A solution ‘burning’ in the sky
Posted on September 8th, 2016

Editorial Courtesy The Island

The government has embarked on an ambitious project to tap solar energy as part of its strategy to avert a looming power crisis. Addressing the media at the Sri Lanka Foundation in Colombo, Minister of Power and Renewable Energy Ranjith Siyambalapitiya said, the other day, that the government project, Surya Bala Sangramaya, would convert one million rooftops to solar power plants and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) would buy the extra solar power generated by each and every household. This kind of strategic planning is long overdue.

Our experience, however, is that many a pair of shoes is worn out between saying and doing where politicians and their promises are concerned. We hope this particular ministerial pledge will be carried out.

Even before the government launched its solar power project to encourage the public to opt for clean energy, they must have been wondering whether the CEB was doing its damnedest to promote that option, given the frequent blackouts and brownouts throughout the country. In some areas of the Colombo District, power cuts are slapped haphazardly and the customers are kept in the dark as to the real causes thereof. A couple of months ago all generators meant for domestic use were sold out thanks to prolonged, countrywide power cuts. The CEB is notorious for being swayed by various lobbies promoting different types of power generation. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told Parliament on Wednesday he was informed that some CEB engineers preferred coal to LNG in generating power. So, the possibility of a section of the CEB technical staff promoting commercial interests on the sly through frequent disruptions to the power supply cannot be ruled out.

The CEB strategy of meeting the national power requirement reminds us of what the late President J. R. Jayewardene, unable to ensure national security, once said. He shifted the onus of ensuring public security to the people themselves by declaring they had to look after their own security—thamunge arakshawa thamunma bala ganna one.

Power and Renewable Energy Deputy Minister Ajith Perera has told the media that the public will have to buy solar panels and inverters without depending on the CEB or the government. There lies the rub. The state has to make a meaningful intervention to incentivise the public to take to solar power generation if the government project is to reach fruition.

Everything associated with solar power generation needs to be exempted from taxes at a time the government is struggling to cope with the increasing demand for electricity. There is no way any technology can be popularised, however clean and favourable to the country it may be, unless it is made affordable and freely available. The solar energy installation costs remain prohibitive. True, private and state banks have come forward to offer loan facilities and the CEB customers are in a position to buy solar panels and pay their loans through the additional income they receive through the supply of extra solar power they generate to the national grid. But, the government ought to ensure that the interest rates on loans for solar panels are slashed to encourage more and more people to wean themselves from the consumption of extremely costly and harmful thermal power.

Meanwhile, the solar power generation project, which, we repeat, is the way forward, is still at nascent stages due to various factors including the high costs and people’s reluctance to take risks. It will be years before the country is in a position to unleash its full potential to tap solar energy. Therefore, the government’s pursuit of this goal through its Surya Bala Sangramaya should not be at the expense of the CEB’s short and medium term generation plans if the power crisis is not to be precipitated.

13 Responses to “A solution ‘burning’ in the sky”

  1. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    In order to use Solar panels almost in every house, the authority should solve the following problems first;

    1. Solar panels and power inverters are extremely costly in Sri Lanka. When people cannot install a proper roof over their heads, how can they afford to buy at least 12 solar panels (120W each , each costs Rs30000) to generate sufficient electricity for their own consumption (5KVA inverter costs Rs170000)
    2. Normal solar panel system will not produce standby power in the event of power grid failure. Needs expensive battery back up to support standby power.
    3. Government should take initiative to manufacture modern affordable solar panels and power inverters locally with the help of Chinese technology and Chinese funding.

  2. Asanga Says:

    NMY,

    a solution to your point (1) was offered in the article above in the form of a suggestion to offer loans to households willing to adapt solar power. Also suggested is ‘selling’ energy back to the grid in order to offset part of the loan.

    Based on technology that exists currently, in the US, I believe the payback time is around 15 years max. Keep in mind that in the US, only some States receive the year round sunshine that we get in SL.

    (2), (3) I would agree with, but I can’t see the Chinese being nice to the Yahapalana gang, all that much.

    Where I currently live, Switzerland, out in the countryside you see rows and rows of farm houses and barns covered with solar panels (and some abandoned parking lots and building rooftops with solar panels in the cities). Their annual days of sunshine per year is definitely less than ours in Sri Lanka. And the Swiss are not known to be big spenders unless there is a definite return of investment.

    Also there are new companies that install solar panels on your houses for free for cut of the energy produced (i.e. for the amount fed back to the grid the solar company gets paid)-maybe that is also a good thing in SL.

  3. Fran Diaz Says:

    At last a glimmer of sanity has come out of the Yahap people !

    We hope that the GoSL will follow the German method of the govt paying a guaranteed price for 20 yrs to Solar power companies, thus encouraging waste land to be gainfully used.

    This is vastly encouraging thinking.
    I had given up all hope for Yahap earlier – but, may be now the country can work together going forward on the Economy.
    Hope this project too will not be messed up … ? Yahap has a talent for messing up even the good stuff.

  4. Susantha Wijesinghe Says:

    FRAN !! I don’t know whether you would remember me writing an article about four or five years back about Solar and Wind Power. I even referred to the Hunasgiriya GAP where the wind is so powerful, that I have seen with my own eyes, a cyclist getting thrown off his cycle and falling to the ground. I requested that Wind power could start from there as a starting point.
    Not a bugger cared two hoots for the suggestion. Politicians are on a daily basis planning how to fill their bloody pockets

    THERE ARE THREE THINGS THAT CAN PUT SRILANKA INTO SELF SUFFICIENCY:-

    1….FISHING. IF THE GOVERNMENT FORM MULTI PURPOSE CO-OPERATIVE SOCIETIES, GIVING FISHING BOATS TO UN-EMPLOYED GRADUATES, AND THUS PUTTING OUT ABOUT 3000 BOATS, SRILANKAN YOUTH CAN HAVE A GOOD INCOME, EXPORT EXCESS CATCH, AND EAT HEALTHY.

