Hasna Affifah, thesis, Indonesia

Evaluation of a rural electrification project

This research evaluates a state-sponsored PV-wind hybrid plant project in Pengantap Hamlet, Lombok Island, Indonesia. In 2012, the Indonesian government through the Ministry of Villages, Underdeveloped Regions Development and Transmigration funded a project to construct an off-grid power plant to electrify 60 households in the hamlet, with the Mining and Energy Agency of West Nusa Tenggara Province acting as the project implementer.

Research objectives

This research aims to evaluate the whole process that took place in this particular electrification project, starting from project initiation, project planning, plant construction and plant commissioning, in order to establish how the way the project was carried out has affected the result of the project and the current operational state of the plant. Characteristics of the project are elaborated to analyze the implications of each decision and action in every stage for the next stages of the project and the end result. This research is particularly important due to the massive scale of national rural electrification projects the government of Indonesia is going to fund in the coming years, which gives rise to the necessity of performing in-depth evaluations to assess the projects that have been carried out within the scheme of this electrification program. Exploring the dynamics that might be brought about due to the acquisition of the power system in a rural area and how they affect the achievement of project objectives, will provide insights that could be useful for future policy and project development. Furthermore, this research aims to provide beneficial lessons for the actors in Indonesia’s rural electrification scene in designing energy programs that are able to better meet the needs and conditions of local society and sustain their benefits for a long term in order to achieve broader developmental goals.

Research question and methodology

The central question in this research is: “How did the design of the rural electrification project in Pengantap Hamlet affect the success (or failure) of the project and contribute to the improvement of life quality of the local community?”

In order to answer this question, firstly the chronological story about the planning and implementation processes of the electrification project in Pengantap Hamlet was reconstructed based on data collected through a survey of 46 households in the hamlet who had received a connection to the power plant, using a standardized questionnaire; and in-depth interviews with individuals who were directly involved in the project, such as government personnel and hamlet representatives. Personal observation during the visits to the hamlet was also used to obtain information about the current situation of the operational state of the plant and electricity utilization in the hamlet. Subsequently, all events and conditions that happened in the hamlet in relation to the implementation of the electrification project were elaborated and analyzed using an analytical framework developed on the basis of the key concepts proposed by several studies using a process and learning based approach to development projects.

Findings

Although the hybrid power plant was still operating and in a relatively good condition at the time of this research, some deficiencies in plant management and electricity system in the hamlet were found. The plant has been serving only 60 out of 120 households in the hamlet, in which each household was supplied with only 300 Wh of electricity every day. The local organization in charge of plant management was dominated by one person and the involvement of regular residents was barely observed, causing the continuity of plant operation to be highly dependent on one individual. The state grid network entered the hamlet less than one year after the project termination, which created an unintended competition for electricity supply in the hamlet and reduced the degree of power plant utilization by the residents. Some problems with financial sector appeared due to the reluctance of the customers to pay the agreed amount of monthly fee, which brought difficulties for the maintenance of the power plant.

From the perspective of the process and learning based approach framework, several aspects that significantly contributed to the result of the project in Pengantap Hamlet are: (1) the insufficiency of the identification of local needs that reduced the relevance of the project, (2) the unresolved conflict between influential figures in the village that created an unconducive political environment for power plant exploitation, (3) the presence of an overly dominant innovation champion that hindered the opportunities of regular residents to participate, (4) the absence of a proper learning process, knowledge exchange and capacity building among the stakeholders due to the lack of awareness about community development aspect of the project, (5) highly standardized project design and highly centralized structure of project management, and (6) poor inter-institutional coordination at national level regarding rural electrification projects division.

Conclusions and implications

The issues with program and framework conceptualization by policy makers, project management and governance at national and regional levels, and local participation in the project are considered the factors that substantially affect the institutional sustainability of the electrification project in Pengantap Hamlet, and in other Indonesian villages in general. The current project design has been able to achieve project success in terms of installing a technically functioning power system to provide temporary electricity source for the local community, and it has been contributing to the increase of the national and regional electrification ratio. However, when viewed from the lenses of community development goals, the current system of rural electrification projects is not adequate to attain institutional sustainability needed for ensuring long-term socioeconomic benefits.

The lessons learned from the electrification project in Pengantap imply the necessity for government personnel to evaluate the concept and umbrella framework of the national rural electrification program, and improve the coordination mechanism and communication platform between governmental institutions that are involved in the implementation of rural electrification projects. Moreover, the role of the regional government and local community in project planning and execution has to be more emphasized in order to facilitate a properlearning cycle and capacity building.