Applying Brakes on solar energy utilization is not the solution for sustainable development of Sri Lanka
Posted on August 2nd, 2019

By IM Dharmadasa, Leslie Dep, Jayantha Silva, Lakshman Dissanayake and Oliver Ileperuma

August 2, 2019, 8:47 pm 


According to the news items in the local press during the first week of June 2019, the “Surya Bala Sangramaya” programme launched in 2016 seems to be on the verge of collapse. The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and the Ministry of Power & Energy (MPE) officials have decided not to approve rooftop PV connections over 50 kW capacities until further notice and they are planning to build four new coal power plants.

At present those who produce solar energy under the “Net Plus” scheme are paid Rs. 22 per unit for the first seven years and Rs.15.50 for the next 13 years by the CEB. Therefore, the average lifecycle cost of solar electricity is about Rs. 18 per unit. Reports say that the Ministry officials have been pressing producers of renewable energy to reduce their prices further. However, CEB pays Rs. 30-45 for “emergency” power purchasing from private companies which operate on thermal fossil fuel imported to the country.

On behalf of the Sri Lankan general public and the many professionals who live in Sri Lanka and overseas, the authors of this article would like to raise several key questions on this unwise decision detrimental to the development of renewable energy utilization in Sri Lanka in future. This type of ad-hoc decisions would inevitably lead to the “reversal” of the sustainable energy initiatives taken by Sri Lanka so far in complying with the UN Sustainable Development Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. In accordance with this goal, one of the best nationally important decisions implemented by the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) from 2016 is the “Surya Bala Sangramaya” programme aimed at installing solar panels on roof tops of one Million households. This very important initiative created over 10,000 direct and indirect jobs in many state institutions and private sector companies. To date over 17,000 PV solar systems have been installed all over the country and totalling about 200 MW solar energy capacity had been connected to the National Grid. This was a very impressive beginning for Sri Lanka as per the UN-SD goals. However, due to these most recent ad-hoc policy changes by CEB and MPE, what we see now is that instead of accelerating and expanding this major sustainable development programme, the CEB and MPE is planning to jeopardise this successful and the right programme affecting the country’s future in developing renewable energy and also seriously damaging the sustainable development efforts in Sri Lanka.

We would like to question the CEB and the MPE, the reasons for taking these decisions which would prevent the production of clean renewable energy in the country. These decisions would also create economic disaster in the long run.

While every country in the world is moving forward in implementing UN-SD goals on sustainable and environmentally friendly energy sources for the interest of our present and future generations, our policy makers appear to be interested in reversing this trend for whatever short term gains.

These decision makers appear to be living with their heads buried in the sand without learning from the global trend towards renewable energy development. Solar energy conversion depends on advanced technologies and the initial high-cost has been a barrier in the past. In early 1970s, about U$100 was needed to produce 1.0 Watt of solar energy (~100 U$ per Watt). However, as a result of worldwide research and development, this figure has come down to about 0.4 U$ per Watt today and solar energy has reached on par with grid-parity in several sunny-countries.

The “Solar Energy Revolution” is happening around the globe and even countries with comparatively low sun-shine are producing tremendous amount of clean energy from PV solar technology. For example, Germany produces 42.3 GW, Italy produces 19.6 GW and UK produces 12.8 GW today from PV solar. The worldwide total installation capacity is over 500 GW, but Sri Lanka with abundant sunshine having only about 3 GW total power production capacity is going backwards by considering above mentioned unwise decisions apparently by few self interested individuals. One of their favourite arguments is that more solar power at non-peak hours cannot be handled by the National Grid. However, many countries have found ways and means of overcoming these issues and in Germany over 50% of the energy comes from renewable energy sources today. There are several research programmes undertaken by many countries in developing solar energy as a major renewable energy source and Sri Lanka could work with these countries in gaining the necessary technology to make our country self-sufficient with renewable energy without depending on imported coal as the main source of supplying energy. It appears that the decision makers in the CEB and the Ministry would never learn from the rest of the world in how they are getting rid of coal for generating power and they are planning to continue to produce electricity in the future by burning expensive and imported fossil fuel (Coal, Oil & Gas). They have completely disregarded the “Clean Air Act” and carry on to continue polluting of our atmosphere further by building four more coal power plants.

