Towards Energy Independence | Daily News
Renewable energy to dominate the national grid by 2050

Towards Energy Independence

Under the new administration of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, there is a significant awakening in the promotion and the development of renewable energy sources for strengthening the national grid, which has culminated in the establishment of a separate State Ministry for the development of renewable energy sources.

The Government depends on hydropower electricity generation for providing electricity and during the drought, thermal energy and coal to fill the gap. The country’s first coal power plant functioning at Norochcholai provides 900MW to the national grid and it is expected to widen its supply with the installation of an additional power generator shortly. However, the imported fossil fuels cause a large drain of foreign exchange from the country as noted recently by the ministers of power and energy.

This requirement could easily be fulfilled by the use of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass, which are freely available in the country. The laboratory tests have proved that one tonne of petroleum fuel is equivalent to four tonnes of Gliricidia, a leading biomass energy generation matter abundantly available mainly in the dry zone.

Already the Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority (SLSEA) on the instructions of State Minister Duminda Dissanayake has commenced several programmes for the development of renewable energy sources in collaboration with the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB).

Construction work of Pethis Rambewa Solar System project underway.  

There is a mega wind energy park set up along the Mannar coastal line at a distance of 12.5 Km to provide 103.5 MW with 33 huge wind turbines incurring a cost of US$ 135 million. In addition, the first solar-wind hybrid park for generating 400MW in Pooneryn and the first solar energy park of 100MW in Siyambalanduwa are under construction as accelerated ventures. It is the vision of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in terms of his “Sawbhagye Dekma” (Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour) development manifesto to gain self-sufficiency in renewable energy sources by 2050 and produce 80 percent of the country’s electricity requirement by 2030. Now many private sector companies too have been inspired by the Government’s renewable energy development policy and are taking up renewable energy electricity projects. As an example, a private company is at present engaged in putting up a solar electricity generation plant that can produce 3 MW for the national grid in Thirappane, Pethisrambewa Village, Anuradhapura in a 10-acre land.

The SLSEA, Atomic Energy Authority (AEA) and the CEB are involved in the task of achieving the target of providing 80 percent of the country’s requirement by 2030 under the first phase. The SLSEA is the focal national institute for the implementation of renewable energy development programmes in the country having been established in 2007, and the initial target is to gain full-scale renewable energy capacity under a few stages. In this context, the total renewable energy capacity addition in 2020 was as follows.

Source Capacity (MW)

Small Hydro 419.47

Solar (Land Based) 57.36

Solar (rooftop system) 261.00

Wind 128.15

Biomass 43.53

Renewable energy development brings about a multitude of benefits to Sri Lanka. The country does not have any proven petroleum energy resources and therefore the country incurs a colossal amount of foreign exchange expenditure for energy imports. In order to reduce this foreign exchange expenditure, it is required to go for alternative indigenous energy resources. By enhancing the renewable energy-based electricity generation capacity, Sri Lanka can enhance the indigenous energy share and it is one of the most welcoming benefits to the country. Enhancing energy security is a key aspect to be looked at in the development of the energy sector and the increase of the indigenous energy share will inevitably contribute to enhancing the energy security of the country.

The Climate Change is one of the most serious issues faced by the world. The use of petroleum resources for energy generation has greatly contributed to this through the release of carbon dioxide which is one of the gases responsible for global Climate Change. Since the 1990s global moves by the United Nations have tried to combat this unhealthy situation through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). At its 21st Conference in Paris in 2015, many countries agreed to make their contributions to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the period 2020 - 2030. In order to fulfil this requirement, conventional electricity generation has to be replaced with more renewable energy-based power, which is the agenda of the Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority.

Apart from the direct contribution in energy generation, there are additional indirect benefits to the economy in increasing renewable energy. There are around 300 companies involved in solar power generation in Sri Lanka and about 10,000 job opportunities are created. There is a need for new techno-engineering skills development from vocational training to university level. Similarly in biomass power development, there is a huge requirement for developing the biomass supply chain through the increased cultivation, harvesting, raw material processing, etc and it will require a large workforce as well as sustainable mechanization. If we opt for large-scale manufacturing of renewable energy equipment such as wind turbines and solar PVs, we will be able to gain a huge economic benefit. High-quality materials required for solar PVs are available in the country and research and training on value addition of these local resources are to be conducted at university level. We definitely need an integrated renewable energy development programme at national level.

