Development of renewable energy projects
By Dr Janaka Ratnasiri
(First part of this article appeared yesterday)
Sri Lanka being blessed with a large number of streams cascading in the hill country, there is high potential to harness this source of energy. In fact, the first mini-hydro plant was built by British planters in tea estates even before the large systems were built. Currently, there are nearly 190 mini-hydro plants with capacity below 10 MW installed in all districts in the hill country with an aggregate capacity of 394 MW as at end of 2018. Their PFs vary between 25% and 55% with only about 10% having PF above 40%. The average price paid for energy from these mini-hydro plants is LKR 14.45 a kWh (CEB S&G Data Book 2018).
The SLSEA Plan has recommended installing additional min-hydro systems with capacity 110 MW by 2025. However, building these plants are not encouraged because of the many adverse impacts they cause to the environment including depriving water to people in downstream, forming puddles which could cause breeding of mosquitoes, affecting fish habitats and general ecology and aesthetics.
DECLINE IN BUILDING
RENEWABLE ENERGY SYSTEMS
It is observed that there has been a decline in the addition of renewable energy (RE) capacity during the past few years. It appears that the CEB has imposed an embargo on their development apparently citing a legal issue. When this matter was brought up at a TV panel discussion some time back, a senior official sitting in the panel representing CEB responded by saying that the applications for building new RE projects were put on hold on Attorney General’s (AG) advice.
The addition of generation capacity into the national grid is governed by the provisions in Sri Lanka Electricity (Amendment) Act, No. 31 Of 2013. Such an Act has been brought in to facilitate the introduction of additional capacity rather than to prevent such addition. If the AG’s ruling for disallowing building of new RE systems is due to any inconsistencies arising out of poor language in the Act or due to difficulty in interpreting its clauses, the Ministry should have taken the initiative to bring in suitable amendments to the Act in consultation with the AG to remove such inconsistencies and remove any conflicting clauses, so that whatever legal issues that prevent addition of new RE capacity could be removed.
INDIA’S OFFER TO BUILD A SOLAR PARK IN SRI LANKA
The Sunday Island of 26.07.2020 carried a news item describing a programme to promote solar energy utilization globally launched by India in collaboration with the Government of France, as a side event at the Climate Change Conference held in Paris in 2015. This programme called the International Solar Alliance (ISA), was established by the Prime Minister of India and the President of France on November 30, 2015, with the objective of scaling up solar energy, reducing the cost of solar power generation through aggregation of demand for solar finance, technologies, innovation, research and development, and capacity building. The ISA aims to pave the way for future solar generation, storage and technologies for member countries’ needs by mobilizing over USD 1000 billion by 2030, according to the India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) website (https://mnre.gov.in/isa/).
The above news report further states that India’s state-run National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) Ltd plans to set up a solar energy park in Sri Lanka under the aegis of ISA. It is not known whether India has made a formal communication on this to the Government of Sri Lanka and how the local energy authorities will respond to such an offer. Sri Lanka’s own plans to build solar systems will not exceed 1 GW capacity even by 2025, according to SLSEA Plan. This is far below the installations in India which has reached 34 GW in 2020. Being a member of ISA, Sri Lanka should welcome India’s offer to build a solar park in Sri Lanka under ISA. Under the terms of ISA, India only facilitates sourcing of funding and services and the host country has the ownership for the project, who is required to do the preliminary ground work to seek funding. It is hoped that the local energy utilities will accept this offer.
PROBLEMS FACING IN EXPANDING RE SYSTEMS
When more and more RE systems are built, their integration into the national grid may pose some problems. One is the rapid variation of the output of solar and wind systems. With the development of software that could forecast these variations on-line, it is possible to increase the penetration of RE systems into the grid. If necessary, CEB may acquire this technology from any foreign country who has already implemented high penetration of RE into their system.
