Comments /721 Views / Wednesday, 19 April 2017 00:00
The Norochcholai coal power station is in the news again for, as usual, all the wrong reasons – this time due to a breakdown of a power generator in the plant’s first phase that resulted in power failures in several parts of the island.
The breakdown (not the first on record), according to a Power and Energy Ministry spokesman, was caused due to a technical failure in a boiler belonging to the first phase of the plant. The malfunctioning of the generator would not affect the national power supply, he has said, while a spokesman for the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) told the media that it would take at least three days to rectify the defect as the technical team could not reach the boiler room due to the high temperature.
The Norochcholai power plant has broken down a total of 37 times since its inception, and that is the least of its problems. A year ago, farmers living in the vicinity of the controversial power plant said that their lives and livelihoods were greatly affected by dust gathered around the area during the rainy season. And then, of course, there is the larger debate over the continued usage of coal as an environmentally destructive energy resource – which experts say has a low efficiency (35%).
While there is an argument to be made that burning coal has become a necessary evil to keep the national grid powered up round the clock, the country needs to do more to invest in alternative means of power generation. Words like ‘sustainability’ and ‘renewable energy’ are being thrown around by those whose job it is do so, but little is being done to take the message of reducing the country’s carbon footprint to the masses.
On the solar front, however, we have made some progress. Last September, the Government launched a ‘Battle for solar energy’ initiative which aims to add 220 megawatts of clean power to the country’s energy grid by 2020, or about 10% of the country’s current daily electricity demand.
By 2025, the country hopes to boost its solar power output to 1,000 megawatts to meet fast-growing power needs. But shifting away from coal and other fossil fuel power to renewables will be a challenge. Solar power has the potential to meet 32% of Sri Lanka’s annual power demand of around 10,500 gigawatts – but so far just 0.01% of that potential has been developed, according to the Sri Lanka energy sector development plan for 2015-2025.
Currently about 3% of Sri Lanka’s energy demand is met by renewables such as wind and solar. Hydropower provides about half of the country’s electricity during the wet season but during the dry season, between August and October, 81% of the island’s power needs are met by fossil fuels, over half of that from coal. Unfortunately, however, the cheapest entry-level home solar panel installation costs over Rs. 200,000 because the materials must be imported and face import duties. Compared to that, even larger users of household power pay only around Rs 5,000 a month in electricity bills.
If Sri Lanka is serious about playing its part in the fight against global warming, it needs to seriously reconsider its approach to this all-important issue.
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