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Appropriate and Sustainable Energy for East Timor


Phillip Calais, Environmental Technology Centre, Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia


Energy is the life-blood of society and like blood, it is usually taken for granted and often only of concern when there is not enough to sustain the living standards that we aspire to.


However unlike blood, there are many different types of energy sources, each with specific applications and their own special advantages and disadvantages. While oil, gas and coal have a number of advantages such as their often easy availability, low cost and flexible and wide-ranging applications, these fuels also have a number of severe disadvantages.These include the difficulty, expense and huge resources required for their exploration, extraction and processing, making these processes the domain of large, multi-national institutions.Furthermore, there are only limited oil, gas and coal resources available, and the use of these fossil fuels are effecting the Earthís environment, both on a local scale due to mining activities, spills and exhaust fumes and on a global scale from problems such as climate change.


Undoubtedly, the exploration and extraction of oil and gas from the Timor Sea will assist East Timor to gain financial, as well as political independence.However in many of the more remote parts of East Timor, where the transport of fuel is a problem, and indeed throughout the whole of East Timor, the goal should be to develop sustainable and ecologically benign forms of energy.


As a part of the solution to East Timorís sustainable energy needs, renewable energy, together with an integrated energy policy, can play a major role. As well as providing the people of East Timor with an ecologically sound and sustainable form of energy, the small scale and distributed use of solar, wind, water and biomass energy can also promote personal independence in a democratic environment.


An example of an appropriate application of renewable energy is the use of Ďsolar home systemsí.These are small and relatively cheap solar energy systems, typically consisting of one or two photovoltaic modules (solar panels), together with a deep-cycle battery and battery charge controller and possible a small inverter which converts the low voltage DC electricity into mains high voltage AC electricity.Such a system can be quickly and easily installed in remote mountain villages and will provide enough energy to operate lights, radios and a few other small appliances for a single household.


Larger systems can provide enough energy to run larger appliances such as refrigerators and computers and so are very valuable for medical clinics, schools and small offices.


Scaled up even more, systems can be installed, often in the combination with a diesel generator or a wind turbine, that will provide enough electricity to run the whole community.


The sun can also be used to provide hot water using solar water heaters.These systems are effective and can be made locally quite easily and cheaply.


Having only recently arrived in East Timor, I am not sure whether or not the use of wind energy is a viable option here as many tropical places have the extremes of very calm conditions punctuated with violent tropical cyclones, both of which are not very favourable to wind energy systems.However, this is a matter that needs to be examined and it may prove that East Timor is suitable for wind energy.


Running water is another option and the many mountain streams in East Timor provide ideal opportunities to generate electricity from this source.Once again, small, medium and large systems could be built, many in remote areas to provide electricity for basic services.


Tidal power may be an option in the coastal regions. The last few years have seen rapid progress being made in this area of electricity generation.In the north west of Western Australia, a medium sized tidal power plant is to be built which will provide electricity to remote tropical towns.


Another form of renewable energy is biomass - using plants and plant products as an energy source.Perhaps the most common example of this is simply to collect and burn firewood, but there are many other uses of biomass.


One that may be suitable for use in East Timor is the use of plant oils, such as coconut oil and palm oil, both of which are suitable for production here.Some plant oils, notably coconut, can be used as a substitute for diesel fuel and can be used both in vehicles, for lighting and to generate electricity.I recently learnt that for over one hundred years, a lighthouse on the south-west coast of Western Australia operated using coconut and palm oil.


Biodiesel, a synthetic diesel fuel made from new or used vegetable oil, is available in many European countries and when I return to Australia I intend to run my new car on home-made biodiesel.


Biomass is a very versatile energy source and many forms can also be used in furnaces to generate heat that is then used to produce electricity.In many of the tropical parts of Northern Australia, sugarcane waste is used as a major energy resource.


As with all technologies, there are always problems and other factors that must be considered when they are used.No technology is completely value neutral and even the use of renewable energy may have some negative effects on society and the environment.Many forested areas have been denuded as trees are felled for firewood and many communities, heritage and ecosystems have been destroyed as a result of unwise or inconsiderate placement of dams.


A renewable energy source is only renewable and sustainable if it is allowed to be so.


Unfortunately, due to the limitation in time, I am unable to go into detail about any of these technologies so I will just finish off by saying that the use of these sustainable technologies can only come about if there is a dedicated and open minded group of people who are willing to examine these issues and to develop ideas that are integrated into a progressive and coherent set of practical policies.


I would like to say that this has occurred in Australia.Unfortunately I canít.I implore the people of East Timor to carefully examine the policies of your neighbours so that you may not only avoid the pitfalls and traps but also extract the components from these policies that are useful for you so that you can develop a new, sustainable and democratic society.


For many years, the people of East Timor struggled for political independence.Let us also struggle for East Timorís independence in matters of energy, food, water, shelter and all other needs.