Power crunch and renewables future | Daily News

Power crunch and renewables future

The current energy crisis is more of a crisis in the media than a real crisis, considering that there have been minimal power outages so far. The energy sector shortfall also has to be looked at from a positive perspective, however. The renewables sector has been rejuvenated due to the current energy crunch, and that is one upside that nobody seems to have bargained for.

It is fair to say that if we did not have this current energy sector situation, we should have tried our best to create it.

That is right — because even if we did not have an energy crunch as we are experiencing at the moment, it would have been good to pretend we did, because the renewables sector getting its act together is one direct result of an energy scare of any kind such as we are experiencing.

The solar energy sector in Sri Lanka in particular has so much potential but is performing below par. One reason most folk do not opt for the solar alternative, is the currently rather steep initial outlay. This is a result of the private sector not being innovative enough in devising ways to keep initial costs of domestic solar-generation down to reasonable levels.

But with the energy scare, a high demand for alternate sources has been created, as a result of which solar energy equipment providers have seen the opportunity to step up their game.

There is also the inertia among consumers that has to be dealt with. Users of electricity at the domestic level have been too comfortable with a regular supply of power from the national grid.

Why would they look for alternatives — even if these are cheaper — when they feel that there is a regular assured supply which is not too expensive either, even though they would dearly wish their monthly bills were slightly more affordable? The consumers do not care how much excess power they could shed for the benefit of the national grid if they have solar power at home.

In any event that type of narrative has not gained traction in the community at large, because Sri Lankans probably are too interested in politics and gossip-politics to let important matters such as power generation interrupt their daily conversations at the office water cooler, or by the curbside cafe.

Now that there is an energy crisis — due to the pandemic — of the likes that we have probably not seen for a long time, the alternative power narrative among community elites has taken hold. Instead of talking about the latest gossip with regard to goings on among favourite political enemies — or talking about their sugar levels, or their blood pressure — another favourite water-cooler topic, people are getting used to having serious conversations about alternate power sources that they could rely on at home for a dependable power supply of the type they have been used to all their lives.

This is the ‘crisis’ we have been waiting for. It is as if even those who are totally uninterested in Climate Change started taking an interest when they were told that charging their cars may be far cheaper than paying top dollar at the pump for petrol.

This is what has happened in the Western world, which by and large did not care for the warnings about Climate Change until the people living in Western countries realized that the world may be running out of fuel sooner rather than later. No, they were not worried about the Carbon footprint they leave due to indiscriminate use of fossil fuels to power their cars, or to keep their yachts afloat and running.

But, they certainly pricked up their ears when told that fossil fuels are a finite resource. In any event they were getting the idea when prices at the pump were going up because as they were told, there was less crude being imported from the traditional suppliers due to — among other things — lack of new oil prospecting success stories.

All this shows that wherever the facts may be, necessity knows no law, and that it is easier to get people interested in lifestyle choices that have become imperative, if they felt that they were running out of alternatives fast.

The current power crisis may not be as severe as some in the Opposition make it out to be, but Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila who always warns of an impending power outage situation — sporadic power cuts — may, if he is not deliberately hoping to light a fire under the feet of those businessmen who deal in alternative energy sources, be having the unintended effect of getting some entrepreneurs geared for a renewables-based future soon.

Sometimes Gammanpila speaks as if he is not within ranks of the governing regime, but his voice cannot be termed a dissenting one. Rather, it is better termed an alternative voice because he seems to always provoke people to think, despite the assurances that there is business as usual from his colleagues. This as far as governance is concerned these days, may be just what the doctor ordered.

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