Development of renewable energy projects II –
By Dr Janaka Ratnasiri
The comments made by the President at the meeting he had on 15.12.2020 to discuss the development of renewable energy (RE) projects were highlighted in recent media reports, as described in the writer’s earlier write-up which appeared in The Island of 28.12.2020 under the same heading. However, there was no reference in these reports to any feedback that would have been made by officials present. The purpose of this write-up is to discuss likely issues that would have been of concern to institution officials and the challenges they may have to face in meeting the President’s target.
FEARS OF DESTABILIZING THE SYSTEM
The first challenge is to change the mindset of professionals concerned. Energy experts both within the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and outside have been saying for years that connecting too many of RE plants such as wind and solar power systems to the grid will cause its destabilization, not being able to maintain the voltage and the frequency within permitted limits. The output of these RE supplies keep fluctuating momentarily, hourly and diurnally and the problem is how to balance the supply and load under such dynamic conditions. It was also said that excess harmonics generated during conversion of direct current (DC) output from solar systems or from DC wind turbines into alternating current (AC) for feeding into the grid could degrade the quality of the supply.
According to a website on RE systems, “Impacts caused by high penetration levels of intermittent renewable distributed generation can be complex and severe and may include voltage increase, voltage fluctuation, interaction with voltage regulation and control equipment, reverse power flows, temporary overvoltage, power quality and protection concerns, and current and voltage unbalance, among others. The uncertainty and intermittency of wind and solar generation are major complications that must be addressed before the full potential of these renewables can be reached”. These challenges require advanced control strategies to solve the problems effectively.
PROBLEMS ASSOCIATED WITH RENEWABLE ENERGY SYSTEMS
One problem associated with RE systems is that they are not considered dispatchable, which means that their output is not available as and when necessary, unlike in the case of thermal power plants. Wind power output is available only when wind blows which keeps changing in a stochastic manner hourly, diurnally and seasonally. In Sri Lanka, wind is generally strong during the second half of the year than in the first half. In the case of solar panels, their output is available only during the daytime peaking at noon and declining with the increasing solar angle. Even during daytime, the output would drop if there is cloud cover or rainfall. If there is extended periods of bad weather, a consumer has to depend on some back-up power.
According to the CEB Chairman’s Review given in its 2018 Annual Report, “a study on Integration of Renewable Based Generation into Sri Lankan Grid 2020-2030 was conducted during the year (2018) with the objective of investigating the main challenges faced in renewable energy-based generation and determining the optimum level of renewable energy generation”. However, there is no report of this study available in the CEB’s website.
STORAGE SYSTEMS FOR RENEWABLE ENERGY PLANTS
In order to make use of solar energy that is generated during the day, at night time, it is necessary to store the electricity by suitable means. This also applies to wind energy to even out the fluctuating output into a steady output. If the system is connected to the grid, energy generated by solar systems during the day or by wind systems when the wind blows can be fed into the grid and the grid provides the electricity to the consumer during night time or when there is no wind blowing. Hence, there is no need for a separate storage facility with grid-connected systems.
For large scale solar systems, one method of storage is to make use of exiting hydro power reservoirs by saving the water which would have been used for generating an equivalent amount of energy generated by solar panels during the day, and using the water saved during night time. This does not require any additional expenditure on building extra facilities. Another is to build pump-storage facilities comprising two sets of reservoirs at two elevations connected via a penstock with a generator/pump system at the bottom. Already one such system is being planned at Aranayaka.
Any surplus energy generated during the day from solar panels or when wind blows is made use of to pump water from the lower reservoir to the upper reservoir. At night time or when there is no wind, the pumped water is allowed to flow down the penstock driving the pump in the reverse mode to generate electricity. In the West, such pump-storage systems have been used for many decades for peaking purposes. One good example is the system installed at the Niagara Falls.