We are now experiencing the Smog (Smoke + Fog) in Sri Lanka, never observed before mainly due to carbon particulates emitted to the atmosphere due to burning of coal and other fossil fuel. This will create respiratory conditions not good for the health of the general public and it is high time to generate our future energy encouraging renewable energy solutions without polluting our air atmosphere. The fine particles produced are responsible not only for respiratory illnesses but are now known to cause stroke, cancer and a plethora of other health problems.

Smog (smoke+fog=smog) due to air pollution completely covering the Galgiriya Kanda close to Galgamuwa in January/February time. This has been observed in Sri Lanka for the first time in the last 70 years due to air pollution. In the past this type of occurrences happened only in cities like Beijing & New Delhi due to burning of coal.

Air pollution is the leading cause of ischemic heart disease and premature deaths of children worldwide. Indirectly it affects the economic situation of the country too as treating the affected people will cost millions of rupees. CEB policy makers seem to ignore these effects and MPE approves these damaging policies without any consideration the damage it makes to the environment. It is the duty of everyone responsible to wake up to these damaging decisions and act soon to direct the country in the right direction.

The news items also reported that during a meeting, the Minister of Power and Energy had said that plans were underway to introduce a completely new tariff system for roof top solar consumers. This is a good opportunity to increase the payments for clean energy production in the country. As an example, in April 2010, the UK government introduced an incentive by a double payment of 43.5 pence per solar energy unit, against the cost of less than 20 pence charges for the electricity usage from the grid. This sensible policy led to the installation of over one Million solar roofs during the past eight years, thereby increasing the total solar energy production capacity to 12.8 GW in 2019.

Learning from such success stories, we would expect that the Sri Lankan government would also increase the solar tariff at least to match Rs. 30-45 payments during emergency power purchase rather than reducing the renewable energy tariffs. Any solar tariff reduction will appear to the Sri Lankan general public as a foolish decision by the CEB and the MPE and would lead to a detrimental situation in the renewable energy sector, going against the UN-SD goals for which Sri Lanka has a responsibility to adhere to.

In the 1980s, there were over 600 coal mines in the United Kingdom, but these were gradually closed down and the last coal mine was closed in 2018. This is due to the severe pollution of environment and to protect people from the damaging climate change effects. When a major coal producing country takes this kind of right actions, Sri Lankan general public is puzzled by the coal addiction of CEB and their plan to build few more coal power plants utilising imported coal. We should make use of the already operating coal power plants, without building new plants, until the country establish a clean energy technology-mix to produce our required energy. Coal usage should be gradually phased out as the other indigenous and clean energy production increases within the country. The long term goal should be for Sri Lanka to become a “Renewable Energy Island” dependent largely on hydro, solar, wind, bio-mass and other renewable energy sources.

Fossil fuel has done a good job of developing only two thirds of the world population to a certain degree. However, this Carbon-economy has also polluted the environment creating severe problems like global warming and other climate changes including wide spread health related issues. These are well established facts and the whole world is moving away from carbon-economy to achieve a carbon-neutral economy and finally to a hydrogen-economy. It is anticipated that the future energy will generate from burning of hydrogen produced by splitting water using freely available solar and wind energy. Sri Lanka should move forward with this trend rather than going backwards introducing policies which could damage the environment and people’s health.

Some of the authors of this article have carried out extensive research on solar cells and solar energy conversion over past many years. We were actively promoting renewable energy applications in Sri Lanka starting from the early 1990s. With the help of a Higher Education-Link programme, continued over a period of eight years, and several other similar programmes, professionals in Sri Lanka and local universities continue to promote clean energy applications within the country. At least six international conferences were organised in Sri Lanka to discuss solar energy research and to promote solar energy applications.

We have experienced in the past that numerous negative actions taken by the CEB against the successful implementation of the renewable energy policy all the way through. Just to remind a few examples; CEB drew a grid line through “Pansiyagama at Malsiripura” to jeopardise an early stage 500 solar home systems installed in the late 1980s. More recently in 2017, it took about 8 months to receive the first payment for the 6.0 kW solar roof installed at Nochchiya solar village under the “Net Plus” system, sponsored by the two UK based charities, APSL-UK (Association of Professional Sri Lankans in the UK) and Hela Sarana. The project leaders had to write to the CEB chairman several times and finally after appealing through the Prime Minister’s office in Colombo the first payment was made, which is used to develop the village community via humanitarian projects.

