Geothermal and water potential energy in Indonesia – the challenge

President Joko Widodo had an ambitious plan of generating additional 35,000 MW of electricity power for current installed capacity of 50,000 MW. This projection is based on the underlying assumption that electricity demand will grow proportionally alongside economic growth, which is assumed as 6-7% per year. The latest Business Plan for Electricity Generation (as translated from RUPTL: Rencana Umum Pengadaan Tenaga Listrik) shows that only around 3,000 MW, or equal to a mere 8% of 35,000 MW target that will be generated from renewable energy sources.

At the end of 2015, delegates on behalf of 195 countries declared their commitment of reducing greenhouse gas emission as a mitigation of climate change. The governments agreed on the need for global emissions to peak as soon as possible, recognizing that this will take longer for developing countries [1]. Indonesia was represented by 223 delegates who were committed to the global emissions plan, although as a developing nation the deadline should be exceptionally behind than the developed nations. Nevertheless, local emission reduction plan must be considered as far as mitigation plan is concerned. Indonesia will face difficult situation to fulfill both electricity plan target and the green policy, if it is not planned painstakingly.

A big proportion of current supply comes from fossil energy, which are coal, oil, and gas. Coal accounts for more than half of electricity power plant capacity. In the second place comes natural gas, utilized as gas turbine fuel. Strategy for future power supply seems to put coal as the base load champion, with others such as natural gas, hydro power, geothermal, and new renewable follow subsequently based on the capacity.

The Ministry of Energy has been campaigning natural gas as internal combustion engine fuel, to substitute gasoline and diesel power plant since 1986. The transition process is almost complete now, as the diesel power plant utilization is very low and even on as a peaker only. Indonesia has some potential and proven natural gas resources. Speaking with numbers, Indonesia is on 13th position of the country with the biggest gas reserves, topping others ASEAN nations.


Geothermal energy is energy available in the form of heat contained in the earth crust; main utilization are for electricity generation and district heating. Characteristics of geothermal include: capability to provide base load power; no seasonal variation; immunity from weather effects and climate change impacts; compatibility with both centralized and distributed energy generation; resource availability in all world regions, particularly for direct use. (International Energy Agency).

Indonesia’s geothermal installed power is currently on the second place on the world ranking. Yet, it is less than 5% the geothermal potential that has been exploited [2]. Four largest geothermal location are all located in Java island, the most populated island in Indonesia. Daradjat, Salak, Kamojang, and Wayang Windu geothermal power plants account for 255 MW, 345 MW, 200 MW, and 227 MW installed capacity respectively. However, the exploration result shows bigger potential on Sumatera island. Current operating power plants in Sumatera are Ulubelu, Sibayak, and Sarulla, with 110 MWe, 11.3 Mwe, and 330 MWe rating power respectively. As the second biggest island in Indonesia and densely populated, Sumatera has not fully developed yet, especially in the infrastructure part. Rural residents in Sumatera still face a limitation of electricity access due to lack of power supply and also reliable transmission and distribution. Even the most populated city in Sumatera, Medan still has frequent power outage.

Electricity supply is a prime factor for an economic growth in the specified area. Industries, logistic process, and other trading activities all require electricity power. Construction and operation of power plants need human capital, creating a job market that will foster the economic growth. Education is vital to develop human capital in the area, so ensuring a decent education infrastructure is essential. Many students on rural area in Sumatera are still using traditional lamp to study. A big part of them have not been exposed to the Internet; yet, this leads to lack of information. Development plant for rural area should really consider electricity supply, as the demands of electricity will also increase alongside the economic growth. Ironically, the area which are lacking are the island with rich energy source such as the other islands than Java.

The only impediment for geothermal well development is the interest conflict with forest conservation as almost all of the geothermal well are located on protected forest area. Eventually, several geothermal well drilling project were delayed due to bureaucracy matter. Ministry of Environment and Forestry should work with Ministry of Energy to stop the ineffective license licensing paper works, of which have postponed many projects. Ministry of Environment and Forestry could impose mandatory reforestation action to be done by the project owner, in order to preserving the environment in the future. For example, Pertamina Geothermal Energy sowed fifty thousands of tree seed near Kamojang area in the 2011. The reforestation is vital to maintain ground water deposit, from which steam for power plant is produced.

Second obstacle for geothermal development is the uncertainty of drilling cost, making the financial risk higher than other energy project. The development process of geothermal power plant consists of exploration, production drilling, plant construction, and electricity production. Surprisingly, just exploration and drilling account for 42% of overall projects costs (Jennejohn 2009). This fact makes investor less assured to invest in geothermal energy projects. Without secure financial contract and subsidy, it is challenging to seek for investor for geothermal project.