HYDROGEN SYSTEMS FOR STORAGE
Another method available is to feed the solar panel output to a set of electrolyzers, which are available commercially today, to generate hydrogen by splitting water. Hydrogen generated is stored and fed to a bank of fuel-cells to generate electricity in the form of direct current (DC) and later inverted to AC. After filtering out harmonics, this steady output is fed to the grid as and when necessary, day or night, using the stored hydrogen which makes it dispatchable. Each solar or wind or hybrid energy park that is being planned could be supplemented by such hydrogen storage system accompanied by a bank of fuel cells, enabling the output from these RE parks dispatchable.
There is much interest among developed countries to develop hydrogen energy systems. European Union has set out plans which could require up to € 470 billion (USD 570 billion) of investment in green hydrogen by 2050. Germany alone is targeting 5,000 MW of electrolysis capacity by 2030. Japan, a front-runner along with South Korea, is looking to sharply increase a target to import 300,000 tonnes a year of hydrogen in 2030. U.S. President Joe Biden wants to fund research into technology, including large-scale electrolyzers, to help make green hydrogen costs match conventional hydrogen within a decade. (https://energy.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/renewable/explainer-why-green-hydrogen-is-finally-getting-its-day-in-the-sun/79672523).
PROPOSAL FOR ROOF-TOP SOLAR INSTALLATIONS
The 2021 Budget Speech states that a capacity of 500 MW will be added to the grid, by providing solar panels each generating 5 kW, to 100,000 houses of low-income families. At the meeting the President had on 15.12.2020 with the two Ministers and Ministry officials, he has said that the Government would bear the cost of LKR. 800,000 per house for installing solar cell panels under this project. This means the expenditure on this project will be about LKR 80 billion. The question arises who will be responsible for implementing this project? The SLSEA Act grants powers to it for “entertainment of applications for carrying on of on-grid and off-grid renewable energy projects”. It also has powers for “the development of guidelines on renewable energy projects and disseminating them among prospective investors”. Hence, the SLSEA may be assigned the task of coordinating the project.
The purchase of 100,000 roof-top panels and getting them installed is a challenge by itself. There is a large number of local companies, numbering about 200, involved in supplying and installing roof-top solar panels. The government should call for expressions of interest (EOI) from these companies to undertake this assignment requesting information on their track record and proof of their ability and competency. Next, bids need to be invited from selected companies after announcing detailed specifications for the panels.
It is important to specify in the bid document itself the limiting values for key parameters with tolerances that need to be met by the panel offered, without just saying that panels offered should conform to international standards, as normally done by the CEB. The evaluation of the bids would be much simpler and faster then. It is best if the supply is distributed among as many vendors as possible, after agreeing on a fixed price, to expedite the implementation of the project and avoid complaints from unsuccessful bidders.
POOR PLANNING FOR RENEWABLE ENERGY PROJECTS
Though the Cabinet of Ministers since 2016 has been taking decisions to introduce RE projects including solar power systems at both domestic level and utility scale, their follow up by the two implementing agencies, viz. SLSEA and the CEB has been rather slow, possibly due to divided responsibility. According to the SLSEA Act, any RE project needs the approval of the SLSEA before commencing any work.
The Electricity Act also requires accepting projects selected only after calling for tenders except those recommended by the SLSEA. The misinterpretation of the Electricity has resulted in projects recommended by the SLSEA getting held up by the CEB for extended periods. The CEB’s draft LTGE Plan for 2020-39 prepared in May 2019, plans to add only 165 MW of mini-hydro systems, 555 MW of wind systems, 880 MW of solar systems and 55 MW of biomass systems up to 2030. Even the SLSEA has failed to come out with a plan to develop RE systems in an optimal manner as highlighted in the Writer’s article in the Island of 28.12.2020.