Another is the need for storage for saving the electricity generated during the daytime by solar systems for use at night time. Often, what is proposed is to introduce high capacity storage batteries for this purpose. However, with the availability of hydropower reservoirs, a better way to save energy generated by solar systems is to avoid using hydro power during the daytime by an amount equivalent to what is generated by solar system. This saved hydro power is then available for using during night time (see article by Chandre Dharmawardana (CD) in Island of 15.07.2020).
A third problem often cited by CEB is the lack of capacity of the transmission system to accommodate energy generated by RE systems as planned. According to CEB, installing more than 20 MW of wind capacity in any given region may adversely impact local grid stability and power quality (NREL Study, 2003). This problem could be solved by improving the substations in outstations and increasing the capacity of transmission lines connected to them.
A fourth problem, particularly applicable for large scale solar PV systems is the difficulty in identifying suitable land in areas of high solar insolation. Unlike in India, Sri Lanka has limited land available for building solar parks which require nearly 1 ha for every 1 MW of installed capacity. One way to overcome this problem is to utilize the large number of reservoirs available in the country to build solar systems (See CD’s article). As mentioned before, government has already decided to build such a plant with capacity of 100 MW at Madura Oya reservoir.
ACHIEVING 100% DEPENDENCE ON RE SOURCES
If the above impediments which prevent incorporating more RE systems are removed, it will be possible to do away with planned fossil fuel power plants altogether, particularly the coal power plants which cause heavy pollution and achieve 100% penetration of RE systems as found feasible in a report released by ADB/UNDP in 2017. The CEB will then have to discard its current Long-Term Generation Expansion Plan which gives priority for coal power plants and prepare a fresh plan giving priority for RE sources.
Though the cost of coal consumed in a coal power plant may appear cheap and hence given priority in the CEB Plan, when the heavy expenditure on operation and maintenance as well as external costs including cost of damage to the environment and health of people are added, coal power is no longer cheap. A report released by the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) in 2017 revealed that “total cost at Puttalam plant is LKR/kWh 18.60, excluding environmental costs and cost of long Transmission lines”. (https://web.pucsl.gov.lk/english/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/brief-anlysis-cost-of-generation-2017.pdf).
Hence, it is desirable if the present and planned coal power plants are replaced with RE plants. If the entire generation from fossil fuels including coal amounting to about 8,400 GWh currently is replaced with RE projects which will cost only LKR 10 per kWh with no cost of externalities, it could save the CEB about LKR 110 billion annually. Hence, sooner it is done, the better it is for the economy of the country.
BENEFITS OF SHIFTING TO
In addition to financial benefits accrued by shifting to RE systems by avoiding fossil fuel combustion, the country stands to gain several other benefits. One is the avoiding of environmental pollution caused by emission of gaseous pollutants including oxides of Sulphur, oxides of nitrogen, particulates which are health hazards to people. In addition, damage caused to agricultural crops, fisheries habitats and to health of the people by ash accumulated after coal combustion could be avoided.
The other is the avoiding of emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which contributes to global warming and in turn causes climate change. Being a signatory to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, Sri Lanka has pledged to reduce carbon dioxide by a specified amount voluntarily. Shifting to RE sources is a convenient way of achieving this target. Sri Lanka is eligible to receive financial benefits for undertaking RE projects in view of the saving of carbon emissions, which the government should pursue by submitting suitable project proposals to the Climate Change Secretariat.
The private sector has taken the initiative to build many RE projects up to 2017 generating altogether 1,830 GWh of energy in 2018, which amounts to 11.9% of the total generation of 15,374 GWh (CEB SD 2018). However, there has been a decline in RE development in recent years apparently due to a legal impediment which needs rectification immediately. Power was purchased from unsolicited RE projects built initially at rates valid for 20 years which have been overpriced compared to rates offered for new RE projects based on competitive bids. By expediting shifting to RE projects as planned up to 2025, government stands to save around LKR 43 billion annually.
