By Surya Vishwa
Colombo, July 9, (DailyFT/Harmony Page): A fortnight ago the Weekend FT published in this page an article dedicated to invention and innovation in the current context of this nation. We spoke of the countless efforts by Sri Lankans (in the past and present) to develop their country and highlighted the lack of support they received. We drew attention to a macro national solar energy development plan which Sri Lankan Engineer Harsha Kumar Suriyarachchi had conceptualised way back in 2020; based on an integrated vision to launch Sri Lanka on its journey of energy independence by 2025.
In researching the efforts of diverse others to steer Sri Lanka towards renewable energy in the past years we spoke to those such as Engineer Kamal Perera who heads the Renewable Energy Development branch of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), Engineer Ajith Alwis who currently heads phase 03 of the Mannar, Mullikulam wind power project of the CEB and Professor (Eng.) G. Senarathne, President of the Graduate Institute of Science and Management who had previously taught telecommunication and electronics related subjects at the Massey University in New Zealand.
Engineer Kamal Perera of the Renewable Energy Development branch of the CEB stated that in 2020, following several phases of different evaluations over the past years on shifting Sri Lanka to renewable energy, a proposal had been submitted by the CEB, based on their research, looking at strategic adaptation to solar, wind and hydro based energy. The main stumbling block in this regard had been the Cabinet non-approval when the tender related documents were submitted. Subsequently the COVID-19 virus situation had thwarted any active follow up on the matter. He called upon all policymakers and authorities concerned to become familiar with Sri Lanka’s diverse efforts to prioritise alternatives to fossil energy and make a detailed study of why these plans did not take off.
Engineer Ajith Alwis points out that the CEB undertaken, in the year 1992, a scientific study on renewable energy and that around the years of 2009 and 2010 solar energy was focused upon in Hambantota when the cost of generating 1 MegaWatt (a unit of electrical power equal to one million watts) was $ 4 million. By the year 2015 the cost had dwindled to about less than $ 2 million and by 2020 to $ 0.6 million proving that capital expenditure for installing solar systems have reduced drastically and hence exceedingly feasible.
He laments Sri Lanka’s failure to introduce a viable national renewable energy transition policy framework (that would actually get implemented and not sit in the drawer of some official).
He emphasises how a national shift to solar energy would entirely change the entire energy system of the country, including fossil fuel dependent transport and domestic energy requirements and thereby completely economically transform Sri Lanka and free the nation from the shackles of poverty.
“Needless to say Sri Lanka would have been a certain paradise if we had such a plan soon after independence but at least five years ago if this was done through a clear policy decision, with equally clear understanding by policymakers concerned, Sri Lanka would not be in the current state it is in,” says Eng. Alwis. He explains that a policy is not just about having a document with elaborate sentences but rather a writ of clarity of what a country wants to achieve and with a clear timeline, plan and knowledge of how to reach that goal.
Engineer Alwis is one of the CEB officials familiar with the detailed macro document/presentation of Eng. Harsha Suriyarachchi (an engineer not connected to CEB) linking job creation, environment protection, pollution minimisation, industrialisation and the overall economic revolution that would occur through a national plan to use renewable energy focusing primarily on solar.
Prof. (Eng.) G. Senarathne of the Graduate Institute of Science and Management points out that a key reason Sri Lanka has not developed is because of the warped psyche of corruption where national projects are seen as routes to earn through commissions.
“If Sri Lanka had a mechanism where national policymaking was linked to the professional sphere there are many who would have contributed,” he states, opening that the document on the national solar policy and national economic transformation by Eng. Harsha Suriyarachchi is technically sound. One of the ‘issues’ cited by the government minister responsible for the subject had been the difficulty of adaptation and grid transition to solar energy which Prof. Senaratne and other engineering professionals explain as a basic reality that any such project will have to practically accommodate. Meanwhile independent research on the reactions of different government ministers in the past few years to alternate non-fossil energy pointed to progressive and well-researched steps initiated by Dullas Allahaperuma when he was Minister of Power for the one year time period from August 2020 to 2021, until his portfolio was abruptly changed. He had proposed the setting up of a dedicated entity for the promotion of renewable energy to ensure that the unnecessary red tape is removed.
The rest of this article is based on the details of the economic development based document by Eng. Harsha Kumar Suriyarachchi on transforming Sri Lanka through a national policy transition to solar energy. Efforts will be made in the next few months to research on the hitherto unknown initiatives within CEB and other institutions to propel Sri Lanka into renewable energy. Success stories of minor scale wind and solar based energy projects around Sri Lanka that have been carried out will be featured and this newspaper will also look at holistic integrated initiatives that could take place through the entire nation collectively and creatively becoming conscious of our needless dollar guzzling dependency on fossil energy resources of other faraway nations.
One key purpose is to enable the current Minister of Investment, Dhammika Perera to take the necessary initiatives considering all the efforts taken by the CEB and others in this regard.
