A Renewable Energy Revolution in Sri Lanka | Daily News

A Renewable Energy Revolution in Sri Lanka

To fulfill Sri Lanka’s international commitments on Climate Change, conventional electricity generation has to be replaced with more renewable energy-based power production which is the objective of the State Ministry of Solar Power, Wind and Hydro Power Generation Projects Development established under the renewable energy resources development component in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s ‘Vistas of Prosperity’ policy framework. 

Following are excerpts of an interview the Daily News had with Solar Power, Wind and Hydro Power Generation Projects Development State Minister Duminda Dissanayake on these developments.

Q: What is the progress in the implementation of renewable energy development programmes in the country?

A: Tremendous progress is being achieved since for the first time under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s ‘Vistas of Prosperity’ policy framework a separate State Ministry has been created for implementing solar power, wind, biomass and hydro power Generation projects.

Q: Is it the objective of the Government and your State Ministry to fulfill the energy requirements in the country through renewable energy resources?

A: Yes. It is an arduous target and a big challenge. Under the first phase we intend to feed seventy percent of the National Grid with renewable electricity by 2030. It is planned to add a considerable percentage of renewable energy to the National Grid each year until 2050 to achieve the goal of self-sufficiency in renewable energy-based electricity making it a turning point in the country’s history of power and energy generation. 

Q: What is the progress we have achieved in the past, starting from D.J. Wimalasurendra’s contribution?

A: Wimalasurendra who was a highly innovative far-sighted electrical engineer spearheaded the nationalization of electricity using hydro power generation and it was observed that the supply of hydro power-based electricity was not adequate to meet the country’s power and energy demand, which has been rising at eight percent per annum. In this context we preferred to fill the gap with thermal energy depending on high priced traditional sources of fuels.

Also, the use of imported fossil fuels causes a large drain of foreign exchange from the country in addition to causing large-scale environmental contamination. Under these circumstances, in 2007 the Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority (SLSEA) was established, for preparing a renewable energy resource development plan. During the past decade under the sponsorship of the SLSEA around 210 mini hydro power stations have been established for producing 422 MW for the National Grid.

Q: What is the present status of renewable electricity generation under the newly established State Ministry?

A: The President has established the State Ministry to accelerate the progress in this sector. Within the last year we have been able to generate 370 MW and 88 MW (altogether 458 MW) respectively from rooftop and other large-scale solar power systems. Also 248 MW has been added to the National Grid through wind power system projects in Mannar, Puttalam, Hambantota, Jaffna and Balangoda. In brief, the State Ministry of Solar Power, Wind and Hydro Power Generation Projects Development has added 2,700 MW of renewable energy-based electricity to the National Grid, so far.

Q: Are you sure that your Ministry can take up the challenge of fulfilling the 70 percent target concerning renewable energy-based electricity by 2030?

A: Yes, of course. We are confident that we can achieve this target. Already the State Ministry in collaboration with the SLSEA has prepared a Renewable Energy Strategic Plan which is updated every five years, in line with the power generation plan of the CEB. Accordingly the renewable electricity capacity being enhanced through solar power, wind and hydro power, including biomass sea wave energy, etc., by 2030 could be categorized as follows: Rooftop and land-based solar systems – 4,500 MW; Wind power (high land/water top) – 4,500 MW; Biomass – 500 MW; Mini hydro power – 600 MW.

In relation to these targets, we have commenced the realization of a 100 MW Solar Power Park in Siyambalanduwa, Hybrid Wind/Solar Energy Park in Pooneryn to generate 360 MW initially and a Wind Energy project in Mannar generating 240 MW.

In addition to these ventures, we intend to promote ‘Power Wheeling’ and the ‘Pump Storage’ methodologies respectively for generating renewable electricity through Solar Systems and Hydro Power.

We are going to launch a research project to ascertain whether it is possible to generate sea wave energy from the wave strength around the country and geological thermal energy-based electricity in the areas where hot springs are found. Apart from these strategies we are encouraging investors in manufacturing solar power storage batteries for extracting power in the night.

There is a growing demand for solar power storage batteries in the world and we could earn ample foreign exchange by marketing any surplus production.

