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Research: land use challenges for Indonesia’s transition to renewable energy

The world’s fourth-highest emitter of greenhouse gases, Indonesia, is heavily reliant on coal to generate electricity. Its coal-fired power plants produce a third of the country’s emissions.

To minimise its future greenhouse gas emissions, Indonesia is gearing up to develop its vast renewable energy resources – including solar, wind, and geothermal.

Indonesia also aims to meet its future energy demand, which is set to grow another 80% by 2030.

My research, published in Energy Research and Social Science, examined the political and economic factors shaping investment decisions in Indonesia’s emerging solar photovoltaic (PV) sector.

The analysis found that the recent influx of private sector investment has led to an increase in the size and land requirements of proposed solar PV projects.

This suggests that while the installation of renewable energy generation may be increasing, this growth raises new challenges, including increased demand for land.

The energy-land nexus

Recent estimates suggest that installing enough solar PV to meet Indonesia’s 2050 target of 1,500 gigawatt (GW) of solar PV power plants will require at least 8,000 square kilometres or about 0.4% of the country’s land area.

While 0.4% appears insignificant, such estimates obscure the highly contentious nature of land use and tenure in Indonesia.

Indonesia’s land governance operates under a fragmented regime of national, regional and local government agencies. These agencies compete to exercise authority over land-use planning.

Acquiring land for energy project development is a lengthy and complicated process.

Before proceeding with land acquisition, project developers must demonstrate compliance with existing regional spatial plans. They must also receive approval from the Ministry of Forestry for the use of forest land, which accounts for approximately 70% of land in Indonesia.

Having met these criteria, developers can obtain a Location Permit issued by the regency with jurisdiction over the project location.

From the date of issuance, it is the project developer’s responsibility to complete all necessary land acquisition transactions or risk having the permit revoked.

The complexity of the land acquisition process and its potential implications for existing land users is evident in the cont

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