With steady economic growth, the demand for energy is of paramount importance especially for a developing country like Sri Lanka. The national planners should give priority to energy security and formulate a national energy policy by identifying a sustainable energy mix keeping in mind the various growth sectors specially industry and services.
File phot shows a wind power plant being set up in Puttalam
The Central Bank of Sri Lanka in its 2009 Annual Report has given the total installed capacity of the Power Sector as 2683 Mega Watts (MW) with hydro power 1345 MW thermal 1285 MW, wind 3 MW and others including solar 12 MW. The two coal power plants at Norachcholi and Sampur will add to the installed capacity and will use coal as a non renewable energy source adding to emissions of large quantities of CO2 to the atmosphere contributing to global warming.
Out of the above installed capacity, hydro power and wind which are considered as renewable sources, account for 1288 MW. The hydro power generation is mainly dependent on the water in reservoirs basically under the multi purpose Mahaweli project. During periods of prolonged drought the generation of power is severely curtailed compelling the authorities to increase the thermal power generating capacity utilizing gas or oil.
There are two areas in the field of renewable energy that the national planners have not given serious thought -- namely wind and solar energy where there is a lot of potential.
Sri Lanka has not initiated a comprehensive study related to the potential of wind energy. About two decades ago on the initative of the United Nations ESCAP, a few wind turbines at Hambantota were established and I presume that this facility still produces about 3 MW of power. It is disheartening to note that this renewable energy potential was not given serious thought at that time and there was no follow up.
A report published by Greenpeace and the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) have indicated that by 2020 the wind energy capacity is projected to increase to 415 Giga Watts (GW) from the present capacity of 185 GW.
Global wind power has been dominated by three major markets - Europe, North America (US) and Asia (China and India). Commercial wind farms now operate in about 80 countries with many benefits for both developed and developing countries and include increased energy security, stable power prices, economic development attracting investment and creating jobs, reduced dependence on imported fuels, improved air quality and primarily Co2 emissions reductions thus combating climate change.
In order to carry out an indepth study on the potential for wind power in Sri Lanka it is best to emulate India. Total installed wind power capacity in India in 2010 is 12, 276 MW and is expected to increase to 24,026 MW by 2020. However it is projected that under an advanced scenario India could have as much as 75 GW of wind power in operation, supplying 183 TWh of electricity each year while employing almost 150,000 people in the sector and saving almost 173 million tons of CO2 emissions each year. Investment would then have reached a level of about US $ 10 billion per year.
The Indian Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) had estimated that there is a potential of around 90 GW for power generation from different renewable energy sources in the country - 48.5 GW of wind power 14.3 GW of small hydro power and 26.4 GW of biomass. A more recent wind atlas published by Centre for Wind Technology (CWET) in April 2010 estimated the resource potential at 49 130 MW. This was based on an assumed land availability of 2 % and 9 MW of installed wind power capacity per square kilometer.
Wind power projects have high upfront costs and it is expected that predominantly the private sector will be interested to invest as Private Public Partnerships (PPPs) or Build Operate and Transfer (BOT) after recouping the capital investment with a reasonable profit margin.
Feasibility studies for establishing wind farms will take into consideration the land area where turbines can be deployed. While most studies will rule out conservation areas, forests and urban sites, some types of agricultural lands are easily compatible.
Methodologies for assessing offshore wind resources differ in terms of underlying assumptions used. For practical reasons the maximum distance from shore, water depth, etc and environmental and regulatory considerations for example nature reserves, shipping lanes, etc have to be considered.
In order to carry out a techno-economic feasibility study in assessment of wind power potential in Sri Lanka, it is suggested that the Ministry of Energy should establish close contact with the MNRE and CWET in India.
It is also suggested that the Government should appoint a Task Force with the Ministry of Energy as the nodal point and comprising representatives from the CEB, Meteorology Department, Coast Conservation Department, NARA, Ministry of Agriculture, Forest and Wild Life Departments to identify potential areas for generation of wind energy and look into the economic feasibility of setting up wind farms. It is also suggested that the manufacturing of suitable turbines could be studied by mechanical engineering firms and the faculties of engineering in close collaboration with Suzlon Energy Ltd. in India which is one of the major global leaders in the wind power industry.
As regards to solar energy it must be stressed that the major raw material is silica quartz of high purity with over 99 % SiO2. High purity silica quartz is available in many parts of Sri Lanka and is presently mined by a few local companies and exported in the form of micronized powder or in chips with the minimum value addition to captive markets specially in Japan. Certain long standing miners of silica quartz have to supply to about three companies who say that they export with value addition while permits are issued by GSMB.
The silica quartz that is exported in the above form has excellent chemical and physical properties for manufacture of solar panels for generation of solar energy thus achieving maximum value addition.
It is proposed that the Government should impose a moratorium on exports of silica quartz until the feasibility of producing solar panels is undertaken with foreign collaboration. China is the leading country in the world on manufacture of solar panels and every effort should be made to seek private partnerships with these countries.
Certain silica quartz deposits I have examined are of high purity and can be classified as topaz as seen at Ekerella in the Ratnapura district. It is suggested that the Government should direct the GSMB to carry out a comprehensive survey of the silica quartz potential in the country and assess the quality and quantity of available resources for manufacture of solar panels and other uses in cutting edge technology like computer chips, etc.
In conclusion the Government should consider the formulation of a comprehensive Energy Policy for Sri Lanka with the main objective of an identified energy mix that could be sustainable and economically feasible.
(The author is a retired Economic Affairs Officer United Nations ESCAP and can be reached at