Incentives needed for Renewable Energy push | Daily News


Incentives needed for Renewable Energy push

In recent1 years, there has been a major shift by the entire world community towards the use of renewable energy. Several factors have propelled this change from the current reliance on highly polluting and non-renewable fossil fuels.

Countries around the world have realised that fossil fuels are finite. Liquid petroleum could run out in less than 150 years, even if vast reserves now zealously guarded by some extracting countries are brought into play. Coal and LNG may last for possibly 300 years at current rates of consumption, but there is nevertheless an end.

But the biggest factor that propels humanity toward ending its dependence on fossil fuels for power generation is their calamitous effect on the environment. The burning of fossil fuels has been identified as the primary cause of Global Warning and hence, of the emerging Climate Crisis.

The world is already reeling from the destructive effects of the Climate Crisis: forest fires in Australia and Brazil, melting icecaps in the Polar regions, record levels of rain and snow fall all over. The very trauma of these natural disasters has further sparked calls to move over to non-polluting renewable sources of energy such as wind, hydro-electric and solar.

Some countries have embraced this movement to the point where they can produce 100 percent of their energy requirements on demand (though still not 24/7) from renewable energy sources alone.

Unfortunately, Sri Lanka was late to this party despite having plenty of sunshine and wind throughout the year. Being an island, we can utilize relatively new types of energy such as ocean waves. This lethargy has cost us immensely: we spend billions of dollars to import fossil fuels to power thermal generators.

Paradoxically, erratic weather patterns caused by the Climate Crisis have adversely affected our hydropower generators which sometimes contribute less than 20 percent to the total power output. Moreover, no new power projects have come on line for many years, which has led experts to predict a major power generation crisis. This is exacerbated by the ongoing tussle over pricing between the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL).

With the change of Government there has been a greater focus on renewable energy. Director General, Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority, (SLSEA) Damitha Kumarasinghe says that Sri Lanka will reach 80% self-sufficiency in electricity by 2027. He told a Renewable Energy Growth Forum in Colombo recently that the vision of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was for Sri Lanka to be solely dependent on local renewable energy sources by 2030.

This is not by any means an impossible goal, given that currently Sri Lanka’s alterative power generation is around 40%. This is an ideal time to invest in renewables – especially solar, as the cost of panels has drastically come down while their efficiency (heat to energy ratio) too has increased. The world has suddenly shown a keen interest in solar power generation, with Qatar, India, the US and Australia leading the way with huge investments. Qatar has invested US$ 464 million to build its first solar power plant to generate 800 MW of alternative energy.

Sri Lanka has to take a cue from this global shift towards solar and wind. This is where Overseas Development Assistance (ODA), Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) and local private capital can play a role to build more renewable energy plants. As for ODA, India has offered a US$ 100 million concessional financing facility for undertaking solar projects in Sri Lanka. India itself has become a role model for the rest of Asia in terms of renewable energy - it is all set to cross the 100 GW renewable energy capacity mark in 2020 and with an ambitious 175 GW clean energy target by 2022. India is currently building the largest solar park in the world.

But are we geared up for this push toward full electrification? Are we moving there fast enough?

The authorities must reconsider the Global 2040 deadline for the final registration of Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles as many other countries have already moved this forward to 2035 or even 2030, after which only electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles can be registered. Almost all the major manufacturers now have or, will soon have, electric vehicles in their product line up, some of which are already available in Sri Lanka.

But the previous Government unfortunately reversed the concessions granted for the import and purchase of electric vehicles, with the result that they sometimes cost much more than the equivalent petrol models. In this context, there is little incentive to go electric and in November 2019, just four electric vehicles were registered, out of almost 5,000 cars, jeeps, trucks and buses.

The Government must encourage the installation of DC superchargers at all filling stations and also solar powered car chargers islandwide by granting duty concessions for these. This should accompany the return to duty and tax incentives for electric vehicles. Otherwise the whole point of having electric vehicles could be negated if owners re-charge them via the National Power Grid which is in turn mostly powered by thermal energy.

The time to go electric is here and now, not five or 10 years hence. This should indeed be part and parcel of a comprehensive long term energy policy.

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