Sri Lanka’s energy security pioneering towards solar energy

Tuesday, 15 August 2017 00:10 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Untitled-1By Dinuka Jayasinghe

During the pre-modern era, Sri Lankan energy requirements for heating, lighting and drying relied on plant-based flammable substances. With the arrival of new technology in the mid-19th century, the range of energy sources expanded due to the importation of modern energy sources such as coal and petroleum products, which subsequently replaced traditional fuels either partly or fully in different sub-sectors.

The use of petroleum products for thermal power generation has significantly increased in the past few years. Due to this reasonhydroelectricity has decreased from 49% to 35%. This has reduced the capability of the State-owned Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), to generate power at a lower cost. Consequently, the burden to the Government given the electricity intensive industries and domestic consumers has been impacted severely. 

Sri Lanka’s current energy balance

The price of coal which is considered as low is also going up. In 1990, a unit of electricity produced with coal was 18 cents. In 2000, it became 90 cents. In 2010 it was Rs.6.00. In 2011 it has become Rs.10.71. Accordingly, by 2020 it will be around Rs.40-50. As a result even if everyone is supplied by electricity in time, all of us should keep in mind that the era of cheap electricity is over.The probability of price increases of fossil fuels in the future is mainly due to declining resources and world environmental concerns.

The share of hydropower is estimated to reduce from 40.2% in 2007 to 19.5% by 2020, while coal-fired thermal generation is estimated to reach 70.9% by 2020. A recent study done by Harvard University reports that the lifecycle effects of coal and the waste stream generated are costing every country in billions.

Coal, the most polluting way to generate electricity, is a serious threat to our climate. Burning coal is the biggest single source of CO2 emissions from human activity. A study says: “A typical coal plant with a once-through cooling system withdraws between 70 and 180 billion gallons of water per year.”

Many researchers have found that coal manufacturing is one of the main reasons for global warming. Global warming is a crucial fact. There is a high likelihood of banning coal manufacturing in the world. Most of the countries are working for it already.

What will happen to us if coal manufacturing is eliminated entirely in the next five years? There won’t be any use of those coal power stations. As we all knowthe past few governments have invested billions on those coal power stations. Even after multiple breakdowns in our coal power stations,the Government is still wasting millions for no reason. Are we in a position to bear the extra cost for generate electricity? Are we in a position to find a solution for thiscoal ban? 

Therefore, leaning towards coal as a long-term solution needs rethinking.

Energy demand in Sri Lanka is mainly depend on hydropower so that electricity supply decreases severely when the country is hit by serious droughts. This has led to a dramatic decline in economic growth. As we can remember, serious droughts in 1996 meant that Sri Lanka experienced a severe power crisis which adversely affected the economy in 1996.

According to a recent study, Sri Lanka’s rainfall will decrease by 35% in 2030. So the struggle is real. We can’t even fulfil the demand with the current rainfall. So what would happen if we lose it?It is also predicted that the island’s population will reach 25 m in 2030. If we do not do something about this matter the country’s economy will be at stake.

Steps that need to be taken:

nIncrease Budget allocations for Research and Development (R&D) in renewable energy sources. It is well known our Government’s Budget allocation for R&D is less than 1%, while most of the developed countries allocate more than 10% on research.Investing more on solar power is the world trend now. Some countries like America, France, Australia, China and even India are planning to power the entire country by solar energy by 2035. Developing economies almost matched developed economies in solar energy investments, so the role of solar energy in a country is becoming a vital fact in a country’s economy. But we are still behind.

nEducation and training in energy saving techniques programs should start from school level. Energy security has to be a discipline in this country.

nFinancial institutes should encourage their customers by providing easy repayment terms for solar panels. Should fund more solar energy projects.

Recently I got a chance to visit a newly-built boutique hotel in Negombo. Since it is a multi-million project, I asked the owner whether he is willing to install solar panels in his building. He said that he needs to understand the energy consumption pattern over a period of time and then decide to go with solar panels or not. Spending more money onrenewables seems to be a waste for many Sri Lankans. Changing this attitude and encouraging people to use solar energy is essential.

Most of the construction projects are multimillion projects. So spendingon solar panels can be done easily. I would like to suggest based on the value of the building, function and energy consumption, generating electricity from solar panels as a percentage be made compulsory. 

In Sri Lanka, as per my knowledge we still use traditional solar panels which are very costly. Solar technology is vastly developing nowadays. Solar battery has become portable sized these days, which has a capacity of 15kWh for daily cycle applications. Recently a team of researchers developed a wallpaint that can generate energy. So it is understood the world is moving fast with clean energy. We need more investors to acquire these technologies.

Most recent situation

As per the Minister of Power and Renewable Energy, there is a high tendency of two-hour powercuts during peak time in the next few months. He also stated that we have only 36.4% water remainingin the reservoirs to generate electricity. As per the ministry, to distribute consistent power, the Government has to spend at least Rs. 50 billion. Not surprisingly that also for a plaster solution. So the struggle is real… Therefore, leaning towards solar energy as a long-term solution has to be initiated immediately.