Harnessing the Earth's Power to Light Cities

It's not often that a community can live untroubled with a giant power plant in its midst, belching white, smoke-like clouds into the atmosphere.

But in Manado, the capital city of Indonesia's North Sulawesi province, residents are not worried about the plant's plume. The clouds are nothing more than environmentally friendly steam, generated by the ADB-supported Lahendong Geothermal Plant, which harnesses the earth's power to provide clean, sustainable energy for Manado's residents.

Manado lies along the Pacific "Ring of Fire", an area of frequent volcanic eruptions and seismic activity. There is much to be gained from keeping the city clean and green: it is a renowned international scuba diving destination, and in May 2009 it will host the World Ocean Conference.

Eco-Friendly Plant

Plant manager Johanis Ajoni Kalalo knows the value of geothermal energy. "[It is] eco-friendly with a miniscule carbon footprint," he says. "By making use of the earth's steam, we don't pollute the air and environment."

Around the plant site, several wells have been drilled 2 kilometers into the earth's crust. Searing steam seeps through rocks and is piped to the main station, where it powers giant turbines, each providing 20 megawatts of power.

The churning turbines roar, creating a discernible vibration beneath one's feet, but beyond the plant's gates, the impact of operations is almost imperceptible.

A geothermal plant provides clean energy to the residents of the capital city of North Sulawesi

"The plant is quiet, clean, and it doesn't bother nearby communities," says Sri Wahyuni, a young chemical analyst at the plant. "The older diesel plants around Manado were noisy, dirty, and generated a lot of community complaints."

"The only real impact from this plant is that it produces jobs, and more reliable electricity," says ADB Project Implementation Consultant Peter Geoghegan.

Abundant Geothermal Energy

The plant is part of ADB's Renewable Energy Development Sector Project, which has added about 82 megawatts of power generation capacity around Indonesia, to improve local residents' quality of life and promote commercial and industrial development in an environmentally sustainable way.

As part of the project, ADB is supporting the construction of a second geothermal plant in Manado, which will be operational by 2011. Along with two other plants financed by other sources, the four geothermal plants will provide most of Manado's energy.

"With the abundance of geothermal in this area, we should think about more plants like this," says Mr. Kalalo. "It's more expensive up front, but cheaper and cleaner in the long run."

Manado has long struggled to keep up with growing energy demand, as rolling blackouts still occur across the city.

"A lot of businesses use their own diesel generators during blackouts, which costs a lot more, and is worse for the environment," says ADB's Geoghegan.

With each 20-megawatt plant providing reliable energy for the city, the power deficit is being reduced.

Electricity generated by the plant is used not only by high- and middle-income consumers but also by the poor to meet basic needs. In all, about 5.2 million people, including about 1.5 million poor, will benefit from the project.

As for this plant, Mr. Geoghegan says, "Because of ADB's support for this project, 60,000 homes can receive electricity."