If the present generation of 8,400 GWh from fossil fuel combustion is replaced with RE sources, it could save CEB around LKR 110 billion annually. To realize this, Government should raise the upper limit of 10 MW for building RE projects by the private sector, enabling it to undertake larger RE projects. Sri Lanka should make an effort to secure financial assistance from Climate Funds to shift from proposed fossil fuel generation altogether in the future moving away for more RE generation integrated into the system.
Science vs religion – II
Of course, there are many shortcomings and limitations of the scientific method. Scientific knowledge alone is certainly not enough to make humans attain their full potential. The human values we live by, and questions of meaning and purpose, morality or ethics. are not amenable to hypotheses, modelling, and mathematical equations. They rely on methods that are interpretive, speculative, and philosophical.
By GOVIND BHATTACHARJEE
(The first part of this article reproduced from our Asia News Network partner in India, The Statesman, appeared on 25 Nov.)
“The known is finite, the unknown infinite”, the British biologist Thomas Huxley wrote in 1887, “Intellectually we stand on an islet in the midst of an illimitable ocean of inexplicability. Our business in every generation is to reclaim a little more land.”
Before the last century, the vast unknown territory of inexplicability was ruled by religion.But the last century has seen a tremendous explosion of scientific knowledge, and ever since, science has been reclaiming more and more territory from religion so that scholars started predicting a diminishing relevance and eventual disappearance of religion from human society.
While it is true that religion’s stranglehold has been remarkably weakened in most countries during the last half-century, except in the diehard Islamic states which stubbornly refuse to reform Islam, the resurgence of religion in our contemporary socio-political life negates the prediction of religion’s demise.
There is too much religion on the streets now that is increasingly intruding unto our lives. It is not the spirituality that Sagan had talked about, it is religion in its crudest original form – bloodthirsty, demanding total and unquestioning allegiance from its followers who would not shy away from spilling the blood of non-believers. While science continues to conquer ever newer frontiers and invents technologies that are revolutionising our society, a full transition to a scientific society is not possible without the complete displacement of religion.
From medicine to biotech, from electronics to telecommunication, from AI to nanoscience, the progress of science during the last 50 years has completely transformed the way we organize society, conduct business, and connect with people for ideation.
The paradox is that while we are exploring the frontiers of science and technology driven by limitless human yearning and thirst for knowledge, we are also reinforcing the prejudices, bigotry, and intolerance of contrary ideas and beliefs in our social and public life with renewed vigour and pride. Of course, there are many shortcomings and limitations of the scientific method.Scientific knowledge alone is certainly not enough to make humans attain their full potential. The German philosopher Edmund Husserl argued against recurrent tendencies of applying the methods of natural science in the research of human affairs, which are essentially outside empirical scientific approaches.
The human values we live by, and questions of meaning and purpose, morality or ethics, etc. are not amenable to hypotheses, modelling, and mathematical equations. They rely on methods that are interpretive, speculative, and philosophical. This is always an epistemological problem in social sciences, and this is where religion is supposed to supplement the techno-scientific worldview of science to understand how Nature works her laws in the universe and in human society.
But Nature also includes her children and us humans, and her well-being depends on their activities. No one knows that better than us, especially at this juncture of time when the world is precariously poised between sustainability and irreversible devastation from uncontrolled human greed.
Religion was supposed to impart and promote morality, ethics, love, and compassion among humans to make them understand their symbiotic relationships with nature, with fellow beings, and with animals. Religion was supposed to teach humans to limit their greed, increase empathy towards others, and strike a harmonious balance with nature to make the world a better place for all to live. What it has done and the moral blindness it has promoted instead is for all to see and judge.
Religion today is relentlessly marching to colonize every aspect of our socio-economic and political life with increasing aggressiveness. Suffering has been trivialised by it, the pain has been glorified by it, killing has been sanctified by it and the tattered social fabric that has resulted is being flaunted with egotistical pleasure and pride.
