Talk With the Experts Balis Solar Energy Providers By Bill Dalton

Talk With the Experts: Bali’s Solar Energy Providers By Bill Dalton

If you want to know the truth about a specific topic, ask the people who know. I wanted an answer to why the penetration of solar energy technology has been so disappointingly slow in Bali and Indonesia as a whole.

The vast Indonesian archipelago – 17,000 islands straddling the equator along a 4200-km-long arc – is one of the sunniest regions on earth. You’d think that the nation’s potential of providing nearly unlimited free solar energy would be exploited to the fullest. But the reality is that the development of this endlessly renewable source of power generation has been taking place at a snail’s pace.

With recent technological and regulatory developments, that might be changing. In order to learn what the critical issues were and what a buyer needs to know before purchasing one of these costly systems, I met with three of the most highly regarded purveyors of solar energy equipment on Bali. All of them know and support each other, pass business on to each other and in some cases serve the same clients. Taken together, the three interviews reflect the reality of the solar energy industry on the island today.

Matthias Wenisch: P.T. Daya Matahari Indonesia

From the Sunset Road MacDonald’s, I fell in behind Matthias’ on his motorcycle to a non-descript building complex along a canal just five minutes away. Inside the gate was a small, crowded and obviously overworked office.

I first asked Matthias what were the most common misconceptions people have about solar power. “There are a lot of misunderstandings about warranties,” he answered. “With 22 years in the business, I can personally assure you that neither suppliers nor manufacturers offer 25-year warranties as many of Indonesia’s solar companies advertise. Not even in the EU do they offer warranties that long without paying extra. On the other hand, good quality PV systems sold in Bali have proven lifetimes of more than 30 years.”

How can you tell that the equipment is good quality? “Everybody advertises ‘German made,’ but it seldom is. One way of finding out is to ask for the product certificate and shipping documents, though these can be faked. The best guarantee of all is to use a reliable, trusted company, and get recommendations from their clients.”

Matthias encourages potential customers to check out already up and running solar PV systems that he’s installed in residences and businesses. “No problem,” he said. “Start with the 20 customers on our homepage: I stand by my work.”

Have you done any installations for properties that are completely off the grid? “The Suarga Resort in Padang Padang on the Bukit has a very serious system that provides 100% of the electrical needs of guests, including hot water.

What should customers be especially aware of when installing a solar system on Bali?? “You have to be very careful about the electrical system already in place in your house. Faulty systems, which are installed in 90% of Bali’s residences, have unbalanced electrical loads, an unstable “dirty” electrical power supply and don’t have surge protection from the grid (PLN) if there’s a lightning storm or leakages. There could even be dangerous situations like no prober grounding. I can’t give a warranty if there are incorrect electrical installations, so I inspect the household’s electrical hookups before I begin work.

What are your biggest sellers? “Number one are solar pool pumps. We sell 2-3 every month. For an average-sized 60 cubic meter pool, a quality pump costs $5000 but has a return on investment of less than five years. This is a great power saver because regular pumps run 365 days a year with yearly electrical costs of at least $700. Our second hottest item is the 200-liter solar hot water system, which have the fastest ROI of all solar energy equipment. Chinese made systems cost $1000 and last two years; German made ones are $3000 but last more than 20 years.”
Do you have many Balinese customers? “Most Indonesians only worry about the costs and don’t focus on the technology and quality. They need to start looking on solar energy as an investment that is good for them and for the environment. I sometimes hear people say, “I can buy two cars with that much money!” That’s true, but I’ve never heard of a return of investment for a car.

Prosol, Matthias Wenisch, hp 082-132-033-477, email:, website:

Catherine Hartmann: P.T. Solar System Indonesia (Sunny Tech)

We met at Bali Buda Kerobokan and for five minutes I followed Catherine down a winding road of gated villas and occasional rice fields that led to a smart office of clean white walls, louvered windows, modernist furniture and three brand new big-screen Macintosh desktops. In one corner towered a truly impressive 260-watt thermal solar power unit.

“The first question people ask is ‘how much,’ not ‘how much can I save?’” Catherine began. “So we always emphasize the substantial long-term cost savings, especially now that PLN rates are going up by 25% every quarter. Just do the math.”

In the courtyard yard Catherine showed me a sophisticated solar inverter, which converts the variable direct current (DC) output of the property’s photovoltaic (PV) panels into alternating current (AC), allowing the use of ordinary AC-powered equipment. That might sound complicated, but I could see the meter converting numbers right before my eyes.

“If someone has a limited budget, what would be the cheapest and easiest solar system to install at home?” Catherine didn’t hesitate. “A grid-tied system that is still connected to the local power company. During the day solar powers your home appliances, then at night PLN takes over. This system gives you a backup, so you’ll always have power.”

