Part 1: Micro-hydro fuels energy independence on Slamet’s slopes

by: Hartatik

Banyumas – By the end of 2022, Pesawahan Hamlet in Gununglurah Village, Cilongok Subdistrict, Banyumas Regency, Central Java, will be pitch black again. This condition is exactly the same as 12 years ago before there was a Micro Hydro Power Plant (MHP) that supplied electricity to more than 100 households there.

Warsito (56), Head of Hamlet One, revealed that there was damage to a gear on the MHP wheel. Currently, the operator is still looking for a replacement for the damaged parts. Even so, Pesawahan residents do not want to leave the MHP. In the meantime, they are willing to be in the dark at night just to keep the MHP from stalling.

“We are still waiting for the shipment of gear spare parts from Bogor. Hopefully, within this week the electricity (MHP) can be turned on again,” Warsito told

Gununglurah Village is one of the villages at the foot of Mount Slamet that received assistance from the PLTMH project through the energy-independent village programme, initiated by the Energy and Mineral Resources Agency (ESDM) of Central Java Province. Apart from Gununglurah, there are several remote villages that received similar assistance, namely in Karangtengah, Sambirata and Sokawera villages.

In Gununglurah Village, there are about 128 families who are able to fulfil their electricity needs independently, thanks to the MHP. There are 112 families in Pesawahan Hamlet, and the remaining 16 families in Rinjing Hamlet. The first MHP was built in Pesawahan Hamlet in 2010 with a capacity of 25 Kilowatts (KW). With this capacity, the MHP can fulfil electricity needs for lighting, television and even refrigerators and washing machines. All household needs are fulfilled with an electricity supply from the local MHP.

Two years later, another MHP was established in Rinjing Hamlet, with a capacity of 15 kW. Both MHPs rely on the swift flow of the Mengaji River as a source of electrical energy.
Warsito states, “Pesawahan hamlet utilises the swift flow of the Mengaji River upstream, while Rinjing hamlet is downstream.” He said that before the MHP, or around 1996, residents of the two hamlets used waterwheels or turbines connected to dynamos to generate electricity. Almost every house had up to two waterwheels installed along the river.

Although the maximum electricity generated by this wooden turbine is only about one Ampere or the equivalent of 220 Watts, the residents are happy because their houses are no longer dark at night. Moreover, the State Electricity Company (PLN) is still reluctant to enter the hamlet, which is surrounded by state-protected forests and pine production forests.

The only drawback of this wooden turbine is that the electricity flow is unstable. Then if there is rubbish or river water flowing too fast, it can also make the turbine easily damaged. They also have to check and replace the turbines regularly.

“The difficulty was resolved when the MHP was built in 2010. Residents no longer go back and forth to repair the mill. Their houses also received electricity with double the power so that not only do they power their lights, but more electronic equipment can be used,” added Warsito.

The generator engine of the MHP in Rinjing Hamlet, Gununglurah Village, Cilongok Sub-district is still operating today. (Source: Hartatik)

Utilising the river

MHPs and wood turbines both utilise the current of the Mengaji River to generate electricity. The utilisation of new renewable energy is very beneficial for the residents. Apart from being environmentally friendly, residents are also less burdened in paying monthly fees. Like PLN, there is a meter that calculates usage every month. The amount of dues has been mutually agreed upon in Pesawahan Hamlet, namely IDR 500/Kwh for 1 Ampere power and IDR 750/Kwh for 2 Ampere power. On average, they pay an electricity fee of Rp 20,000/month plus an allowance of Rp 5,000. Meanwhile, the amount of electricity fee in Rinjing Hamlet is averaged at Rp 10,000/month.

The beneficiaries of the Pesawahan MHP are not only houses owned by residents but also public facilities, one of which is an alternative school in the local hamlet, Madrasah Tsanawiyah (MTs) Pakis Pesawahan, which was established in 2013. Electricity from the MHP can support school lighting and power up computers and charge laptop batteries.

Warsito is proud that until now, residents in both Pesawahan and Rinjing are still reluctant to switch to PLN electricity. Even though the installation of electricity network poles has been installed in the two hamlets, which are about one kilometre apart.

In Rinjing Hamlet, PLN electricity poles are already standing in front of residents’ houses. But 16 families choose to continue using electricity from the MHP,” he said.

Likewise, the residents of Pesawahan Hamlet, out of 115 families, only about 15 families are interested. They also use two electricity streams, namely, from the MHP and PLN. “We are proud of the spirit and commitment of Pesawahan and Rinjing residents. They are still actively maintaining the MHP and working together to clean the river,” said Warsito.

In Pesawahan Hamlet, residents formed the Tirta Mengaji Group to manage the MHP operation management, starting from installation, and machine maintenance to collecting fees. The head of the Tirta Mengaji MHP Group, Ali Maksur, said that the villagers no longer have to go to the river to fix the installation or broken cables. This is because there is a caretaker in charge of routine maintenance.

“Maintenance is carried out so that the installation can last a long time, as well as ensuring that the electricity network to residents’ homes is safe,” said Ali.

He also said that besides routine maintenance carried out by the Tirta Mengaji MHP group, the main requirement for sustainable energy is to protect the environment, especially forests. The Mengaji River, which has its headwaters on the southern slopes of Mount Slamet, must be preserved, especially its forests. Without forests, it is impossible for the Mengaji River to flow smoothly throughout the ages.

Crowdsource funding

The community’s contributions have been used for routine maintenance of the machine. According to him, the MHP once suffered damage that cost around Rp 60 million. But the damage was resolved thanks to the monthly contributions of the residents. In a month, according to him, the collected contributions only reached Rp 1.5 million. The funds are also used to pay the administrator’s honorarium of Rp 100,000 per month.

Darsim (43), a resident of Pesawahan Hamlet, admitted that when using a wooden turbine, he must routinely control it to ensure that the turbine is safe. Moreover, the Mengaji River flows swiftly throughout the year. The upper reaches of the river are still good, making the water never dry up, even during the long dry season.

“In the past, the electricity from the wood turbine to the dynamo could only switch on a light bulb. The light was unstable, sometimes strong, sometimes dim,” he said.

However, since there is an MHP, he no longer uses wooden turbines. There has been no problem with the MHP until now. This is because the Tirta Mengaji MHP Group as the manager routinely carries out maintenance.

Meanwhile, Cilongok sub-district head Roni Hidayat explained that there are four villages in his area that utilise water sources to power micro-hydro power plants, namely Karangtengah, Gununglurah, Sokawera and Sambirata. The four villages are located on the slopes of Mount Slamet, where the water potential is still good.

“In the future, the potential of the MHP can still be developed considering that the water discharge in these four villages is still large because they are located in the upper reaches of the river, and the surrounding state forest is still dense,” said Roni. (Hartatik)

*This article first appeared on 6 December 2022

Banner photo: Micro Hydro Power Plant (PLTMH) in Pesawahan Hamlet, Gununglurah Village, Cilongok District, Banyumas Regency. (Hartatik)

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