This is despite the fact that the previous Cabinet decisions had wanted about 2,000 MW of solar power added within a shorter time frame, comprising 1000 MW of roof-top systems and 1000 MW of utility systems. As mentioned in the previous article, even the SLSEA has failed to come up with a plan to develop RE systems though it is a requirement given in its Act. So, another challenge is to get the CEB and SLSEA to enhance their plans for RE generation and fall in line with the Government policy. If they do not comply, the solution is not closing down of the PUCSL as highlighted in writer’s article in The Island of 25.12.2020. (See https://island.lk/cabinet-discussion-on-public-utilities-commission/)
INCOMPATIBILITY OF NEW COAL POWER PLANTS WITH INCREASED RE SHARE
One problem possibly encountered in increasing the RE share is the incorporation of several new coal power plants in the system by 2030. This increases the share of fossil fuel share leaving only a small fraction to be filled by RE systems. For example, the draft Plan for 2020-39 shows the demand in 2030 as 31,740 GWh, out of which 20,640 GWh (65%) will be from fossil fuels and 11,100 GWh (35%) from RE sources. Out of the 20,640 GWh expected from fossil fuel plants, 7,721 GWh (24%) will be from the two new coal power plants to be built at Norochcholai (600 MW) and Trincomalee (300 MW). Another 4,781 GWh (15%) will be from the existing coal power plant at Norochcholai.
This means by 2030, 12,502 GWh (39%) of the demand will be met from coal while another 8,140 GWh (26%) will be from oil or jointly 20,640 GWh (65%) from fossil fuels. If 70% of total demand is to be met from renewables, then only 30% could be generated from fossil fuels. This means that the RE contribution has to be 48,160 GWh if the fossil fuel contribution is to be maintained at 20,640 GWh, making the total supply to be 68,800 GWh, which is more than double the forecasted demand in 2030. In order to make achieving of 70% share from RE sources feasible, it is therefore imperative to limit the fossil fuel contribution to 9,520 GWh in order to maintain the total supply at 31,740 GWh.
The easiest way to achieve this target is to stop building the two new coal power plants at Norochcholai and at Trincomalee, and retire the 20-year-old existing coal plant at Norochcholai. Hence, building new coal power plants is not compatible with President’s target on RE share of 70% in electricity generation. The President should therefore give a clear directive to CEB to discontinue planning of new coal power plants disregarding what its Unions say.
It is reported in the media that a former Army Officer has been appointed as Vice-Chairman of CEB to help CEB “to achieve President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s of goal promoting renewable energy and providing electricity at a minimal cost” (Island of 22.12.2020). Perhaps the new Vice-Chairman will keep those within CEB who oppose President’s move at bay, including the trade unions.
IMPROVING RESEARCH CAPABILITY OF CEB
According to the CEB Act of 1969, CEB has powers to conduct research into matters affecting the generation, distribution, transmission, supply and use of electricity (Article 12h). However, CEB’s Annual Reports do not refer to any research being done within the CEB. Students in the Physical Science stream having the highest scores at GCE (A level) examination get admitted to engineering courses and those who follow electrical engineering ending up in institutions like CEB.
It is a pity that the CEB management does not make use of this talented graduates to undertake research to seek solutions to such problems such as integrating RE systems into the grid, develop new storage systems and to provide other research and development support for RE systems. In 2019, the CEB has spent about LKR 97 Billion on importing fuel for thermal power plants (SD 2019).
With the introduction of large scale RE systems, part of this expenditure could be saved which could be utilized to set up a Research and Development (R&D) Division in CEB as provided for in its Act.
Perhaps, a senior academic with research experience in RE systems could be invited to set up the R&D Division and provide him with a team of young engineers comprising both electrical and ICT engineers with aptitude for research to undertake studies on how to make the grid smart as described above.
THE WAY FORWARD
If the full potential of the country’s RE resources is exploited, it will be possible to achieve the entire electricity generation from RE sources. It will also save hundreds of Billions of Rupees annually on importing fuel required for operating thermal power plants. However, there are many problems to surmount before this could be achieved. Among these are the following:
a. Change the mindset of senior officials controlling the power sector that changing from fossil fuels to RE sources to meet the base load requirements is technically feasible.
b. Discontinue building new coal power plants and retire the existing coal power plant by 2030 as their presence will exceed the 30% share from fossil fuels.
c. Introduce mechanisms for energy storage at utility scale through utilizing existing hydro power reservoirs or building pump-storage systems or adding large batteries or adding electrolyzer-fuel cell systems which are commercially available now.
d. Set up a R&D Division within CEB to seek solutions for problems associated with integration of utility scale RE systems into the grid.
e. Entertain investors directly for RE projects on build, own, operate and transfer (BOOT) basis by providing efficient, clear and transparent mechanism for accepting proposals and guaranteeing security of their investments.
f. Publish a set of guidelines prepared jointly by SLSEA, CEB and PUCSL for accepting and approving candidate RE projects proposed by investors on BOOT basis.