I needed dollar figures to relate to. How many Watts does one solar panel generate? “Depending on its size and capacity, from 30 up to 300 Watts. The cost of a small panel, which generates 50-85 Watts to charge a mobile phone or power a lamp radio, would be around $100. In order to run a fridge or AC unit, you’d need a 300-500 Watt panel, costing around $1500, including batteries or inverter.”

Catherine opened the door of a separate cooler room packed wall-to-wall with $60,000 dollars worth of big red batteries. “Batteries alone are about 70% of the cost of a whole house system like ours,” she said.

What would be needed to supply solar power for 3-4 people living in a two-bedroom house? “Well, it depends of course on the client’s lifestyle, but on average a two-bedroom house would require a 3 KW system that would cost $14,000 to $17,000. But that’s only if they’re not running their air conditioners all day long!”

Would the exposure it gets from the sun be enough for a solar system to run smoothly? “If it’s positioned along Bali’s south coast, a panel can generate up to 6 hours of energy flow per day. In Ubud in south-central Bali, a panel would typically generate power up to 4 hours per day. We can actually make a more exact calculation by using software with access to NASA data, which forecasts geological temperature, rainfall, sun output, etc.”

Sunny Tech’s whole building complex is the best advertisement for effective use of alternative energy. The main 5-bedroom villa, a smaller 2-bedroom villa, two guesthouses, plus the office building are all powered by one vast solar array (with PLN as backup) that powers lighting, two pool pumps, a deep well pump, water filters, energy saving a/c units, inverters and hot water heaters.

We clambered up onto the roof where every available surface seemed to be covered with PV solar panels. “You have to invest a lot in the beginning, but within 4-5 years a solar energy system really starts to pay for itself. From then on, your energy is basically free.
P.T. Solar System Indonesia (Sunny Tech), Catherine Hartman, hp 087-861-996-647, email:, website:

Pieter de Vries: Contained Energy

The offices and workshop of Contained Energy were situated on the highest point of land on the Bukit, overlooking the vast expanse of Nusa Dua resort complex and stretching to the azure sea beyond.

Pieter de Vries started talking effusively as soon as I sat down. In the business for more than 10 years, Pieter began by debriefing me on a peculiar anomaly that is found in solar energy’s acceptance in this land of boundless sunshine. “The word solor in Indonesia means diesel fuel, a source of energy that couldn’t be more opposite to the clean energy that I support.”

But that contradiction doesn’t matter,” Pieter said. “A more difficult sell is convincing people of the soundness of making the significant upfront investment in a system. I tell people that they are buying 25 years of energy today at rates fixed for that period of time. Look on it as prepaid electricity.”

Contained Energy has installed over 100 solar energy projects all over the archipelago – from Aceh, Bintang, and Papua to Flores and the Mentawais off the West coast of Sumatra – ranging in all sizes and complexity. “Though other companies are bigger in dollar earnings, in terms of resources and projects we are the most active in the country. In Bali, our focus is on villas and hotels.”

Why hasn’t the penetration of the technology been more widespread? “At present banks offer no financing for solar energy. When banks start to offer payment plans, it will be a game changer. I like to use the analogy…try to imagine how many cars would there be on Bali’s roads if owners couldn’t get financing?”

There’s a sea change taking place in the industry at the moment that has made solar energy suddenly more competitive. “Firstly, PLN electrical bills are really starting to scare people. The cost of energy will be increasing 60% over the coming months. Secondly, the installation costs and the price of panels have decreased 80% over the last 2-3 years. Thirdly, solar energy systems have lifespans now of 25+ years. What else can you put up on your roof that would last that long? Installing a solar PV system is something that people will only ever do once.”

“Another very positive development is that PLN has just put in force a regulation called ‘net metering’ that requires their customers to put excess energy back into the grid, but not before they get credit for their excess energy. This is hugely significant.”
”For remote, off-grid locations, ‘hybrid’ systems – a combination of solar panels, passive energy measures and a diesel generator in case of power outages – now make an extremely good investment, with returns often as little as 3 years just from savings of the cost of diesel fuel. For these systems, the quality of the batteries is by far the most critical consideration.”

When making the leap and purchasing one of these expensive systems in Bali, what do you have to be particularly careful about? “You have to pay a lot of attention to the quality of the installation. This means using solid companies. It’s taken us 5 years to train our technicians properly. We also use only quality imports for such integral parts as inverters, cables and modules.”

Admiring the view, I asked if he based his business on the high ground of the Bukit because it’s so sunny here?” “No. I’m a sailor,” Pieter smiled. “I just love the view of the sea.”

Contained Energy, Pieter de Vries, hp 081-685-8906, email:, website:

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