Q: It seems you are giving preference for promoting solar power-based electricity generation among other renewable energy resources. Could you explain?

A: We plan to achieve our renewable energy targets initially depending on solar and wind power since these resources are easily available in the country.

As such, we have decided to install solar panels on the rooftops of Government hospitals, State universities, and Government schools under the first phase. Under this programme, we are going to fix solar systems on the rooftops of 15 selected Government hospitals in collaboration with the Health Ministry, shortly.

We have planned to install mini solar systems on the rooftops of houses of 100,000 Samurdhi recipients for strengthening their livelihood empowerment with surplus electricity being generated by solar panels bought by the CEB. Under the program called ‘A solar power generation plant to the village’ it is envisaged to start 10,000 solar power plants mainly in rural localities, each generating 100 MW for the National Grid. These are practically possible and innovative renewable energy development ventures. 

Q: It was reported in the media that some agencies entrusted with the implementation of renewable energy development projects are not making any convincing progress. What is the present situation?

A: A number of renewable electricity promotion projects failed in the implementation stage. The people involved in these projects had been instructed, after lengthy discussions, to accelerate the construction, acting on the recommendations of a special committee. Prior to this I gave an additional three months to some contactors to show progress of the implementation of electricity generation projects entrusted to them and later acting on the still poor performance, we cancelled 68 projects. It seems that some construction companies are marking time or delaying finishing the project purposely to gain undue advantage of the increasing value of the dollar.

Q: Apart from the direct contribution in energy generation to the economy, are there additional indirect benefits to the economy in increasing renewable energy?

A:  Yes, there are around 300 companies involved in solar power generation in the country and more than 10,000 new job opportunities have been created in the field. The new techno- engineering skill development necessity has been created from students of vocational training to university level.

Among other renewable resources, in biomass power development there is a huge requirement in developing the biomass supply chain through increased cultivation, harvesting, collection, and processing of raw material that will require a large workforce as well as mechanization. 

I have discussed the possibility of commencing new innovative study courses for moulding ‘solar technicians’ at the network of vocational training centres including 39 technical colleges with State Minister of Skills Development, Vocational Training, Research and Innovation Dr. Seetha Arambepola recently. The first batch of the trainees in Solar PV Technology study course (NVQ - 4 level) successfully completed their training. We expect to train a minimum 500 technicians by the end of 2021.

Q: Is there any plan being executed for transferring the ownership of power plants to foreign companies?

A: We do not have any such idea at all. It is a misconception. We are not going to stop our masterplan for increasing the renewable energy-based electricity generation up to 70 percent of the National Grid by 2030 or withdraw it on the face of any undue trade union action or intimidation.

Q: It seems that we are on the way to achieving self-sufficiency in renewable energy-based environment-friendly less expensive electricity generation as defined in the ‘Vistas of Prosperity’ policy framework. What is your comment?

A: We have a goal as mentioned above. We have a practically viable transparent masterplan. We have identified shortcomings and out-of-date administrative, technological and stagnating aspects blocking or decreasing the acceleration of power generation projects which are being done away with. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa as well Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa have been extending their fullest possible cooperation in guiding, advising and releasing financial allocations to our renewable electricity generation programme.

We are giving preference to local entrepreneurs in granting the contracts for implementing power plant projects while foreign investors are encouraged to invest in the energy resources promotion ventures. There are many foreign aid agencies and friendly countries showing an interest in our renewable energy development mechanism. The Iranian Government is likely to assist us in the implementation of the Siyambalanduwa Solar Energy Park and commence six minor hydro power plants and there is a possibility of initiating floating solar power-based electricity plants in some reservoirs and lagoons in our country. It is a pity that all governments in power since 1948 onwards have been focusing attention only on hydro power electricity generation and on thermal power electricity production overlooking renewable energy naturally available in Sri Lanka until the ‘Vistas of Prosperity’ policy prioritized it. There is a possibility to transmit our renewable electricity to India via Dhanushkody, a distance of 18 km from Talaimannar along Adam’s Bridge, from the Mannar wind power electricity project.

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