Net-zero Bali: Making the case for a 100 per cent renewable energy paradise

Indonesia’s ‘island of the Gods’ could serve as a living laboratory for a nation still in the early stages of renewable energy development.

The 3.5 MW Suana solar farm in Nusa Penida, Bali.
The 3.5 MW Suana solar farm in Nusa Penida. The island could serve as a living laboratory for a nation still in the early stages of renewable energy development. Image: Marlistya Citraningrum/LinkedIn

Bali is arguably more well-known than Indonesia itself, and it has gained even more popularity in recent years after the pandemic.

The history of tourism in Bali can be traced back to before Indonesia obtained its independence; however, it was not until the 1960s that the mass tourism industry began. Based on 2023 statistics, Bali’s gross domestic product from accommodation, food, and beverages - which is directly linked to tourism activities, amounted to almost 20 per cent. While Bali is popular due to a combination of serene nature and its strong culture, some parts of Bali have transformed into something else: arrays of beach clubs, aesthetic cafes, hip restaurants - all in need of more energy. 

Bali’s annual electricity demand has rapidly grown from 3.2 terawatt-hours (TWh) to about 5.8 TWh, along with the rising number of annual visitors from about 9 million to 17 million between 2011 and 2019. However, fossil-fuelled power plants still play a significant role in Bali’s power system, with the majority of electricity generation coming from the 426-megawatt (MW) Celukan Bawang coal-fired power plant, a total of 659 MW of gas-fuelled power plants, and some remaining diesel power plants. In addition, approximately 25 per cent of Bali’s electricity demand is also supplied from the fossil-dense Java system through a 400 MW sea cable connection.  

As a cluster of islands, Bali fits the characteristics of being an ‘energy-independent island’ – and specifically, a renewable energy island. Denmark’s island of Samsø is probably the most popular proof of concept. At the time they declared to transform their energy system in 1997, their electricity came from coal power plants from mainland Denmark via undersea cable. Now they have wind turbines, biomass power plants, solar farms; managed by the community and essentially reducing their emission very close to zero.  

To cement the commitment to the Bali Compact, the provincial government of Bali asserted a similar intention: Bali will achieve a net-zero emissions target by 2045 (Indonesia’s target is 2060). The statement was made at the height of the Indonesia G20 Summit in 2022. It was then reaffirmed with its low carbon development plan (“RPRKD” with ambitious scenario) and a declaration with multiple non-government organisations.  

Nusa Penida pilot

Decarbonising Bali is certainly no easy feat and will take concentrated effort and time.

Starting “small” is part of the pathway: by first promoting Nusa Penida, which lies to the southeast of the main island, as a renewable energy island. The island is a part of the tiny subset of Tiga Nusa Islands (Nusa Penida, Lembongan, and Ceningan) and has been growing in popularity after the pandemic due to its rather secluded location, pristine cliffs and beaches, and breathtaking diving spots. Due to an increase in tourism activities, Nusa Penida’s power system experienced a deficit in 2023. The island is still very much fossil-powered; there are 13 diesel generator units totalling 12.4 MW of capacity. It also has 3.5 MW of solar power with batteries, built just before the 2022 G20 high level summit. 

Despite being a tiny island of only 202.84 square kilometres, Nusa Penida boasts massive renewable energy potential, putting the doubt of resource adequacy to bed. The sun shines brightly with a rather low precipitation, resulting in a technical annual solar potential of 4.67 TWh of electricity – about 105 times the island’s current electricity needs – only by using available space equal to 3.2 gigawatt-peak (GWp) of capacity.

Nusa Penida not only presents opportunities for utility-scale development (such as the 3.5 MW showcase project of Suana Solar Farm, which was set up in 2022). It also invites opportunities for business owners and local communities, with an estimated 11 megawatt-peak (MWp) of rooftop solar potential installation from hotels, government buildings, minimarkets, and village halls (balai banjar in Balinese). 

Getting more solar into the system would be a crucial first step towards a 100 per cent renewable energy-powered island, with IESR modelling showing the need to install a total of 21 MW of solar power before 2028 as the most cost-effective pathway.

It could be done with the implementation of supporting technologies such as energy management systems, upgrading around 53 distribution transformers to more distributed solar, and installing 30 MWh worth of energy storage systems.

Moving further along the pathway, enriching the island’s renewable portfolio with an additional 3 MW of biomass power plants is crucial to shifting diesel’s operational role as a backup before 2029.

Small-scale seawater pumped-hydro energy storage could be the final piece in putting together a 100 per cent clean energy system by 2030, providing a long-duration energy storage option along with lithium-based batteries.  

With Bali’s net-zero emission horizon set at 2045, transforming Nusa Penida into a 100 per cent renewable energy island is a key strategy that also highlights the benefits of decentralised energy access for Indonesia as an archipelago.

Achieving this transformation requires a clear, multi-stage energy and power system roadmap, along with strong political will and commitment. Contributions from multiple stakeholders are crucial, including national and provincial governments, PLN (Indonesia’s energy system planner and single-buyer utility), private developers, investors, businesses, and the grassroots communities of Nusa Penida.

Furthermore, this initiative could serve as a living laboratory for a nation still in the early stages of renewable energy development. 

Alvin Putra Sisdwinugraha is power system and renewable energy analyst and Marlistya Citraningrum is programme manager, sustainable energy access, at Institute for Essential Services Reform, Indonesia, a Jakarta-based think tank.

Most popular

Featured Events

Publish your event
leaf background pattern

Transforming Innovation for Sustainability Join the Ecosystem →