Jakarta’s Shift to Electric Vehicles: When Will Residents Make the Change?

image of an electric vehicle
Jakarta Globe
Jakarta, Indonesia
Jakarta’s Shift to Electric Vehicles: When Will Residents Make the Change?

The advent of modern electric vehicles, or EVs, in the late 1990s sparked media coverage of their potential as a solution to air pollution. At COP26 in 2021, 30 countries, including Indonesia, committed to making EVs accessible, affordable and sustainable by 2030 or sooner. This was done through the Glasgow Agreement and subsequent multilateral initiatives.

The Indonesian government has quickly supported the initiative. President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo sees EVs as an excellent opportunity to enhance Indonesia’s industrial capabilities. To achieve this vision, the government has taken a range of steps, such as banning nickel exports — a crucial metal for EV batteries — and attracting Tesla, the leading EV producer, to invest in the country.

EVs are marketed as saving money and reducing pollution. However, they ignore the questionable environmental track record of the mines that supply the metals for their batteries and emission from coal-fired power plants that will power them for the foreseeable future. 

And the plan is well-received, especially among Jakarta residents who face daily exposure to harmful particulate matter in the air.

infographics about air quality in Jakarta
AQI Throughout the Year: South Jakarta / Credit: Fadhlan Aulia Akbar for Jakarta Globe and BeritaSatu Research.
infographic about air quality in Central Jakarta
AQI Throughout the Year: Central Jakarta / Credit: Fadhlan Aulia Akbar for Jakarta Globe and BeritaSatu Research.

Changing perceptions

“I just got home. Give me a moment, I need to park my bicycle,” replied Bondan Andriyanu. He is a climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Indonesia. He rides his bicycle every day, between his office and home, both in Jakarta.

After the afternoon call to prayer, he presented the findings of the Resilience Development Initiative and Greenpeace Indonesia entitled “Jakarta Transportation Transformation: Reviewing the Transportation Sector Zero Emission Target in 2050.”

Published in July 2022, the study calculates vehicle emissions. Based on data from 2,097 respondents over 18 years in Jakarta, Greenpeace found that the primary mode of transportation used by those respondents is public transportation (40.2%), followed by private motorbikes (39.5%).

Lufthansa Innovation Hub data reprocessed by Greenpeace Indonesia shows carbon emissions per passenger, expressed in grams per passenger kilometers (g/pkm). Oil-fueled cars are the largest in the mode of transportation category (210 g/pkm), followed by diesel-powered cars ( 205 g/pkm). Gasoline-fueled motorcycles are fifth (137 g/km).

Still, the study showed a promising outcome with a predicted decline in motorized vehicle use in Jakarta’s future. Residents choose a mix of fossil-fuel and electric-powered public transportation and non-motorized options. 

Some of the factors driving the shift towards alternative modes of transportation in Jakarta include cost efficiency, reduced pollution and improved health outcomes.

“We often focus on emissions. But it’s rare to discuss access to vehicles that support emission reductions,” said Andriyanu.

“Access and connectivity between public transportation," he said later, “must be affordable for all groups, be it women, children, people with special needs and marginalized communities.”

infographic about changing behavior
Changing transportation behaviors / Credit: Fadhlan Aulia Akbar for Jakarta Globe and BeritaSatu Research.

Green and gendered

When Indonesia held the G20 presidency, women were ensured to play a role in zero-emissions initiatives. At one of the G20 meeting sessions, the Ministerial Conference on Women’s Empowerment, the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection invited G20 members to promote gender equality accompanied by environmental preservation.

The ministry hoped that the effort made after the COVID-19 pandemic would continue to grow by expanding EVs among female entrepreneurs.

Several partners took part in this initiative, including Grab Holdings — the electric transportation official partner of the Ministerial Conference on Women’s Empowerment — and state utility company, PLN, as the country’s sole electricity supplier.

Country Managing Director of Grab Indonesia Neneng Goenadi said that “women’s empowerment, as well as environmental preservation, are the two main focuses of GrabForGood’s mission.” She prompted “the extraordinary fighting power of women, which has a positive effect on [COVID-19] post-pandemic.” GrabforGood is Grab’s endowment to help partners and communities in Southeast Asia.

Through GrabforGood, Grab distributes the rental of 8,500 GrabElectric units — in the form of electric motorbikes and cars — to driver-partners in eight Indonesian provinces. One of them is Jakarta. Even so, Grab did not release the number of female drivers who, at least throughout 2022, rent the GrabElectric.

Meanwhile, in 2022, PLN, through its corporate social responsibility program, distributed 12 electric carts for female mobile vegetable sellers in Srengseng Sawah, South Jakarta. The Globe met with Yuni Wahyuningsih, one of the itinerant vegetable sellers who received electric cart assistance.

"For a long time, we had used pushcarts. Now we don’t need to push it anymore. Just plug in the cart at home, and we can sell vegetables all day long,” Wahyuningsih said.

She said, “Using an electric cart won’t make us [she and her husband] exhausted.” She hopes the cart could increase her turnover, which currently stands at Rp 2.5 million ($174) daily.