“The complete transition to 100% renewable energy that will revolutionise the transport system and create new industries will need five years. Despite the changes from 2020 to now, the project is feasible and its necessity directly felt now by every citizen,” states Suriyarachchi.
The concept of his technically and economically feasible proposal is to utilise the solar power fall on each household and collectively utilise for the full energy requirement of the country including transport. Conversion of the transport sector to being electric centric is doubly important as about 10-25% of batteries would be used to supply the night time power demand.
The concept of this island-wide rooftop solar project will revolutionarily distribute the income earned among all the citizens of the country, instead of diverting the entire income to a few foreign and local tycoons.
He points out that from roof top (houses alone) => 30,000-60,000 MW capacity is available for solar generation and emphasises that Silica is available locally for manufacturing the solar cells. He cites the local production of the initially needed 1.0 million inverters per year would bring down the cost of a 5 kW inverter to around 125,000 and the 5 kW rooftop solar system costing as per the scale of the production is 1.0 million systems per year encompassing cabling, switches, meters, earthing, connections and structure. The labour cost of enabling the 5 kW system is around Rs. 250,000 and the target price of 5 kW system Rs. 400,000.
“Initial cost per house owner is Rs. 400,000 as per instalment on loan by government/investor and the gradual saving per household is Rs. 5,500 per month according to the way we have made the overall costing in 2020,” says Suriyarachchi. The investment requirement at a minimum level is not vast as per foreign currency calculation as per global perspectives, but although the writer is aware of the amounts projected in the above mentioned report, the publication of it at this point has been withheld for different reasons.
Suriyarachchi states that the costing was done on a reasonable analysis considering ongoing global pricing and that the cost analysis was based on setting up high scale manufacturing plants in Sri Lanka. To remind the size of scale, setting up solar power systems on 5 million households is a massive 3,000-5,000 MW s per year which he opines as exceeding the entire CEB’s future prediction of demand for 2030.
He further states that CEB’s prediction for 2025 is to supply 22,300 GWh = 22,300 million units.
He states as per his data that CEB’s loss as per the present scenario would stand at around Rs. 130 billion by 2025. However, he notes that if the proposed macro solar policy was adopted locally through a well-planned foreign investment scheme, the CEB would approximately earn around Rs. 145 billion in 2025.
The assumed transmission/distribution and facility cost estimated at 90 billion would be reduced, he adds. He notes that the entire country’s budget deficit in 2019 was Rs. 400 billion.
The job creation by the proposed national island-wide solar investment policy would be directly related to the installation of around 1.0 million rooftop solar systems per year, manufacturing of 3,000-5,000 MW of Solar PV panels per year manufacturing 1.5 million inverters per year, manufacturing batteries, manufacturing of cables and jobs associated with transport, security and training. The installation would be targeting 1.5 million households per year. For the installation of 1 million rooftop systems a year the need would be overall for 44,000 skilled labourers, 5,000 technical supervisors, 200 engineering assistants and 25 engineers.
Overall 50,000 new employment for installation is needed and another total of 17,500 employees which includes engineers, technicians and labourers. He further explains: “We are not talking about a 100% solar run grid (+ other renewables), but, say, a 500% solar run system as transportation and new industries too, to be running fully supported by solar energy. The grid therefore will mainly depend on switching and not on system inertia and spinning reserve to control the frequency change.”
“In addition to switching, there will be 1,500 MW of major hydro available to serve as spinning reserve and system inertia during the day time. Since the solar generation is scattered all over the country, sudden fluctuations due to cloud cover and climatic conditions will be minimal,” Eng. Harsha Kumar Suriyarachchi explains.
We pointed out in the last article that renewable energy resources are all around us in Sri Lanka abundantly (which does not ruin the health of humans or the planet) or make us so deplorably dependent on fossil based energy resources of other countries.
If the renewable energy this country has been blessed with had been harnessed through a national policy for 74 years we would have had a truly independent Sri Lanka and not a nation that has been put into a state of perpetual ‘in dependence.’ Economic stability and global respect as a well-managed country would have been our reality if Sri Lankan leaders had learnt the basics of how to negotiate investment centric diplomacy (as opposed to the corruption steeped, visionless, lethargic existence of seven decades which has to date has resorted us to begging bowl diplomacy).
As we had highlighted last week, seeking investment for a national solar policy does not mean that we sell lock, stock and barrel, the sun like the way we have done with the rest of the resources of our country. Harnessing sunlight, a natural resource amply available in Sri Lanka for our national energy needs means that Sri Lanka should have long ago developed a national solar energy investment policy. This means a national policy giving priority to Lankan origin investors and secondary to foreign investors keeping intact locally the earning from this resource, and in a manner that the investor benefits in a reasonable manner.
Thus the route to transforming Sri Lanka from its current bankrupt status is to develop a national solar investment and transition policy, action plan and timeline. It is important for the general public to be aware of what such decisions would and should mean to the people.
The range of inventions that can come up in a macro system of electricity generation through solar power is limitless, and we will be in the weeks to come focusing on Sri Lanka’s trampled upon and thwarted inventions and innovations.