It is important for decision makers to take a wholistic view of the power sector in the country and take evidence-based decisions rather than taking a piecemeal approach. It is not possible to build more coal power plants on one hand and fix targets for increased RE share on the other. While the President wants more renewable energy projects, the Ministry and CEB want more coal power plants. The President should decide on his priorities. If his priority is to have more renewable energy share by 2030, then he should get CEB to give up building more coal power plants. He cannot have both. It is his biggest challenge.
Credibility in governance through elections and not security forces
By Jehan Perera
President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s warning that he is prepared to declare a state of national emergency and use the military to suppress any public protests for change of government would reflect the pressures he is under. The manner in which he has used the security forces to deal with the protest movement has been unexpected. His words and deeds are contradictory to what he has previously stood for as a five-time former prime minister. This is especially true in the case of the ethnic and religious minorities who have consistently voted for him and his party at elections. They have felt safer and more secure under his governments which always sought to reduce the heavy hand of state oppression in which national security is given pride of place. He has always promised them much though he has been unable to deliver on much of what he promised.
Notwithstanding the unfortunate rhetoric and actions of the present time the belief still persists that President Wickremesinghe is the best of the available options. Recent pronouncements of the president have reignited hope that he will address the problems of the religious and ethnic minorities. He has stated that he does not want to leave this problem to the next generation. He has said that he wants to resolve this intractable national problem by the country’s 75th independence anniversary on February 4 next year. The hope that the president will make a fresh effort to resolve their problems has led the main Tamil party, the TNA, to desist from voting against the budget which passed with a relatively small majority. Their spokesperson, M A Sumanthiran said in Parliament that due to the president reaching out to them, stretching out his hand, they did not vote against the budget although they disagreed with it.
It is not only in words that the president has reached out to the ethnic and religious minorities. Reports from the north and east indicate that the Maveer (Heroes) Day commemorations this year took place without incident. During the past two years scores of people were arrested and a massive presence of security forces blocked the people from participating in public events. On this occasion the security forces did not get involved in any attempt to stop the commemorations. University students distributed sweets and even cut a birthday cake to celebrate slain LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s birthday. The analogy that the president drew to himself being seen as a Hitler who exterminated ethnic and religious minorities is misplaced. The release of those held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for engaging in similar acts in the past would further contribute to the reconciliation process.
In this context, the president’s use of militaristic rhetoric can only be understood in relation to the growing economic crisis that shows no sign of abating. The anticipated IMF bailout package is at risk of getting indefinitely delayed. It was initially anticipated to come in September then in November but now January is being targeted. Japan’s top brokerage and investment bank, Nomura Holdings Inc, has warned that seven countries – Egypt, Romania, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Czech Republic, Pakistan and Hungary – are now at a high risk of currency crises. Sri Lanka is in third place on the table of risk. The next devaluation of the rupee could see another spike in inflation that will make the cost of living even more unbearable to the masses of people.
The president is on record as having said that the economic crisis will get worse before it improves. Both anecdotal and statistical evidence indicates that it is indeed worsening. University teachers at the University of Sabaragamuwa reported that attendance in their classes was down by at least a quarter. Students who come from other parts of the country are unable to afford the cost of meals and so they stay at home. A study by the Institute of Policy Studies has shown that about four percent of primary, 20 percent of secondary and 26 percent of collegiate students had dropped out of school in the estate sector, which is the worst affected. The future costs to the country of a less well educated population is incalculable and inhumane.
As it is the situation is a dire one for large swathes of the population. Research from the University of Peradeniya has revealed that close to half of Sri Lanka’s population, 42 percent (up from 14 percent in 2019) are living under the poverty line. Professor of Economics Wasantha Athukorala has said there is a dramatic increase in the poverty level of over three-hold across the past three years. In 2019, nearly 3 million people lived below the poverty line, but that number has increased to 9.6 million in October 2022. In these adverse circumstances stability in a polity can be ensured either through legitimacy or through force. It would be tragic if the latter is the choice that is made.