Though it will be unfair to blame religion alone, it has to take a large share of the blame for this sorry state of affairs. It is propelling us energetically to forget our humanity and respect for those who do not share our faith and driving us towards an Orwellian world where intercultural understanding, the richness of culture and diversity, and the ideal of an inclusive and pluralistic society are strongly denounced in favour of a blind pursuance of faith as dictated by its self-proclaimed guardians and their bigoted followers.
The ideal of peace and harmony are receding at the speed of light as religion strives to regain the territory it has lost to science and is countering science with what can best be described as a pseudoscience that is carving out a niche for itself – and a wide one at that.To quote Huxley again, “The question of all questions for humanity is that of the determination of man’s place in nature and his relation to the Cosmos.”
Religion derived sustenance from the concept that humanity was positioned proudly at the centre of God’s magnificent creation, the Earth, around which revolved everything, and humanity – the crowning achievement of God’s creation in his own image, the pinnacle of his divine handiwork, occupied the centre-stage on this earth.Science would shatter the concept, but not before thousands of Giordano Brunos were burned at the stake for holding a contrary view.
In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), Thomas Kuhn convincingly explained how paradigm shifts take place in the history of science when one dominant worldview is replaced by another. He showed that scientific progress is like Darwinian evolution – a process of selection of one amongst all the competing theories that have the most predictive power puzzle-solving ability, a concept that was later supported by Bas van Fraassen in The Scientific Image (1980).
But each such major paradigm shift has shaken the edifice of religion from which it could never recover. Thus, when the geocentric Ptolemaic worldview was replaced by the Copernican worldview, man lost his centrality in the scheme of things. Till then, heaven was in the sky, hell was underground and God in heaven ruled all three while religion regulated the entry to heaven or hell.
Copernicus banished the earth from the centre of the Universe, and later Hubble displaced the entire Milky way from the centre of the universe, giving us instead an expanding universe of billions of galaxies in which neither is humanity at the centre of creation nor is the earth at the centre of the universe; in fact, the universe itself is one tiny dot in a multiverse of many universes.
Thus, God’s magnificent creation has been relegated to the position of a second-rate planet attached to a third-rate star, discarding religion’s medieval fancies. Today we are humbled by the immensity of the universe and mesmerized by the eternal silence of infinite space.
But for religion, the determination of man’s place in nature and his relation to the cosmos was not a question, it was an irrefutable truth questioning which meant inviting risk. Copernicus wrote De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelesticum on his deathbed in 1543, beyond the morbid reach of the Inquisition.
Galileo and Bruno were not that fortunate. Science established that neither does life enjoy any special privilege – countless worlds exist in deep space devoid of life, and countless species have become extinct in the course of evolution. We may be one someday, and going by our misdeeds on this planet, that day even may not be too far.
Darwin would finally dislodge humanity from the centre of the biological universe, giving it a lowly ancestor that was too humble compared to an almighty God to be a creator of such intelligence as possessed by man. Thankfully, the inquisition was dead, but prejudiced minds that shun logic were not. They are again back at the centre stage in force, flaunting scriptures, dictating how we should conduct ourselves, threatening to push us into a hell of ignominy and violence if we disobey.
Creationism is still being taught in many US public schools, despite the Supreme Court ruling to the contrary. Half the people in the USA still don’t believe in evolution, their share in India is unknown. But here, vigorous attempts are now on somehow bringing God inside the classroom in any guise, be it a hijab, or anything else.
Worship only makes you a slave. A slave forgets his reason, and his purpose for existence, and ultimately becomes an automaton to serve the master – Religion – and obey its commands without thinking.Religion is not the source of spirituality, peace, morality, virtue, and ethics any longer. Its principles may be eternal, but its methods are gross. It has now become the source of violence, hatred, unconcealed greed, corruption, and a road to power.
