Urgent need to re-assess, prepare blueprint of country’s renewable energy resources
It’s not only Mother Nature that stands in the way of a brave band of entrepreneurs who are trying to do their bit for the country, but self-important politicians and busy-body local government officials also occasionally play a role in stalling the continued growth of mini hydro in Sri Lanka.
As a source of renewable energy, the small-hydro facilities of the country is running close to capacity leaving Riyaz Sangani, president of the Grid Connected Small Power Developers Association in Sri Lanka, (GCSPDA) tearing his hair out as he contemplates the challenges facing his body as they try to expand their collective to its maximum potential.
“Getting approval to build a mini hydro project can take a couple of years,” says Mr. Sangani painting a not-so-bright picture. “The system has been streamlined but we still face challenges especially getting land clearance for a project.” His comments came in the backdrop of crippling island-wide power cuts across the week until Friday.
With climate change and shifting weather patterns combining to create the perfect drought, the forecast for hydro power generation in the island is presently grim. Matters are compounded by man when it comes to private enterprise and mini hydro projects.
“We need the support of the Pradeshiya Sabhas and other local government bodies when it comes to land clearance but this is one of the main hurdles we face. Getting the support of the area politicians is an issue and this contributes to slowing down the entire process (of getting a hydro power project up-and-running),” says Mr. Sangani who took over the hot seat at the GCSPDA last October from Anil Makalanda.
The association president is the owner of a mini hydro company, Vidul Lanka PLC, which contributes 17 megawatts of power to the national grid. It might not be a lot in the bigger scheme of things – the total output of these smallholders is 300 megawatts, just seven per cent of the total installed capacity of power generation in the country which is around 3,950 megawatts – but when you are bathed in sweat and cursing the government and the mosquitoes on a hot and steamy night, every bit of power counts.
The island’s electricity demand is mainly provided as per 2014 Central Bank data by fuel oil (35 per cent), hydro (29 per cent), coal (26 per cent) and non-conventional renewable energy such as mini hydro, wind and solar (10 per cent).
But even this contribution – just a small part of the 10 per cent of renewable energy – has its limits. Mini hydro power does not extend to infinity and beyond like the visions of space ranger Buzz Lightyear, rather it has reached saturation point.
Mr. Sangani points out that there is only around 100 to 200 megawatts of power still to be harnessed by his association after which the curtain will drop on this private enterprise. “We have something like 40 to 50 megawatts of projects under construction and maybe some 100 or more megawatts of potential projects. These still to be developed projects are the difficult ones and once these are completed we will have reached saturation point.”
It is a huge gamble according to Mr. Sangani to dabble in this business. It costs around US$2 million to generate 1 megawatt of mini hydro power. He praises the government’s Sustainable Energy Authority for making life a little bit easier for the smallholders but believes more can be done.
“Our membership has a total of 300 Megawatts of power. Some of these projects are very successful but some have not met expectations. And we have to remember that the weather is always going to be a challenge,” reminds the association president.
Well, apart from those politicos, of course.
“At the end of the day, this country has to look at other sources of renewable energy. Hydro power has its limits and Sri Lanka cannot manage its demands for electricity entirely on it,” added Mr. Sangani.