Therefore, the Sri Lankan professionals are fully aware of this type of negative attitude of CEB towards the renewable energy development, and we consider that the current decisions are also such actions to prevent and discourage in implementing solar power projects. While condemning the arbitrary and adhoc actions of the CEB to limit solar roof installations, we request the CEB and the Ministry officials to take the correct decisions in the name of the future generations of this country. At the same time, Ministry of Power and Energy should take correct decisive actions and instruct CEB officials to consider the long-term benefits to the country and not short term gains by purchasing power at exorbitant rates from the private sector.

Authors: IMD -Professor of Electronic Engineering & Ex-President of APSL-UK (2009 – 2011).

LD – Professor Emeritus (Physics), University of Peradeniya, & Research Professor, NIFS.

OI – Professor Emeritus (Chemistry), University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka.

LD – Chartered Surveyor / Civil Engineer & Ex-President of APSL-UK (2013 – 2015).

JS – Mechanical Engineer & President of Hela Sarana UK Registered Charity in UK.

2 Responses to “Applying Brakes on solar energy utilization is not the solution for sustainable development of Sri Lanka”

  1. Ananda-USA Says:

    I agree wholeheartedly that Solar Energy should be ENCOURAGED by favorable energy purchase rates by the government, and simpliying the permitting process.

    In particular ROOF-TOP Solar should be promoted to enable DUAL-USE of land in our DENSELY POPULATED country running short of buildable and farmable land. What better serves our citizens than giving them the opportunity to EARN MONEY by using their GREATYEST ASSET, their home, to derive an INCOME?

    Moreover, this will create a large number of well paid jobs for installers and repairers, create small companies to engage in this business, and create a novel loan portfolio for banks funding those projects.

    To INCENTIVIZE this industry, the government should MANDATE solar energy purchases at a rate much higher than fossil-generated electricity, create low-interestr loan programs for home and business owners to be able to afford Roof-Top Solar systems, and create TAX-DEDUCTIONS or TAX-CREDITS to jump start the industry. That is how governments act in developed coutries to wean their economies away from polluting fossil energy generation.

    We Sri Lankans should follow suit.

    Given these MULTIPLE NO-BRAINER BENEFITS, why does to government work against Solar Energy Production in Sri Lanka.

    I think there are TWO REASONS:

    1. BRIBES are more easily obtained from large power plant and fossil-fuel supply contracts, by government officials in charge AT ALL LEVELS of government. This situation has become FAR WORSE with the DESHADROHI YAMAPALANA GOVERNMENT that views the people and the country they are legally bound to serve as a source of funds to be RIPPED OFF AT WILL! To HELL with the Nation, they say!

    2. The CEB worker base is afraid of encouraging DISTRIBUTED POWER GENERATION that could reduce the DOMINANCE of CEB Power Plants they hold captive, and ADVERSELY IMPACT THEIR JOB SECURITY. They are READY to STRIKE against the implementation of ALL SUCH PROJECTS and POLICIES! To HELL with the Nation they say!

    Both of these REASONS can be ELIMINATED only if a DESHAPREMI EFFECTIVE GOVERNMENT is ELECTED SOON by the people, banishing the UNP and its YAMAPALANAYA to IRRELEVANCE.

    Gothabhaya Rajapaksa is the ONLY MAN who can solve these probems! Let us, the Patriots of Lanka, do everything we can to ELECT Gothabhaya Rajapaksa as PRESIDENT of Sri Lanka, and a DESHAPREMI Pohottuwa Government by an ELECTORAL LANDSLIDE!! There is NO OTHER WAY!

  2. Nimal Says:

    I had 66 panels on my building in Kandy connected to the grid by net metering system but the corrupt rascals in the CEB removed it 3 years ago in our para darmishta hell hole of a country. We need the colonial types to bring back good governance.
    Country and even the people are rotten to the core.Politicans are the ones leading the corrupt system and we should rise up like in Sudan.

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