Instead of breaking barriers, it is building them afresh, destroying the very roots upon which mankind has built civilizations through the millennia. Don’t expect the State to control religion and the street will always celebrate it with ever-ostentatious pomp and splendour. It is therefore for us citizens to shield our children from the corrupting influences of religion. It has no place in the fabric of the mind of civilized men and women, just as God has no place in the fabric of the space-time that science tries to untangle. We don’t need the ancient wisdom of the spirit to guide us, because religion which was supposed to imbibe it has lost its divinity. It is now for science to redeem religion.
A dreamer’s dream
Last night as usual I watched the local news, leaving aside the World News and the FIFA matches on TV, looking for some encour-aging news about the financial situation in our country. On all TV Channels The daily scenes in Parliament are always the same very chaotic and a waste of time to listen. The arguments in Parliament resembles the Maria Kade fish market between some women, accusing one another in filth.
Rather disappointed I fell asleep. I dreamt I was at the Aragalaya on the Galle Face Green packed with jolly enthusiastic people seemed on holiday-spirit singing and enjoying the music, and some drowning the noise with speeches through loudspeakers. Walking around I noticed there was a bus with a full load of passengers stuck and surrounded by a mob who was trying to topple it.
Finally the bus toppled and they all clapped and cheered not caring for the poor frightened passengers in the bus. One of the mob leaders gave a speeh and then got the bus upright, and tried to start it, but couldn’t. Then they pushed and it wouldn’t start as the tank was empty . The wounded passengers came out crying some wounded with fractures and bleeding. Someone phoned for ambulances but none came. To my horror the Aragalaya then attacked that mob who toppled the bus and in the utter choas I woke up in a cold swept.
Recollecting my dream I wondered whether this dream is similar to what would happen to our country.
D. L. Sirimanne,
How many people can the Earth sustain?
=On Nov 15 November 2022, we became a world of 8 billion people.
It’s a milestone we can celebrate, and an occasion to reflect: How can we create a world in which all 8 billion of us can thrive? The growth of our population is a testament to humanity’s achievements, including reductions in poverty and gender inequality, advancements in health care, and expanded access to education. These have resulted in more women surviving childbirth, more children surviving their early years, and longer, healthier lifespans, decade after decade.
Looking beyond the averages, at the populations of countries and regions, the picture is much more nuanced – and quickly takes us beyond the numbers themselves. Stark disparities in life expectancy point to unequal access to health care, opportunities and resources, and unequal burdens of violence, conflict, poverty and ill health.
Birth rates vary from country to country, with some populations still growing fast, others beginning to shrink. But underlying these trends, whichever way they point, is a widespread lack of choice. Discrimination, poverty and crisis – as well as coercive policies that violate the reproductive rights of women and girls – put sexual and reproductive health care and information, including contraception and sex education, out of reach for far too many people.
We face serious challenges as a global community, including the mounting impacts of climate change, ongoing conflicts and forced displacement. To meet them, we need resilient countries and communities. And that means investing in people and making our societies inclusive, so that everyone is afforded a quality of life that allows them to thrive in our changing world.
To build demographic resilience, we need to invest in better infrastructure, education and health care, and ensure access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. We need to systematically remove the barriers – based on gender, race, disability, sexual orientation or migration status – that prevent people from accessing the services and opportunities they need to thrive.
We need to rethink models of economic growth and development that have led to overconsumption and fuelled violence, exploitation, environmental degradation and climate change, and we need to ensure that the poorest countries – which did not create these problems, yet bear the brunt of their impacts – have the resources to build the resilience and well-being of their growing populations.
We need to understand and anticipate demographic trends, so that governments can make informed policies and resource allocations to equip their populations with the right skills, tools and opportunities.
But while demographic trends can help guide the policy choices we make as societies, there are other choices – including if and when to have children – that policy cannot dictate, because they belong to each individual. This right to bodily autonomy underlies the full range of our human rights, forming a foundation for resilient, inclusive and thriving societies that can meet the challenges of our world. When our bodies and futures are our own, we are #8BillionStrong.
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