The project began by exploration process, searching for the hot fluid reservoir which trapped between hot rocks. Proven fluid reservoir location then studied both in geophysics and engineering, in order to determine the trajectory of well will be drilled. After all engineering calculations had been done, the drilling process commenced until one well is ready for production. Meanwhile, the construction of power plant began simultaneously. Other production wells then drilled and tested until the accumulation of power reached the expected value. As the power achieved, the power plant had to be ready for operation to produce elecricity. However, the exploration and drilling process continued to maintain the production capacity of existing wells.

Drilling a geothermal well

The drilling in geothermal is started by drilling a big vertical hole until reaching around 1000 ft depth. After drilling finished, a string of steel casing with smaller diameter than the hole size are inserted into the drilled hole. Right after the casing are successfully inserted, some cement slurry is pumped into the casing hole until it filled the gap between the ground formation and steel casing. While waiting for the cement to dry, next section drilling equipment are prepared. Next section is started all over from drilling the excess cement inside the casing and new hole. The second section hole usually is drilled until 3000 ft depth; however, the trajectory is not vertical anymore but forming a certain degree with earth’s gravitational axis.  Repeated steps are done until 2 or 3 hole sections ahead, of which depth reaching 7000 ft. Actually, the depth depends on the drilling plan of each well, which is based on where the fluid reservoir located. The last step is completion of well; placing a wellhead and controlling equipment on top of the drilled well.

Water power

Water power (hydroelectric power) is a form of potential energy contained in water  which is used to move a turbine. Potential energy difference  exists in two water constituents with height difference. Higher level difference means more power potential. As water is an abundant resource in Indonesia, water power is very promising as an alternative energy. The most challenging obstacles for water power plant are environmental issues and high project cost.

The indirect effect of water power reservoar

Building a dam to contains millions cubic of water is essential. Actually it is the most resource-intensive process of a hydroelectric power plant construction. Hydroelectric acts like the solar and wind power plant, negligible operating cost but high capital cost. However, we would speak the indirect effect of dam construction project to the environment and social.

The area needs for water reservoir is huge, as a power plant needs million of cubic debit. When looking to the indirect effect, it might be a counter productive effect if the reservoir is being built in a rain forest or peat land with high carbon content. The inundation of rain forest lowland could lead to more GHG emission, the methane which is much more stronger than the carbon dioxide itself. The life cycle study and environmental impact consideration become the most challenging part to be taken in to account.

As per RUPTL (literally translated as the Business Plan of Electricity Power Development), water power plant surpasses other renewable sources for now and future installed capacity. The government seems more convenient to be committed in the most mature renewable energy technology, the water power. However, the development of water power plant should be focused on under-developed area like Kalimantan and Papua. The technology for PLTMH (micro hydroelectricity power plant) is easy to access and installed in those area. The massive micro generation plan for remote area implementation could solve the lack of electricity transmission issue amidst the transition of wider implementation in the next 20 years.

The forecast

International Energy Agency forecast electricity demand in 2035 to be dominated by renewable. The usage of fossil fuels for electricity generation is decreasing, except for natural gas. Even though the share of coal in power generation is decreased to 30.72% from 39.91% in 2012, there will be slight increase of coal power generated. Renewable account for 28.72% share on world electricity generation; slightly below is natural gas with 26.15%. Nuclear forecast to only have a tenth of share in world electricity power. “Of the 5.9 trillion kWh of new renewable generation added over the projection period, hydroelectric and wind each account for 1.9 trillion kWh (33%), solar energy for 859 billion kWh (15%), and other renewable (mostly biomass and waste) for 856 billion kWh (14%)” (International Energy Agency , 2016).

Agency for Assessment and Application of Technology (as translated from BPPT: Badan Pengkajian dan Penerapan Teknologi) proposed a different scenario for electricity supply. Coal still accounts for more than 50% electricity supply in Indonesia, as the mineral supplies are enormous (BPPT, 2015). Nuclear will not grow until 2030. Renewables will grow significantly, especially geothermal and hydro power as two biggest electricity supplier from renewable energy side. Other renewable like wind, solar, biomass, and tidal energy follow behind with slight growth. The projection shows the optimist plan of geothermal and hydro power plant in the future. While in the present, the development of geothermal well still facing technical difficulties that lead to high cost; and hydro power plant construction sites often intersect with forest conversation site.

Conclusion, geothermal and hydroelectricity power are too good to be true without proper support and clear ambition. Without additional incentive from outside the electricity pricing contract, I am reluctant that these two growing in the next 5 years. Coal is getting cheaper and easier to get.