Renewable energy development projects have been implemented in the range from 1 MW to 10 MW. By implementing larger scales such as 100 MW, it will be possible to attract high-end renewable energy investor companies to our country whereby it will be able to have the most sophisticated technologies at most competitive rates and this type of international investment will be a boon to the overall economic development of the country. Measures must be taken to develop large-scale projects including energy parks, such as those in Siyambalanduwa, Mannar, and Pooneryn etc.

In this context, the SLSEA is currently taking measures to streamline the programmes in renewable energy development. Accordingly, steps are being taken to identify suitable lands for the development of different renewable energy resources such as solar, wind and biomass in different parts of the country. Scrublands belonging to the State which are not suitable for agriculture and other purposes are expected to be utilized for commencing energy projects initially in the North Central Province.

According to State Minister Duminda Dissanayake, under the proposed renewable energy development plan, a considerable percentage of renewable energy will be added to the national grid each year for achieving the targets. He emphasized that in the same way the commissioning of Laxapana hydropower plant happened to be a historic turning point in the country’s electricity development story, the emergence of the Mannar wind power electricity plant is going to be a turning point for the next 70 years.

There should be a regulatory mechanism for supervising the renewable energy development programmes. Renewable energy service agencies are mushrooming, some of which may vanish within a very short period thus putting the customers into serious difficulties. Such a situation may drive the public away from renewable energy due to uncertainty. “We have focused special attention to save the people from such bogus or fake renewable supply energy providers,” State Minister Duminda Dissanayake emphasized.

Dissanayake explaining the plans to the Daily News emphasized that now the Mannar wind power system has been commissioned, there was a possibility to transmit renewable electricity to India via Dhanushkody in South India, a distance of 18 Km from Talaimannar, along the Adam’s Bridge, a sand deposit in the shallow Indian Ocean. He revealed that under the first phase of Mannar renewable energy electricity project, 103 MW will be produced and under its second phase, another 300 MW electricity would be generated.

Also from the proposed Pooneryn hybrid renewable energy park, 240 MW and 150 MW from wind and solar systems will be generated. Construction work will be completed within another year.

“As a move to inspire the low-income group families depending on Samurdhi benefits, we are planning to encourage 100,000 such beneficiaries to take to roof top solar energy generation,” the State Minister stated.

Apart from this, special attention is being focused on the use of Gliricidia plant for generating electricity on a large scale. The target is to grow Gliricidia in 100,000 acres in Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Moneragala and Ampara to be used for renewable energy development projects. This plant is capable of withstanding extreme climate and weather conditions and could also be used as a protein-rich animal feed and as an organic fertilizer for other crops.

The first Gliricidia-based thermal energy electricity generation plant was commissioned in 2012 in a remote village called Labunoruwa in the Thirappane DS division in Anuradhapura. The biomass energy plant was invested by Helios Thirappane Bio Power Project (PVT) Ltd through Helios Renewable energy (PVT) Ltd, India under the patronage of Thirappane-based Human and Community Development Youth Organization. At the commencement, the plant began to feed 500 KW to the national grid. The cost incurred for the project was US$ 3.5 million and the starting capacity was 2.5 MW. Although it was planned to open five similar plants in Galenbidunuwewa, Mahavilachchiya, Horowpathana, and Kahatagasdigiliya it was not realized. For feeding the Labunoruwa renewable energy plant, 2,000 farmers were facilitated to grow a million of Gliricidia plants in Thirappane under the guidance of the Agriculture Ministry. The programme now seems to have been abandoned by the investors. The SLSEA is exploring the possibility of reviving this abandoned renewable energy generation plant.

J. Karunarathne, a civil and electrical engineer emphasized that cinnamon firewood is a very efficient and reliable biofuel for electricity generation similar to Gliricidia. He indicated that the extent of cinnamon cultivation in Sri Lanka covers 8,000 acres and is being expanded further.

State Minister Duminda Dissanayake emphasized that the SLSEA is engaged in preparing the National Renewable Energy Resources Development Plan to be in the Government gazette under the provisions of SLSEA Act No 35 of 2007. The National Plan would be submitted to the President, Prime Minister and Power and Energy Ministers for review. “This is going to be an important process as a considerable percentage of renewable energy has to be added to the national grid each year until 2050 to achieve the goal of self-sufficiency in renewable energy-based electricity.” He emphasized that the Government is inviting the public-private joint ventures in the field of renewable energy sources development.