Katharina Cavano l Palladium - Oct 10 2022
Community-Owned Solar Grid Brings Electricity and Employment Opportunities in Indonesia

Solar operators in Mata Redi. Source: MENTARI

Mata Redi, a small village on the Indonesian island Sumba, recently became home to a solar and battery mini-grid that’s not only providing electricity for the first time to 220 households, but is serving as an example of the possibilities for accessible renewable energy in Indonesia.

The mini-grid is part of the UK-Indonesia MENTARI program, which aims to develop low-carbon energy in Indonesia to help the country achieve its inclusive economic growth, poverty reduction, electrification, and climate change goals. Mata Redi, where most of its citizens are still using kerosene lamps to light their homes, will serve as a living demonstration of renewable energy access and a business model in rural development.

Access to clean energy will also provide other benefits for the community at large, developing a more productive and inclusive local economy by powering local businesses and enhancing agricultural output. From allowing businesses and health care facilities to operate longer hours and provide cold storage for medicine, to giving children a chance to study later into the evening, and illuminating streetlights to improve safety, energy access will touch nearly every facet of the villagers’ lives.

A key part of the project? Community involvement.

Though Mata Redi is home to small agribusinesses and a cottage craft industry, it’s not uncommon for young people to leave the island in search of employment, and one of the goals of the project was to train community members in the skills needed to build and maintain the solar grid. “Those who don’t go to college look for jobs outside the island or stay at home to help their parents,” explains Jolinda, a participant of the solar PV power plant and furniture making trainings. “It is my calling to work in our own village and my job now includes supporting work at the mini-grid and house installations.”

Through the process of building the mini-grid, the community, in partnership with MENTARI and local NGOs such as Humba Hammu, a local women-led consortium of eight local organisations, and Don Bosco Training Centre delivered training and workshops for the community on a variety of skills, from furniture making and carpentry, to electrical engineering.
With Humba Hammu, the community learned to improve inclusivity and gender equality through Gender Action Learning System training for men and women, improving the potential for more inclusive economic development and social benefits for the whole community.

For those villagers working in cottage industries, weaving fabrics, or carving wood, the electricity will provide both light and much-needed power to extend their days and enhance their capabilities. And for those community members that received training, they’re now equipped with skills they can take with them for future careers or to support the community at home.

Already, Mata Redi has seen the benefits of access to electricity in the improvements made to citronella and ginger cultivation, with the goal of building a distillery for essential oil production. At the August event celebrating the opening of the mini-grid, Adrianus Umbu Rauta, Head of Mata Redi Village expressed his joy and gratitude for the project and what it means for his community. “We are also thankful that young people and community members have received a lot of training sessions in areas such as electricity training for grids’ operators, furniture making, gender and social inclusion trainings, as well as the establishment of Village Owned Enterprise and trainings for its members.”

“People were also provided with skills to plant citronella and white ginger – using the energy productively to increase household incomes. We do not only receive electricity but have also been supported to grow our community’s economy,” he added.

With Mata Redi as the successful demonstration, the hope is that similar projects can be replicated in other areas of Sumba and even more widely across Indonesia, with the potential to deliver transitions of entire islands where off-grid and mini-grid technology is suitable. This small village is proof that clean, renewable energy is more than just providing light at night, it’s a means to sustainable economic development, community empowerment, and an important step towards transitioning to a greener future.

MENTARI Programme, led by the British Embassy Jakarta and its partners with supports from Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources of Indonesia, aims to deliver inclusive economic growth and poverty reduction in Indonesia, by supporting the uptake of low carbon energy. The programme has a specific focus on developing the low carbon energy sector to best support disadvantaged communities, and specifically those in eastern Indonesia. Learn more about MENTARI or watch the video about the project in Mata Redi.