Sarulla Geothermal Operation – Powering North Sumatera

Hi there, right now I am writing this post while laying on my bed during my off day. During on duty day, I commute to North Tapanuli area, North Sumatera, Indonesia. I have worked on the drilling project of Sarulla Operation Ltd. geothermal power plant for 1 year since April 2015. The project actually commenced at the end of 2014, had objection to drill sufficient production and re-injection well to supply the phase 1 geothermal power plant. Sarulla Operation Ltd. or SOL (which I will be saying for it from now) would supply a total of 330 MW power, which project divided into 3 phases with 110 MW each. Sarulla Operation Ltd. is a consortium of three companies from USA, Japan, and South Korea. Japan, represented by Kyushu Power mostly participated on the later project for power generating technology. South Korea, represented by Hyundai Construction started early as the main contractor for infrasructure for power plant and drilling pad infrastructure. USA with Ormat Technologies contributed mainly on drilling and exploration project, and also contributed to power plant technology.

There will be two power plants, Silangkitang (SIL) power plant and Namora I Langit (NIL) power plant. Right when I write this post, SIL power plant is in the middle of construction. Whereas the steam production well had been drilled and tested. During early 2015 until early 2016 I served as MWD Engineer of Sperry Directional Drilling Services to drill 3 production wells and 2 re-injection wells. Last time I visited the site was on January 2016, last time I took a peek on the site on April 2016 the drilling rig had been gone. The central heat exchanger (probably condenser) has been in place, with piping has been installed on the well head. Just for information, UNOCAL (now: Chevron) drilled 3 wells back on early 1990s which well will also be utilized for the SIL power plant. From the news I heard from the wind, one of SIL production well gave around 30 MW capacity when tested. For a single well, it is kind of enormous. I hope the test result turn to be true to make Sarulla as the first biggest geothermal power plant in the world. Hopefully this power plant could overcome the electricity supply deficit in the North Sumatera province.

The rising of geothermal project in Indonesia

Before SOL, there were some company participated in geothermal project in Indonesia such as Supreme Energy on South Sumatera Province, Star Energy on West Java Province, Chevron Geothermal on West Java Province, Pertamina Geothermal Energy on several provinces across Indonesia. However, SOL has proved the rising trend of Indonesia geothermal project investment from foreign investor. In Sabang, Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam it is rumored that Turkey company invested for geothermal drilling project there. Also on West Java, Sukabumi it is also stated that PT Jabar Rekind Geothermal (a province owned company) will started drilling for geothermal. Those project has became one of way to fulfill the target of 35000 MW electricity supply target, set by Joko Widodo the 7th President of Indonesia. President Jokowi indicating commitment about sustianable energy in Indonesia, asking several percent of 35000 MW coming from non-fossil and non-coal source. I predicted the trend of geothermal drilling project will be bullish in upcoming year.

I hope SOL project become a huge success, which then initiate other private and public investor to invest in geothermal and other renewable energy sector in Indonesia. In demand of electricity on rural area across Indonesia, renewable and sustainable energy project also boost the economic wheel. In the end, equal development would be achieved. Sumatera, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and Papua also have the rights to develop. Starting from electricity and infrastructure and in the end the human resource. Let’s see North Tapanuli in several years ahead the SOL project. I am curious to see the transformation that a geothermal project could make to a rural area.

Jakarta, 14 April 2016

Lahendong – Tomohon City , Future of Indonesia Geothermal Energy and North Sulawesi Tourism

Perks of being a Field Engineer : good compensation benefit  travel around the world.

My “green hat” job or people usually say as probation period as a field engineer was on a geothermal drilling well at North Sulawesi, Indonesia. It is exactly at Tomohon , the city of flower in Minahasa region. Tomohon is notoriously known for their traditional market that trade bats, cats, dogs, and rats meat. Seems like they hate rodents so much, they almost eat everything. Most of North Minahasa people are non-moslem so they also eat pork a lot. There is a annual flower festival in Tomohon which attracts many foreign tourists. Tomohon also famous of their native girls with their bright skin, slim, and westernized looks which are the favourable characteristics in Indonesia. Aside from girls, flower, cats and bats meat, and liquor (cap tikus), Tomohon is rich of geothermal potential.

Lahendong Geothermal Power Plant

Lahendong Power Plant, located in South Tomohon is one of the biggest electricity supply in North Sulawesi. The capacity of each phase is around 20 MW. Now the project has almost completed the third to achieve 60 MW. Lahendong area is suspected to have 200 MW of potential reserve. Yet the well development still run right now, only with steady effort. They only contracted one rig to did the well drilling for reserve development. I suspected the commitment of Pertamina Geothermal Energy (State owned) is still halted due to high cost of geothermal drilling costs. However on 2014 – early 2015, there were one drilling rig doing activites on Tompasso area for exploration. The Tompasso area still has not utilized right now for their steam.

Works at Kasuratan and Tondangow Districts

I had the opportunity to drill two wells each in Kasuratan district (Area 3) and Tondangow district (Area 13). Apexindo Rig #4 was contracted to drill there, they are the best crew I’ve known for drilling geothermal well. To complete one well, they only needed around 2 months. Compared to Sarulla geothermal well drilling rig, they could took up to 3-4 months to complete one well.

