Charting Indonesia’s low carbon future

A renewable energy hub is advising government on carbon markets, harnessing natural resources and crowd-funding start-ups on Indonesia’s path to net zero emissions.

Early in 2021, the government of Indonesia announced it was setting a goal of achieving carbon-neutrality by 2070. As the world’s biggest exporter of thermal coal, and with a renewables industry struggling to get off the ground, it is a challenging target.

This is where Dr Filda Yusgiantoro and the Purnomo Yusgiantoro Center come in.

Filda and her father Purnomo Yusgiantoro – former Indonesia Minister for Energy and Minister for Defence, and former president-secretary general of OPEC (the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) – founded the independent not-for-profit think tank in 2016. The vision: to become a thought leader and knowledge hub in sustainable energy and natural resources.

The first focus is to encourage and to support the government, to assist as well as to monitor the progress of our government to achieve this renewable energy target in Indonesia."

And she has a clear vision for how the Center can change hearts, minds and policies around renewable energy, through supporting research and funding start-ups working in the renewable energy space.

After a long, fruitful career in politics, Filda’s father was keen to make use of his experience to create a not-for-profit organisation. It was Filda who suggested the focus on renewable energy and the transition away from fossil fuels.

Filda Yusgiantoro reading.
Filda believes the Purnomo Yusgiantoro Center has the capacity to change hearts, minds and policies on renewable energy.

Sustainable energy solutions

The Center will focus on research into renewable energy and carbon markets, which can then be used by government and policymakers to make evidence-based decisions. One of its first areas of research will be around electric vehicles.

A second goal is to crowd-fund young entrepreneurs in the energy space. Filda says there are many small-scale renewable energy projects in development, such as solar photovoltaic installations for islands in Indonesia’s expansive archipelago.

Indonesia’s renewable energy industry is still in its infancy, but the nation has a wealth of natural energy resources – sun, wind, waves, geothermal and biomass – to take advantage of.

But the government has not yet prioritised which resources to focus on – something Filda hopes the Center can help with. “Everything is in one basket, and we don’t know which one is the best,” she says.

The Monash connection

Clayton Campus, Monash
Filda studied in Indonesia and Singapore before completing her doctorate at Monash.

When it came to tertiary education, Filda chose to pursue a degree in chemical engineering at Institut Teknologi Bandung in Indonesia, just as her father and two older brothers had done.

And, like them, she then segued into social sciences, achieving a master’s in business management from the Università degli Studi di Padova, Italy, and a Master of Business Administration from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

Then she fell in love, married and had a son. That might have been the end of her career trajectory if her husband had not encouraged her to pursue a PhD in Business and Economics at Monash University.

So, with a toddler in tow, Filda moved to Melbourne and undertook a doctorate focusing on micro and small lending to small businesses and households.

One of the most important things she learned from that time was the importance of rigorous research to underpin policy decisions and practices. And she has brought this wholeheartedly to her directorship of the Purnomo Yusgiantoro Center.

What I learned at Monash was really enriching on how to analyse, and to research. We’re building our integrity, we’re building our research, and then we want to voice those research results to the public."

It’s early days for the Purnomo Yusgiantoro Center – it has only been active for five years – but Filda is already looking forward to building its capacity and reputation not just in Indonesia but worldwide.

For example, the Center has been in talks with Monash University’s ClimateWorks about potential research collaborations and, in particular, “on formulating suitable energy efficiency and conservation in Indonesia's planned new capital city in Kalimantan”, Filda says. It’s just one of many potential areas for collaboration between the two organisations, which both have a strong focus on energy issues.

“There’s lots of homework to be done in this organisation: the energy sector is really large, and renewable energy in Indonesia is still in its initial stage,” she says. “We want to assist that, and we want to assist the government and other stakeholders to do a good job.”

Empowering young women

Filda discovered she was looked up to as a role model after being asked for a photograph by two young women after a talk she gave on energy.

“I was quite shocked, because I really don’t consider myself as a role model,” she says. “I just need to be giving the best to what I really like, what I’m passionate about.”

Inspired by her father's example

Filda is also a lecturer in economics at Universitas Prasetiya Mulya, editor-in-chief of the Indonesian Journal of Energy, founder and coordinator of the PYC International Energy Conference, and is on several advisory boards at Institut Teknologi Bandung.

It’s an impressive workload, but Filda says she is inspired by her father’s example.

“I looked up to him through his career, but also how he balanced his work and his family,” she says.

“He could balance all of that while he was working very hard to manage the country, with his colleagues in the ministry and the President as well.”