    2….AGRICULTURE. WE HAVE THE WATER, WE HAVE THE LAND, WE HAVE THE FARMERS. THE GOVERNMENT CAN ENCOURAGE THE FARMERS TO GROW FOOD CROPS, AND STOP IMPORTING AGRICULTURAL PRODUCE, WHICH WE CAN CONVENIENTLY GROW HERE, INSTEAD OF BOOSTING OTHER COUNTRIES FARMERS AND GIVING THEM EMPLOYMENT, INSTEAD OF OUR OWN FARMERS.

    3…. WIND AND SOLAR POWER. HARNESS ALL THE RESOURCES TO BE SELF SUFFICIENT IN ELECTICITY.

    THERE IS A VERY SIMPLE WAY. CONNECT THE WIND POWER TO TURN A 230VOLT ALTERNATOR, THAT WOULD PRODUCE ELECTRICITY. IAM NOT AN ELECTRICAL ENGINEER, BUT SOME KNOWLEDGABLE SOURCE CAN ADVICE ON THIS. THE ALTERNATORS CAN BE TURNED OUT IN SRILANKA, AND WILL BE A FLOURISHING COMPANY. LOVE TO HERE COMMENTS ON THIS SUGGESTION.

  5. Susantha Wijesinghe Says:

    IAM FORWARDING THIS TO A CLOSE FRIEND, A LEADING ELECTICAL ENGINEER IN SRI LANKA FOR HIS PERSONAL COMMENTS TO ME, WHICH I WOULD PUBLISH WITH HIS PERMISSION.

  6. Susantha Wijesinghe Says:

    GARWIN KARUNARATNE HAS WRITTEN ON THIS SUBJECT IN SEPTEMBER 2009, AND I ENDORSED HIS IDEAS.

  7. Fran Diaz Says:

    Susantha,

    Tell us about Wind power again.

    Solar Energy Panels can be put up on the roofs. Many articles on Do it Yourself for Solar Panels is there on the net – just Google !
    A friend tells me that the problem is storage of Solar energy. You will need to have batteries for storage during the day time for night time use.
    Of course, this energy can be sent at once to the National Grid for storage, and then you can use that energy in the & even night.
    In the daytime, this energy can be used straight away for air conditioning or cooking etc.

    ——-

    It is so sad that people have wars over oil as a source of energy, when RENEWABLE ENERGY is there in plenty from Solar, Wind & Sea waves (on going research).

  8. Susantha Wijesinghe Says:

    FRAN !! I am not an authority on WIND POWER. Wind Power can turn wheels which can be geared down to turn and activate, 230 Volt Alternators, which creates Electricity. I know about Alternators, as I sold them during my tenure as Manager, Walker & Greig Ltd, Kandy, and prior to that as Sales Manager, Walker & Greig Ltd, Colombo. I do not know why this aspect of Alternators, have not come up. I had a very small Alternator, which, when connected to a 12 Volt Battery from one side, gives 230 Volts from the other end. So Iam suggesting that instead of a 12 Volt Battery, that end could be turned with Wind Power. Iam waiting for a reply from my friend. Will get back after I hear from him.

  9. Fran Diaz Says:

    Susantha,

    Thank you !

  10. Susantha Wijesinghe Says:

    FRAN !! Google for 230 Volt 3 Kw Alternators, and you will see what I am talking about. Three Kilowatts, (Kw) is 3000 Watts, which means you can light 30 hundred Watt Bulbs. So far these Alternators are driven by Engines, Diesel, or Petrol. So what Iam suggesting is to use Wind Power instead of the Engine. To get the necessary RPM on the Alternator, the Wind Power, has to be synchronized with Gear Wheels, to get required maximum speed, RPM. That’s an Engineering Job. I am talking as a layman, and not as a Professional. What we are talking here, is to eliminate the use of Fuel.

  11. Susantha Wijesinghe Says:

    ALSO, THERE ARE SINGLE PHASE, AND THREE PHASE ALTERNATORS.

  12. Asanga Says:

    Susantha Fran and NMY,

    Another thing with respect to Batteries that people can look into is to purchase a system as a group- a set of neighbours or several farms for example. This way the cost of storage batteries can be less. Could also be an option when trying to harvest wind energy and storing it.

    If some enterprising soul can put his/her mind to it, maybe invest some money to build some Solar Backpacks- rucksacks with solar panels plus a small battery attached- and offer them to low income people and/or students to use as an extra source of income….Walk around in the sunshine, or even hanging out somewhere….juice up the battery, and go to a power center and discharge for a nominal fee….okay maybe that’s too impractical an idea, but there might be something that can come out of it, a Solar economy :)!

  13. Fran Diaz Says:

    Susantha & Asanga,

    I get the general idea of what you have written here.

    Good stuff ! Thanks.

    Keep ’em rolling !

    —–

    I read up a bit on Solar & Wind energy. Some farms use both, depending on their locations – Solar for day time and Wind for the night. Makes sense, as that eliminates the need for extra battery power for day time Solar energy.

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