Geothermal well usually drilled in four hole size, 26″ – 17 1/2″ – 12 1/4″ – 9 7/8″ subsequently. That is for big hole production well, for re-injection well it usually use 12 /4″ and 8 1/2″. However the size should differs depend on drilling engineering calculation. MWD Engineers usually works from early size until second last size. On early size when the well direction is still vertical, our tools make sure the collision issue to nearby well is avoided. On kick-off section, we work full-time while building and turning the motor to desired path. On tangent section we still work to give correction for missing path. On last section we do not usually take MWD on BHA due to very high temperature. MWD tool has temperature limit around 150 degrees of Celcius. On last section, the temperature with mud circulation mode could reach 170 degrees of Celcius.

A list of popular tourists destination in Tomohon area:

  1. Bukit Kasih – religion tourist place for Christians.
  2. Tomohon Traditional Market – the place that sold bats and cats meat, and other traditional groceries. Only appears on early morning if you want to see the exotic meat.
  3. Tondano Lake – one of the biggest lake in Indonesia, not far from Tomohon city.
  4. Ragey Restaurant – pork satay restaurant, also serve Paniki (made from bats meat).
  5. Flower gardent – looks very good on festival time around August every year.
  6. Tomohon Night Market – flea market that sold traditional and hawker food.
  7. Tompasso – famous for its peanuts.

It should be more place that is interesting to visit, I’ve only known about the seven of them for two times visiting Tomohon. Plus, I only had time to wander when drilling is not commenced which means only on casing point break I can go around Tomohon.

It’s all wrap about my review for Tomohon City after three months total of living there. Hope you find it interesting!


ex-MWD crew of Lahendong Well Drilling


What Would a MWD Engineers Do at Works?

Have you ever wonder about what is a MWD engineer and what do they do? I have never thought of that until I became an MWD engineer trainee last year. It has been 3 months I worked in the field as a MWD engineer in a drilling service company, moreover I already know what a MWD engineers do at works. I will try to fill your gap about what really MWD engineers do on the duty.

I wear coveralls and fancy Red Wings shoes to work everyday. What I wear inside the coveralls are basically a worn t-shirt and a short, so we do not wear fancy shirt and slack pants to work as MWD engineer. You would not even need that a bit as you work as MWD Engineer, even in the interview I wore dark jeans and oxford shirt. That is one advantage though that we do not need expensive clothes to work. But because you work in oil field, you have to wear hard hat everytime. The hard hat is not fancy, for me it’s kind of wussy. In fashion’s point of view, there is no way to look stylish if you work in the field. There’s a pro and cons about the working outfits though.

Basic job desc: providing real time measurement data of directional drilling activities. We obtain the measurement data using our downhole tool via telemetry system. There are two common telemetry systems: positive pulse (mechanical) and electro magnetic system (electrical). The measurement data is very important for directional drilling because it tells our trajectory well’s position relative to our target. Sometimes there are nearbies well and surely we do not want to collide with them. That is one of the importance of directional data, to avoid well colliding. To guide our bit drilled the right trajectory surely needs a compass or navigator to make a right move, and the measurement data are the hints. MWD engineer install the measurement sensor inside the Bottom Hole Assembly. During the BHA goes along the drilled hole, MWD acquire real time data for temperature, pressure (sometimes), toolface (motor bent sub direction), and survey. Survey conducted every 30 metres or 100 feets of drill pipe enter the hole. That 30 metres summed to the drill pipe tally known as measured depth (MD). Others depth known as True Vertical Depth, defined as vertical depth from surface to the bit. The more inclination of the well, the TVDs are getting smaller compared to the MD.

Work shift: 12 hours working hour everyday as long as the drilling process runs. As long the drilling has not reached its target, we work 7 days a week. Your ON time in the drilling site may reach 1 months or more, and you can get OFF time for maximum 1-2 weeks. You will be payed a “rig day bonus” counted from the day you arrived at the site until you leave the site. The more days you work, the more the pay check at the end of next month. The hardest part while working on the rig site is withstand the pressure of outcast working. Almost all drilling rig located on rural and secluded from civilization. Your day filled only with working and working all days. I read a lot while standby (we have much stand by time) or playing games on laptop. MWD engineers has free time when the drilling has no problem, we just have to stand by for the survey until next Stand Down pipe. During that time we could change into Movie While Drilling crews, killing free time by watching movie. There always positive matters to be seek among the mundane activities as MWD engineers.

Career path: working with specialized and distinctive tools make MWD engineer could be categorized as specialist career. After working several times with the tools, you will mastering the tools. Just mastering does not mean you understand the inside of the tool. You are more of a operator than engineer though. You can become Directional Drillers (DD) or working in the office as MWD coordinator.