President Wickremesinghe has been stressing the importance of political stability to achieve economic development. His recent statement that the security forces will be used to negate any unauthorised protest is a sign that the government expects the conditions of economic hardship to escalate. The general public who are experiencing extreme economic hardship are appalled at the manner in which those who committed acts of corruption and violence in the past are being overlooked because they belong to the ruling party and its cliques. The IMF has made anti-corruption a prerequisite to qualify for a bailout, calling for “Reducing corruption vulnerabilities through improving fiscal transparency and public financial management, introducing a stronger anti-corruption legal framework, and conducting an in-depth governance diagnostic, supported by IMF technical assistance.”
It is morally unacceptable even if politically pragmatic that the president is failing to take action against the wrongdoers because he needs their votes in parliament. As a start, the president needs to appoint a credible and independent national procurement committee to ensure that major economic contracts are undertaken without corruption. Second, the president needs to bite the bullet on elections. The country’s burning issues would be better accepted by the country and world at large if they are being dealt with by a statesman than by a dictator. Government that is based on the people’s consent constitutes the sum and substance of democracy. This consent is manifested through free and fair elections that are regularly held. Local government elections have been postponed for a year and are reaching their legal maximum in terms of postponement. These elections need to be held before March next year.
Elections will enable the people to express their views in a democratic manner to elect their representatives for the present. This would provide the government with guidance in terms of the decisions it is being called to take to revive the economy and place the burden in a manner that will be acceptable to the people. The provincial council elections have been postponed since 2018. Democratically elected provincial councils share in the burdens of governance. The devolution of power that took place under the 13th Amendment was meant to promote ethnic harmony in the country. The president who has taken the position that he is for a solution to the ethnic conflict should seriously consider conducting the provincial council elections together with the local government elections se their financial costs. By doing so he will also gain legitimacy as a democratic statesman and not a dictator.
WEDNESDAY – Movie Review
The Addams Family is back with a new tale to tell! Originally created by Charles Addams as a comic strip published in The New Yorker, it offered readers a sarcastic take on the ‘typical nuclear family’ by substituting it with a more macabre bunch of strange and eerie individuals. Since then the titular family has been adapted on to the big screen many times, from live action movies to animated versions, the Addams Family has gained many fans throughout the years. Created by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, with Tim Burton working on four episodes of the eight-part series, Wednesday is a welcoming tale for young fans, but unfortunately fails to think outside the box and remains anchored to the floor with a messy storyline.
Dead-eyed Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega) is a stubborn, independent and intelligent teenager in this new series. Her penchant for attracting trouble wherever she goes alarms her parents, Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Gomez (Luis Guzmán). With an already strained relationship with her parents (specifically her mother), Wednesday is enrolled at Nevermore, an academy for outcasts like herself. Having attended the academy themselves, Morticia and Gomez are hopeful that their daughter will ‘fit right in’. Caught between trying to build her own identity and other teenage complexities, Wednesday soon finds herself in the middle of a twisted mystery.
This is the first time audiences are introduced to a teenage Wednesday, which allowed the creators to build a new world on their own terms, but while keeping true to the original nature of the character. The creators do a fair amount of world building by introducing other outcasts like the Fangs (vampires), Stoners (Gorgons), Scales (sirens) and Furs (werewolves), among others. Nevermore Academy itself is beautiful and comes with the classic package of creepy crypts, hidden rooms and secret societies. The series also offers a decent amount of gore, although they could have added more given Wednesday’s proclivity for gore-related activities. The series deals with classic young-adult tropes which includes teenage crushes, bullies, relationships and even prom, among other things. The series navigates through Wednesday’s journey of self-discovery, which is a new avenue for both the character and the fans. From understanding and displaying her emotions to discovering her identity and understanding her peers, the series takes a deep dive into heavy material.
