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Sun may set on solar, industry warns

Solar Industry upset with the Government for not implementing over 600 planned projects

Photo: David Goehring / Flickr

Amid sporadic interruptions to the power supply despite emphatic assurances to the contrary, the solar power industry is crying foul at what it alleges is the government’s lethargic approach to implementing nearly 600 proposed solar power projects.

The Solar Industries Association (SIA), a collective of Sri Lankan solar entrepreneurs, today cited a delay on the part of the government in approving some 590 applications for solar power plants as a major contributing factor to the ongoing power crisis.

SIA Secretary Lakmal Fernando told RepublicNext that the proposed plants, had they been greenlit, could’ve added over 1.48 gigawatts of power to the national grid at a relatively low cost.

CEB unable to supply enough power from available sources

According to the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL), the demand for electricity in the country increases by about 200 megawatts per year. To meet this growing demand, particularly in the face of hydro-electricity taking a sizeable hit from the prevailing drought conditions, the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) has resorted to acquiring power from privately owned power plants through emergency power purchase agreements (PPA), at exorbitant rates – the cost of which is borne by the consumer.

“The debate was that the tarif offered to renewable energy was too high. But they’re paying Rs. 32 for diesel energy power [through emergency PPAs]. If that is the case, they should reduce the high cost power sources first. Solar averages about Rs. 18 per kilowatt hour. For the first seven years, it’s Rs. 22 per unit. Beyond that, from the 13th to the 20th year, you only have to pay Rs. 15.50,” said Fernando.

“All other energy sources are tied to dollar inflation and other conditions that will always result in prices going up. For solar and other renewable energy sources, it’s a flat tariff in rupees. What costs Rs. 18 today, in 20 years won’t be worth even Rs. 5. This is the best way forward for the country,” he added, highlighting the impact of non-renewable sources on the balance of payments as well as the environment.

Advantage of Solar Power is obvious

While the long term economic and environmental dividends of solar energy are obvious, there is a question of feasibility. Sri Lanka also lacks any solar power plants with storage capacity. Asked about the practicality of large scale implementation of solar in Sri Lanka, Fernando insisted that though the inevitable switch to 100% renewable is a long way away, the time is ripe for promoting the use of solar in the country.

“Solar is not even 1% of the grid. There will be a time to curtail; but now is not the time for that. Now we should promote the industry, and engage more investors in the industry. It’s also simple economics. For every kilowatt hour you don’t produce, the loss to the country is 0.60 USD. That’s Rs. 117 per kilowatt hour. Who’s going to be accountable for this?” he said, calling for a combination of renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind.

Stressing the need for adding more plants to the grid to keep up with the demand, Fernando called on the government to fast track the process of approving the proposed solar plants, currently languishing at the Sustainable Energy Authority level. These are in addition to five separate projects which are part of the PUCSL’s Low Cost Long Term Generation Expansion Plan which has yet to see the light of day.

“Our target for 50% renewable is 2030. At the rate we’re developing, we won’t get there even by 2050. If we are to do that, we have to keep adding 300-400MW of solar, and 200-300 MW of wind to the grid every year,” he said.

Stressing the need for adding more plants to the grid to keep up with the demand, Fernando called on the government to fast track the process of approving the proposed solar plants, currently languishing at the Sustainable Energy Authority level. These are in addition to five separate projects which are part of the PUCSL’s Low Cost Long Term Generation Expansion Plan which has yet to see the light of day.

Fernando also appealed to patriotism, pointing out that the applicants for power plants are all Sri Lankan entrepreneurs offering capacities between 0.36MW to 5MW, as opposed to multi-billion dollar multinationals.

“Not a single power plant has come up since 2015. Don’t keep these things in your closets. Bring them out, and get the investors to work on them. These investors are not multinationals, They’re all local entrepreneurs. The money will stay in the country. They’ll add value to the community,” he said.