Asian Development Bank (ADB) funds a US$120 million to build the 72-megawatt (MW) Tolo Wind Power Project in Jeneponto District of South Sulawesi province. The project began operations in December, the bank announced on Friday (August 2). The project, developed by independent power producer Vena Energy, represents a new frontier in Indonesia’s quest to increase renewable energy generation.

Enjoying a strong ocean breeze, about 90 kilometers (km) south of Makassar and near the Flores Strait, 20 new wind turbines, with 80-ton rotating blades 63 meters long and 5 meters wide, it is expected to generate clean power to be sold to the state-owned power utility PT Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN).

Indonesia has abundant sources of renewable energy, including solar, wind, and biomass, but it lags many of its Asian neighbors in converting them into electricity. The wind power project will show a way forward by demonstrating how to successfully integrate variable renewable generation into the country’s main power grid run by PLN.

Electricity access is a challenge in Indonesia. Despite the government’s efforts to increase electricity access to 98.3 percent in 2018, 4.5 million Indonesians still don’t have electricity, because they are too poor to afford the connection or live in far-flung islands or remote hinterlands. Added to that is the high cost of last-mile electrification.

Eastern Indonesia, where power grids are small, isolated, and less reliable, represents the biggest challenge to Indonesia’s ultimate goal of universal and sustainable access. In 2018, only 88 percent of residents in Gorontalo, 84 percent in Central Kalimantan, and 62 percent in Nusa Tenggara Timur, for example, have access to electricity, compared with more than 90 percent in Java and Bali.

Turning this around could spur economic growth in eastern Indonesia, as reliable energy can help the region develop high-value agriculture, fisheries, tourism, as well as small and medium-sized enterprises. Currently, uneven development across these provinces, aggravated by an unstable power supply, has led to widening income disparities, especially when compared with Java and Bali.