Barriers to EV adoption

Many EV manufacturers and governments worldwide claim that environmentally friendly products will create significant opportunities for women. 

In a recent examination of European media coverage, the Globe traced the experiences of several female EV owners who spoke as informants. Their impressions included the observation that EVs had fewer moving parts than traditional vehicles. They also perceived that EVs are more enjoyable to drive than conventional fuel vehicles.

“Some of my former students in England and Taiwan told me EVs are fun,” said Sri Setiawan, a teacher majoring in light vehicle engineering at Warga Vocational High School (SMK) in Solo, Central Java. SMK is the equivalent of a public high school. 

“But here, I’m not sure. At least from my side as an assembler,” Setiawan said. Amidst the clanging of his students welding in the background, his voice rises and falls as he speaks on the phone.

At the school where he teaches, the 44-year-old assembles convertible motorbikes as part of the course for 25 students each semester. 

As part of his collaboration with Suzuki Motor, a motorcycle manufacturer, he received five motorcycles from its factory that were produced at least 10 years ago. That’s when his homework began. He purchased conversion components, including batteries, battery boxes and DC-to-DC converters.

He admitted that he had previously spent money to buy batteries and other propulsion systems from online-based shops, some from abroad.

“Even though the cost is reimbursed, I still had to prepare myself with a bag of initial capital,” he said. He spent at least Rp 25 million (about $1,620) on spare parts during a shopping trip.

From an assembly standpoint, it isn’t easy. Moreover, he said, “determining the selling price and how the product, with that selling price, can be sold on a large scale to small businesses, is difficult,” said Setiawan, who has taught in several vocational schools for 23 years.

“Despite the government’s encouragement for SMKs to assemble EVs, the limited availability of conversion-certified workshops in Indonesia poses a challenge,” said Setiawan. Of the 10 certified workshops, none have SMK status. This hinders the goal of making EV assembly accessible to micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises, he said.

 air quality indexinfographic
Air Quality Index (AQI) / Credit: Rio Siswono for Jakarta Globe and BeritaSatu Research.

The dream of clean batteries

Setiawan acknowledges that the supply chain for converting motorcycles to electric still involves environmentally harmful processes. He notes, “Even nickel batteries are not entirely green.”

Nickel is crucial to electric vehicle assembly. Its high energy density makes it challenging for the world to move away from dependence on this metal for battery production.

There has been growing concern about nickel’s detrimental impact on environmental sustainability. Not only does the extraction of the metal raise issues of people’s land tenure without local communities’ consent, but it also leads to resistance and often conflict between nickel mining operations and indigenous peoples.

One such example occurred in June 2013, when members of the Indigenous Sawai and Tobelo Dalam communities in Central Halmahera, North Maluku, staged a demonstration at a nickel-mining site owned by Weda Bay Nickel and Tekindo.

The Tobelo Dalam tribe, who depend on the land for their livelihood through hunting and farming in the forest, were not included in the process of granting work contracts to the two companies, according to the environmental advocacy group WALHI. The absence of community involvement led to the concession encroaching on customary forest land.

In May 2013, a month before the protest, the Indonesian Constitutional Court held that customary forests are not state forests and therefore such areas cannot be included in work permits limited to state forests only.

Senior economist Faisal Basri reportedly warned in early 2022 that Indonesia might only benefit from low wages, minimal land rental fees and nickel investments. In addition, Indonesia might benefit from the influx of foreign workers from China. Basri expressed concerns over the government allegedly disregarding or “protecting” practices of exploiting natural resources that harm the environment, as quoted by multiple national media outlets.

Nickel processing typically involves rotary machines that require large amounts of energy. Often, smelter companies generate power using their own power plants or from PLN. However, most power plants run on coal-fired energy (PLTU), presenting a challenge for electric vehicles development and the goal of clean energy.

The same type of power plant also powers Jakarta and the EVs that soon roam its streets. In a 2017 report titled “Jakarta’s Silent Killer,” Greenpeace Indonesia revealed that Jakarta is near 22 coal-fired power plants, with four more expected in 2019 and 2024. The report highlighted that each power plant has a 30-year lifespan.

It’s unclear what proportion of Jakarta’s electricity supply originates from the PLTUs, due to lack of specific data. However, given their proximity to the city, it’s evident that they play a significant role in powering the capital.

Greenpeace wrote in the report, “Greater Jakarta could see more new coal-fired power stations built within 100 kilometers than any other capital city.” In a big city where people often blame traffic for polluted air, “the pollution from these plants is making the air in Greater Jakarta even more hazardous.”

It seems there is still a long way to go to avoid headlines like “A Dirty Road to Clean Energy.”


This story was produced with support from Internews’ Earth Journalism Network through the Clean Air Catalyst program, a flagship program launched by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and led by a global partnership of organizations including the World Resources Institute, Environmental Defense Fund, and Internews. This was first published in Jakarta Globe on February 8, 2023. and republished by Ekuatorial on April 10, 2023.

Banner image: An electric vehicle / Credit: Pixabay. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

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