How to Use Hydropower to Improve the Life of a Community

When thinking of Sumatra in Indonesia, what comes to your mind? Maybe its stunning nature, steaming volcanos, blue lagoons, and lush green jungles? These beautiful sights can easily make us forget that Indonesia is still a developing country. There’s progress, no question, but this comes with growing energy demand. Often, steps of progress are a necessity and have no space to accommodate for a climate neutral or sustainable solution. Thankfully, ongoing initiatives in the area prove different: The Musi Hydroelectric Power Plant is an excellent example of how a nation can experience economic growth without harming the environment.

Re-investing revenues into community development

There is still much development to be done in Indonesia: Combating poverty, corruption, and deforestation while improving education and employment opportunities, mitigating the effects of climate change and bespoke deforestation, to name only a few. Research confirms that access to electricity improves the lives of rural poor people [1]. With a climate crisis in sight, however, generating more emissions from increased power generation doesn’t seem ideal. But what if we could do it right, right away?

Musi River Hydro-Plant. Photo: South Pole

The Musi River Hydro plant is a great project example of how local communities in developing countries can be supported sustainably. The plant is an ecomove partner project. It generates electricity for the area using hydropower and has created 50 permanent workplaces for the community. According to research, fighting poverty with better employment opportunities can significantly affect poverty [2]. The hydropower employees usually come from traditional farming communities. At the Hydro-Plant they receive a stable income and are provided with proper housing and medical treatment in case of sickness. Also, for the construction of the facilities, local workers were hired.

Sharing the gains from the Musi River, the project also re-invests a part of the revenue into opportunities for new income streams for the local community. Local farmers profit from the newly built roads and repaired bridges to access their rice paddies, and a new marketplace provides additional income. With a focus on maintaining a healthy ecosystem, the project grants free training for locals on composting and organic fertilisers.

The project also supports the social and environmental development of the area. It has built a primary school, an orphanage, and a mosque. Also, the creation of a public transport terminal further improved the local infrastructure. Sumatra faced significant deforestation in the past. In response, the Musi River project also set up a reforestation program to protect the ecosystem. The reforested area under protection now covers more than 20ha of land.

Generating sustainable electricity

The Musi Hydroelectric Power Plant was built with attention to the environment: It’s a run-of-river hydropower plant, thus using the flow of water to generate electricity. Such systems don’t require a large reservoir or a dam. They don’t generate as much energy as large plants, but it’s a more sustainable source of electricity because of the mitigating effects on the environment [3]. Less area is flooded, which is positive for the ecosystem; an often mentioned constraint for hydropower.

The hydropower plant delivers on average 765,000 MWh per year to Sumatra’s grid, all of it clean.

With an average per capita energy demand of 780kWh per annum, more than 980,000 Indonesians can be supplied with clean energy [4]. Because it’s replacing fossil fuel-generated power, 568,000 tonnes of CO2 can be saved every year [5].

Sustainable projects should contemplate the needs and challenges of local communities and consider the potential socio-economic and environmental impacts, even more so because renewable energy projects require new technologies and knowledge; An initially expensive investment. But if done well, projects like the Musi River Hydropower plant provide sustainability for the long term. The cost-effective and reliable output of electricity and tailored social investments empower the whole community.


[1] Peters, J. (2018) |

[2] Nainggolan, L., Sembiring, L., Nainggolan, N., (2020) |


[4] Worlddata (2018) |

[5] Southpole (2020) |