Hivos and YRE also work with certified construction partner organisations (CPO) to install the biogas digester. Aside from work with the government, Hivos and YRE are also working on a specific project based on grants and loans. Biogas as decentralised energy system seems to be a solution for many remotely rural areas. This technology is expected to be adopted as a new social practice by rural people.

Nevertheless, in practice, the biogas system in Indonesia is still not widely developed for all households. This is one of the reasons why the number of firewood users is still high. Challenges remain for the programme design and the technology. The spread of the programme is limited by government funding and programme's operations. The credit scheme built by the NGO does not work well due to the financial condition of rural people.

Based on a social practice approach, the government should change the system of biogas provision, such as by shifting from a grant mechanism a subsidy model. This would allow the budget to be utilised to provide more digesters in rural areas. The government could use evaluation from commercial scheme established by YRE as the benchmark for the subsidy model. This scheme will also bring opportunity for private entities to take part in the sector. At the same time, this will also change the mentality of the user toward their own digester. The government also should avoid mismanagement in screening who is eligible for the subsidy, so that the funds that are allocated for the improvement of biogas could be spent effectively and efficiently.

The second issue is dealing with technology the challenge. Most farmers still find difficulty in operating and maintenance the digester due to lack of knowledge. However, there are still opportunities to fix this issue when the biogas budget is used efficiently. The budget can be utilised for training rural people to prepare them to be independent in managing their own biogas. Since proper training is required, the programme has to make sure all users attend the training and understand the content through hands-on practice. If a proper scheme through subsidies is to be successful, it should be designed with detailed terms about training procedures. This will allow it to lead to an integrated solution for better programme implementation, better training, and high-quality biogas for users. In the end, biogas can be an alternative answer for both dilemmas of reducing the dependency on LPG imports and avoiding the environmental impacts of firewood use for cooking.

Ibnu Budiman, Master Candidate in Environmental Sciences, Wageningen University.