Renewable energy: Sri Lanka - the 39th greenest country in the world | Sunday Observer

Renewable energy: Sri Lanka - the 39th greenest country in the world

Sri Lanka has set a futuristic and progressive task of increasing its share of renewable energy in electricity generation to 100% by 2030. Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority (SLSEA) was established to realize the necessity of having an apex institution to drive the country towards a new level of sustainability in energy generation and usage, through increasing indigenous energy and improving energy efficiency within the country.

Sri Lanka has given indications that it intends to significantly increase the share of renewable energy in its electricity generation by the end of the next decade. Secretary to the Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs recently told media outlets that the government is considering increasing the share of renewable energy in electricity generation to 100% by 2030. The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) proposed the Long-term Generation Expansion Plan 2015-2034. Sri Lanka’s installed power generation capacity at the end of 2014 was 3.9 GW, of which 11%, or 442 MW is based on renewable energy capacity. Renewable capacity is dominated by mini-hydro power technology, which contributes 293 MW capacity, while wind energy technology represents 124 MW capacity. The CEB plans to increase the renewable energy capacity to 972 MW by 2020, which would contribute 20% to the total power generation in the country. Renewable energy’s share in power generation is currently expected to peak in 2025 at 21.4% with an installed capacity of 1,367 MW. As part of the Long-term Generation Expansion Plan, installed renewable energy capacity in 2034 is expected to reach 1,897 MW, with wind energy being the dominant technology. Wind energy is expected to overtake mini hydro in terms of installed capacity, by 2023. Installed capacity targets for the four renewable energy technology projected by the CEB are, mini-hydro: 673 MW; wind energy: 719 MW; biomass-based power: 279 MW; and solar power: 226 MW.

The Public Utilities Commission has criticized the Long-term Generation Expansion Plan proposed by the CEB, claiming that it did not focus much on the promotion of renewable energy technology.

Deputy Director General (Strategy), Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority, Harsha Wickramasinghe spoke to the Sunday Observer about the present situation on the renewable energy (RE) sector and how far Sri Lanka has gone. He said, “We have a robust RE development program. Actually, Sri Lanka is the 39th greenest country in the world, in terms of RE share in power generation. There was a policy target to meet 10 percentage of electricity generation from new renewable energy by 2015. We reached the target one year ahead of time and achieved the 11.4 percent mark at the end of 2015. However, defending this share in a future context is quite a challenge, as the demand is increasing rapidly.”

Wickramasinghe said, Sri Lanka is a great success in RE generation. “If we take the mini-hydro industry, the private sector has developed an amazing skill set to meet the challenges and were able to take our skills abroad. Also, they managed to bring down the cost of projects to low levels, making most difficult sites financially viable. Similar stories can be said about other technologies. Anyone can become a player in this industry. RE, in its wider spread is a very democratic resource. If the technology is affordable and known, anyone can be a part of it. However, if the level of technology development is at an early stage, only the seasoned entities with strong engineering skills can engage. On the other hand, mature technologies such as, Solar PV is within reach of all.”

It is a difficult proposition for industries which need high-power electricity to transform their production units to RE. “Unlike fossil fuel, RE is a dispersed resource, which require much effort for harnessing. So it is not quite suitable for energy intense industries. However, low energy user industries can tap into both biomass and solar energy with ease,” he said.

Wickramasinghe spoke about the public power-generating program ‘Surya Bala Sangramaya’ (SBS) initiated recently by President Maithripala Sirisena. He said, “We are making steady progress. The sector is still growing at an increasing rate, contrary to our belief that it might slow down. In the last few months, the number of service providers doubled and now there are more than 200 players in the scheme. However, due to poor understanding, possibly, the new scheme (Net Accounting and Net + Plus) is not taking off as expected. So we are planning new strategies to take them forward.”

“The main issue in promoting RE in Sri Lanka is inherent to RE resources. It is intermittent in its natural form. As we can understand, solar radiation is a variable resource (the amount of energy received by a panel varies when a cloud passes over it) and it is not available when we need electricity most, in the evening. With wind energy, we have it only during the monsoonal periods. But, people need energy all the time. So the issue is meeting the ever increasing demand with variable and seasonal resources. We can compare this to a transport system consisting of trains, buses and taxis. In the case of electricity, the trains and buses are comparable to large fossil fuel plants. The RE resources can be compared to taxis. Even though we can imagine a city without trains or buses, relying completely on taxis, such a city will be a chaotic place. Similar issues plague the advent of RE in any country. It is our duty to circumvent such challenges to preserve our share of RE,” Wickramasinghe elaborated.

He further spoke about solutions which could sort out the issues. “We have to meet these challenges by taking them head-on, for which we need good knowledge and engineering skills. No amount of lobbying would solve these issues. We have to study the systems and model it with the characteristics of our own resource data before we jump into conclusions. So the highest priority in the RE agenda is to develop our own knowledge and capabilities to design our own solutions,” he said.

“At present, we have to meet 20 percentage of our generation by 2020. However, the new energy policy might revise this target. The development projects coming up in Colombo can benefit from the solar PV program by probing the BiPV (building integrated photovoltaics) options to cover the East and West facades,” he said.

He said, there is hardly an alternative for such buildings in RE. “ But, their priority must be to get the design right, to be energy efficient in operation. This is important. From the life cycle cost of a building, the cost of construction is less than 15 percent, while 70 percent or more is spent on energy. So if we get the building wrong in the beginning, the penalty we pay is unthinkable. That is why we focused on energy efficiency (considered the first fuel by the International Energy Agency) and launched a major drive titled, Operation Demand Side Management, under the Presidential Task Force,” Wickramasinghe said. 

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