Problem of so-called unreliability of solar and wind energy
Posted on March 5th, 2022

Chandre Dharmawardana

This alleged ‘unreliability of solar and wind energy’ is a matter brought up repeatedly by the CEB, and was also brought up by even knowledgeable commentators, like Dr. Kumar David, a professor of electrical engineering. The unreliability exists if you rely on the sun shining on one or two large installations.

But, if you have a system consisting of many solar energy installations scattered all over the country, one can be sure that even if the sun is not shining in Mannar, it may be shining in Moneragala or Hambantota or somewhere else. If they are all connected to the grid, the electricity produced at Mannar or Moneragala is available almost instantly, and everywhere, as electricity flows nearly at the speed of light.

The average daylight fluctuations can be determined by looking at daylight data, which Priyantha Hettige must also address.

The most detailed data sets on daylight in Sri Lanka are (unsurprisingly) ‘not’ available in Sri Lanka, but are available at National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Colorado, USA. The data is collected by US satellites and is updated every 10 minutes or so. The data is accessible to external scientists.

Dr. Dave Renner, head of one of the Renewable Energy Departments at NREL, and his team, have also studied solar energy viability for Sri Lanka and the Maldives and concluded that there is excellent potential. I have studied their report and extracted from it for one of my replies to Dr. Kumar David on the so-called ‘unreliability’ of solar energy.

Moreover, Dr. Renner and his team designed the computer software for Hawaii, a tropical island where solar energy fluctuations are in many ways similar to that of Sri Lanka. The software is used for computer control of load-shedding and load-mounting required to deal with any fluctuations when incorporating solar energy into the grid. Hawaii is smaller than Sri Lanka, and hence even a distributed system is not scattered widely enough and consequently, such software is crucial to distributing solar energy on the grid.

The CEB does not have significant IT or AI capability and still uses hand-written schedules like those fit for a ‘baas-unnaehe’. The last time there was a blackout, the CEB had to admit that their technicians did not even have a written down operating protocol, let alone computer control, which is now standard in almost every part of the world.

It is imperative that the CEB be advised by a research arm that could instruct it on frontier technical matters, for example like the tea industry is advised by the Tea Research Institute. Now, after almost eight decades of power generation, the CEB does not have enough in-house competency to analyse even its own blackouts, and has to hire consultants from Canada and elsewhere!

Hawaii is rapidly integrating its solar installations with its main grid using such software, unlike in Sri Lanka where we try to find reasons not to use solar energy claiming that it is ‘not viable’, and go for ready-made but extremely costly solutions, like buying LNG, or pursue red herrings, such as dreaming about atomic energy.

Chandre Dharmawardana

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