Kase Cooperative: Bringing “Power” to People

pow·er /ˈpou(ə)r/

  1. The ability or capacity to do something or act in a particular way.
  2. Energy that is produced by mechanical, electrical, or other means and used to operate a device

“We’ve always been dreaming of reliable and affordable electricity supply, but it is never going to happen in the near future. The grid is only distanced less than 2 km, but PLN (state-owned utility company) said the cost would be too high due to our isolated location,“ said Head of Kase Village, who run community diesel generator last 4 hours daily but cost at least twice compared to national electricity tariff, in disappointment. Sitting in Buru Island, Maluku Province in eastern region of Indonesia, Kase is what you call off-the-beaten-path village, which the only way to reach is by using traditional boat all the way across Banda Sea, the deepest body of water in Indonesia. “I even offered them to use our Village Fund from central government, so they can bring the grid into our village but nothing comes up.” He continued, “Most of us do fishing, yet we can only immediately sell or consume the fishes, some are traditionally smoked to preserve to be sold to mountainous villages nearby, but I imagine how we can advance when the electricity is around.”

Kase Village circumstance might be an ugly truth, but it’s actually only reflected one amidst 2.500 villages with lack or even the absence of electricity service across Indonesia. Equal energy access remains a though job in this country, especially for those last miles communities. Mostly used solution to address this issue is simply by providing the quick-installed technology like Solar Home System (SHS), which ended up not sustainable. Better approach to also include economic activities utilizing electricity is then embraced, yet it does not merely give the best result. Our ground observations in more than 50 villages over Indonesia shows that the productive activities without adding the value of raw products (like cold storage) sometimes is not enough, and productive use of energy in individual basis, not communally managed under centralized entities, also would not always work. Beyond power provision to cater their basic energy need, we have to find a way how to make community experience the benefit of the electricity, to finally empower themselves to grow beyond business-as-usual by fully utilizing the service.

Considering that there must be thousand villages with the similar issues; electricity and economic growth, we then attempt to develop customized renewable energy solution beyond basic electrification, offering electricity service both for consumptive use and productive use purposes, managed under local entities. Driven by unique grassroots needs, particularly the productive use, we treat energy as a service, not only basic infrastructure. By energy as service, we meant that it does not only consist of basic technology provision, but also entire advanced processes of the local raw commodities into value-added product which can result in higher selling price and eventually the increased local income. It will run and managed under local entities, be it cooperative, village-owned enterprises, or Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV). The revenue is gained through the service fee from electricity consumption and profit sharing of the sales of finished products. Whilst, we see ourselves as a project enabler, working in close coordination with local partner base in the village to continuously empower and coach them to be expanded and eventually independent and self-sustain, also facilitate them with market access, product innovation, external funding, technology access, and power plant management.

In the case of Kase, given the fact of its remoteness, this village is a perfect suit for solar PV micro-grid system, since there is no hydro potential nearby. This solar PV power plant, managed under local cooperative, is designated to fulfill the demand of 24-hour electricity for households as well as the advanced fish processing in a form of seasoned smoked fish fillet. We believe finished fish product packed as ready-to-eat results in higher selling price and can penetrate to broader market, not only the neighborhood villages. To make the micro-grid operated in a sustainable manner, local community are still charged with low tariff to cover operation and maintenance cost, while profit sharing of smoked fish fillet sell is applied for cooperative to cover capital expenditure and the replacement of vital components in the future.

Being selected and able to get through 1st Greenpreneurs Program is an exciting journey for our team. Judging from our background, us three are actually more to on-the-ground implementer with lack of experiences in business development, but this program enables us to receive mentorship deepen knowledge on that through experienced practitioner, access to extensive network for green business, and sharpen our initial business idea. The series of webinar enables us gained a lot of new insights, the weekly exercises help us in identifying things that we haven’t considered before in order to develop convincing, solid business plan, and our supportive mentor is always around to brainstorm and give feedback on our progress. We are really happy that in one of our mentoring session, we even discuss the opportunity to expand our business lines by expanding the potential market not only focusing remote communities, but also for small-to-medium plantations who intend to expand their business lines not only selling raw products, but also finished ones, along with vocational schools who do training their students to create a specific product through self-sustainable business. This got us thinking that we can also possibly develop more general scheme of renewable-powered services aside of electricity, such as smoking house, solar drying house, ice making, packaging, water supply utilizing solar pump, and so on. In addition to this, we were specifically impressed with the Week 4 Webinar featured Eli Forrester, co-founder of Volta. We see much similarity of the approach they implement and are inspired by their success in bringing clean and reliable electricity for service for diverse users. It makes us more motivated that our idea is considerably doable and further believe that actually many people are heading towards the same direction.