ASEAN Beat

No More Blackouts: ‘Smart City’ Jakarta Needs a Smarter Grid

To get smart, Indonesia’s capital needs to be smart about its leadership choices and grid modernization.

By Aldwin Yusgiantoro for
No More Blackouts: ‘Smart City’ Jakarta Needs a Smarter Grid
Credit: Pixabay

Recently, Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan visited Washington, D.C. to shed light on the progress he has made in Indonesia’s capital city. He dubbed the developments under his administration as the “New Face of Jakarta,” conveying his intentions to build an equal, prosperous, modern, dynamic, sustainable, and united city. 

The governor’s goals for transforming Jakarta into a 4.0 city where there is dynamic collaboration between city government and residents emphasized his vision for a smart city. However, the question remains unanswered as to whether Jakarta is ready to become a “smart city.”

The latest citywide blackout, for instance, illuminates the challenges of Jakarta’s aspirations of becoming a fully functional smart city. 

The concept of smart cities encompasses six different categories: smart governance, smart people, smart living, smart mobility, smart economy, and smart environment. The use of technology is pivotal to realize these six goals.

Without reliable energy, smart cities’ backbone — technology — crumbles.

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To become a smart and sustainable city, there needs to be consistent and resilient energy systems. In the case of Jakarta, state electricity company PLN’s role in supplying reliable electricity to its residents is imperative.

The problem of electricity disruption, such as a blackout in Jakarta, has a domino effect, including in the digital economy and national security.

As Jakarta rapidly develops its digital economy under its smart city initiative, a consistent electricity supply is fundamental. Frequent blackouts in the city could greatly affect Indonesia’s digital economy growth. In a blackout, digital payment systems, banking, and e-commerce will be brought to a temporary but significant halt and negatively impact the community and the economy. 

Researchers, including in a report by Allianz, have looked into the economic losses caused by blackouts. In the United States alone, electricity disruption has resulted in the loss of approximately $104 to $164 billion annually.

Furthermore, when a city experiences frequent blackouts, the phenomenon poses profound risk to the country’s national security. The disruption of power makes it difficult for governments to monitor extremist channels of communication or potential threats that may emerge in the city. A prolonged power outage may also greatly affect critical government facilities in the area, particularly military bases. 

Becoming accustomed to blackouts in Jakarta should not be the new normal while the city transforms toward sustainable and smart goals.

If Indonesia is determined to dominate the Southeast Asian digital economy by having a cashless society, a reliable and consistent electricity system is absolutely necessary. Reforming PLN management and introducing smart grid development will lead the country down the right path. 

In the short term, Indonesia must reform the management of PLN, which has been in shambles for the past few years. Graft allegations lobbied against the institution’s former president director, Sofyan Basir, was not the first time PLN’s top echelon was accused or convicted of corruption. Three other former PLN president directors — Eddie Widiono, Dahlan Iskan, and Nur Pamudji — were all found guilty by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). 

The top leadership positions of PLN should not be given to political appointees, but rather to career civil servants. The importance of having the right experts with the right skillsets is critical to the institution’s ability to provide excellent service to the community. 

The recent blackout also further emphasized Indonesia’s aging infrastructure grid. Therefore, in the long term, it is important for Indonesia to modernize the country’s electric grid through smart grid enhancements in order to sustain its economic ambitions.

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Smart grid development is an up-and-coming technology that has been used by numerous countries around the world. The system utilizes digital technology that has the ability to sense problems in real time and automatically reroute power to allow the continuous flow of electricity when power outages occur. In short, instead of experiencing a blackout, communities will experience a flicker as the system corrects for problems.

Furthermore, the technology’s ability to introduce two-way dialogues — exchanging electricity and information between consumers and power utilities — will boost efficiency, lower power costs for consumers, and lower operating and management costs for utility companies.

The smart grid’s aptitude in adding resiliency to future emergencies such as earthquakes and blackouts, as well as incorporating greener technology, will help transform Jakarta into a truly smart and sustainable city. An automated system to restore electricity quickly after power disturbances will reduce blackout occurrences in the city. 

Frequent blackouts in Jakarta have a multiplier effect on the country’s national and economic security, as well as Jakarta’s development toward becoming a smart city. Unreliable electricity will act as hindrance to achieve goals within the smart city roadmap. 

To realize their smart city goals, policymakers in Indonesia need to to make smarter decisions. 

Aldwin Yusgiantoro is a recent Master’s graduate in International Development Studies at the George Washington University with specialization in private sector development. Aldwin’s capstone project focused on smart cities in Southeast Asia in particular with developing ASEAN Smart Cities small and medium enterprises (SMEs) social issues framework.