Ortega’s performance as the titular character plays a major role in keeping audiences glued to the screen. This is also the first time viewers are shown a teenage Wednesday Addams, which works to Ortega’s benefit as she depicts more dimensions to the ghoulish, morose character many are associated with based on previous renditions. Her facial expressions and ability to deliver on seriously emotional moments strengthens her role as the lead. The rest of the Addams Family, even with limited screen time, lack the eccentricities their characters should have. Hopeless romantics Morticia and Gomez seem incompatible in this version and Uncle Fester is far less crazy than he ought to be. The only member worth mentioning is the Thing—a severed hand— who brought more character and spirit to the series acting alongside Ortega. With barely any room to develop a majority of the characters are prosaic and tedious, even though they remain vital to the plot.
Apart from Ortega, Gwendoline Christie and Emma Myers deserve honorable mentions for their roles as Nevermore’s head teacher, Larissa Weems and the peppy Enid Sinclair respectively. Enid quickly became a fan favorite as the character was the polar opposite to Wednesday. Her character is vital to Wednesday’s character development and their journey to find common ground as mismatched individuals is amusing.
Christina Ricci who played Wednesday in the 90s returns as ‘normie’ teacher, Miss Thornhill and unfortunately barely stands out and this in large part due to the messy storyline. The series is bogged down with numerous subplots and overlapping tropes and the characters with potential for growth are completely overlooked. With love triangles, bullies and killer monsters on the loose, the series self-destructs and the climax sinks into disappointment.
At the end of the day, Wednesday plays to the beat of the new generation and touches on new themes, which is welcoming seeing as the character should grow up at some point. While not everyone may relate to Wednesday’s teenage perils, it is interesting to witness her growth and her journey as an ‘outcast’ or ‘weirdo’. And while Wednesday doesn’t exactly offer a distinctly unique story, it gives audiences a small taste of what Jenna Ortega’s Wednesday is capable of. Creating a story around a well-established franchise is a difficult task, and in this case the creators fail to add value to their visions. If the series continues, the creators will have the opportunity to think further outside the box and push the limits to Wednesday’s character and give audiences a bone-chilling experience. Wednesday is currently streaming on Netflix.
Stage set for… AWESOME FRIDAY
The past few weeks have been a very busy period for the new-look Mirage outfit…preparing themselves for their big night – Friday, December 2nd – when they would perform, on stage, for the very first time, as Donald Pieries (leader/vocals/drums), Benjy (bass), Niro Wattaladeniya (guitar), Viraj Cooray (guitar/vocals), Asangi Wickramasinghe (keyboard/vocals), along with their two frontline female vocalist, Sharon (Lulu) and Christine.
They have thoroughly immersed themselves in their practice sessions as they are very keen to surprise their fans, music lovers, and well-wishers, on opening night…at the Peacock, Berjaya Hotel, in Mount Lavinia.
Action starts at 8.00 pm and, thereafter, it will be five hours of great music, along with EFFEX DJs Widhara and Damien, interspersed with fun and excitement…for the whole family!
Yes, opening night is for the whole family, so you don’t need to keep some of your family members at home – kids, especially.
Working on their repertoire for Friday, bassist Benjy says “what we will dish out will be extra special, with lots of action on stage.”
It would be interesting to see Sharon (Lulu) doing her thing with Mirage, after her early days with the Gypsies, and, I’m told, a dynamic performance from Sharon is what is in store for all those who make it to the Peacock this Friday
While the band was at one of their practice sessions, last week, they had a surprise visitor – Edward (Eddy) Joseph, a former member of the group Steelers, who is now based in Germany.
Eddy is here on a short visit and is scheduled to return to Germany, tomorrow (30).
He spent an hour with Mirage, at their practice session, and says he is disappointed that he would not be around for the group’s opening night.
However, there is a possibility of several well-known personalities, in the showbiz scene, turning up, on Friday night, to experience the sounds of the new-look Mirage, including Sohan Weerasinghe and Joey Lewis (from London).
Rajiv Sebastian, too, says he is keen to be a part of the fun-filled evening.
You could contact Benjy, on 0777356356, if you need to double check…their plans for AWESOME FRIDAY!
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