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Impediments to a better CEB

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by Kumar David

It is a shame that CEB Chairman Vijitha Herath was happy to sell his professionals down the river for cheap popularity with his political bosses as in his interview in Ceylon Today (23 August, pA4). The sub-heading was “Corrupt Power Deals by last regime – CEB Chairman” and the opening summary statement by the interviewer reads “The power and energy sector in Sri Lanka, mainly the Ceylon Electricity Board is alleged to be one of the most corrupt and most negligent entities in the country. In the past even the state sector worked with the power sector in the most lackadaisical manner – cancelling competitive tenders and at the same time awarding them to those who curry favour with higher ups or private suppliers based on deals. There are accusations that CEB Engineers run a monopoly”. To my knowledge Mr Herath has issued no refutation disassociating himself from the interviewer’s implied attribution of views, nor has he rejected the association of his name and office from grossly untruthful slanders of his staff. Is this the man who is going to give leadership to the CEB? Does he not know that corruption in the power sector derives 90% from Presidents, the Cabinet, Power Ministers and Ministry Secretaries? Big time corruption in the power sector commenced in the 1990s in Chandrika’s time with the awarding of contracts to build and operate private power plants. Big money went to big players. Do they not teach corporate managers like Mr Herath about reciprocal confidence building? Managers who undermine and untruthfully publicly ridicule their staff will lose the trust of colleagues and the confidence of the institution.

In the mean time we have had this eight-hour all-Island blackout and an inability to restore full supplies for four or five days. One matter I want to especially complain about is the failure of the CEB or CEB-Ministry (erroneously named Power-Ministry) to issue a full, frank and transparent public statement. I appreciate detailed technical analyses will take time and highly placed fools who allege sabotage are doing damage. However, a simple summary would have sufficed to keep speculation at bay. Speculation on the grapevine says that a bus-bar was inadvertently energised by maintenance crew before a heavy earthing chain was removed which led to massive tripping of other circuits and the isolation of Norochcholai. After that it took ages to restart Norochcholai, a known problem which seems not to have been sorted out for 12 years.

Furthermore, there was something new that has not been encountered before. When units were brought back on-line and attempts made, in many different ways, to re-energise Colombo, the system repeatedly tripped. Is all this true? No official statement! Questions: (a) Three-phase to ground flashovers are not common but not unknown; systems should be robust to such events. (b) Why has something not been done for a decade about Norochcholai restarting? And (c) Repetitive tripping-on-re-energisation is a new phenomenon that CEB professionals can sort out given time. However, there has to be stringent outside review of their analyses and proposed solutions. Ministers who smell a saboteur-rat under every bed and Chairmen who undercut their staff will be of no help.

 

Renewable Energy

 

Renewable energy sourced technologies for the generation of electricity is one of the very best things that has happened to humanity. The problem is that the God Indira who commands the sun and wind was not equally generous to all corners of the earth. A one square kilometre site atop the Atacama Desert in Chile or Hardup in the Namib Dessert will produce about 350 GWh (gigawatt hours) and 230 GWh respectively per year. The output for a one square kilometre site in Puttalam, NCP, NP or Hambabtota will be about 150 GWh per year. [A GWh is 1,000,000 units or kWh]. A 1000MW coal power station will generate about 6300 GWh per year (Norochcholai is 900MW and extension to 1200 is planned). To match this, we will need 42 square kilometres of land, that is close to 10,000 acres! This is the problem! Only countries with large dessert landmasses can think big about solar powered electricity. Uninhabited and uncultivated portions NCP, NWP, NP and Hambantota District are good locations for big solar farms, but all together it will not be easy to put together more than about half-a-Norochcholai. As with big-hydro, with wind and solar too, once the best sites are used up it’s saturation; what after that? With other technologies (thermal, nuclear and future fusion power) new plant can be added without such restrictions.

An attraction of solar power is that prices are coming down steeply. After you factor in lifetime repayment of capital, the future cost of electricity generated from large solar farms will be about Rs 10 per kWh while coal or LNG cost between Rs 7 and Rs 9 depending on global coal and gas prices. Let us agree, prices are comparable. The CEB buys privately generated (IPP or Independent Power Producer) power, when it faces shortage, at about Rs 25 per kWh, again variable with world oil prices. [I won’t waste your time with fractions and decimals which will be out of date between one month and the next. When someone with a little subject knowledge writes media columns the duty is to convey useful and reliable information, not to impress readers with minutiae].

We are in our present predicament because of the stupidity and inanity, respectively, of President Sirisena and PM Ranil who ignored an Expert Committee Report in 2016 which warned that cancelling Sampur coal-fired power station would be ruinous. They had numerous warnings from other experts and CEB planners as well. As a member of the Committee I estimated, and included in the Report, that this blunder would cost the country Rs 220 billion. That now seems a bit of an underestimate and the crisis has arrived sooner than I forecast. I am not playing the usual “this regime”, “that regime” game that the media, corporate chairmen and politician are slick at. The two former Rajapaksa Administrations and the 2015-2019 government have all been grossly imprudent in respect of the long and short-term future of the country’s electricity sector. That’s that and QED!

I will not repeat the same story about wind generated electricity though I have jotted down some back of the envelope calculations for my own use. The scenario is similar to solar: It is, like solar, much less polluting and it is price comparable with coal or LNG and much less pricey (only capital costs, negligible running cost) than oil-fired private power. But availability of good sites is limited as with solar (once the best sites are used up as with major hydro, the story is finished – what to do after that?). A very important point is that renewables are big in the public popularity stakes and this is the great selling point for politicians who don’t know the difference between a kilowatt-hour and an LED lamp.

As per the most up to date information on the CEB website (2017) large-hydro supplied 24.6% of total energy while wind, mini-hydro and solar supplied 8.1% – of which mini-hydro was 5.2% all the others 3.9%. CEB thermal (coal and oil) was 52.2% and IPPs (all oil) 15.2% of energy. (It fluctuates a little annually depending on rainfall and unforeseen events like the August 2020 system outage). However, one needs to be ignorant of the basic laws of physics and not schooled in primary arithmetic to say that renewable source electricity will supply 80% of energy by 2030. If in 10 to 15 years demand doubles (say) and no large-hydro is added (only few medium-size projects are left to do) then its relative share will decline, as per trivial arithmetic, to 12.3%. To increase non large-hydro renewables (only 3.9% now) by a factor of five to 19.5%, energy supply must increase, as per trivial arithmetic again, tenfold within 10 years! Only knaves and politicians make such promises.

Has government (President/PM/Cabinet/Subject Ministry) corruption and incompetence been an obstacle to the faster implementation of renewable energy sourced electricity? When competent, rational and honest decision making about the country’s long-term generation expansion programme is undermined by government (all governments) it throws a spanner in the works. Government after government have been ‘playing pandu’; to-LNG or not-to-LNG; to have another coal fired unit or not; to embrace India or Japan or both. When mega private sector companies screw ministers and when nothing is decided properly, it throws the transmission plans out of kilter and demoralises planners. It stands funding including for renewable sources on its head. Therefore, in addition to the technical limitations that I discussed previously cock-up and corruption at the highest levels – not in the CEB Mr Herath but in governments – is an impediment to a sensible programme for increasing renewable source power generation.

 

 



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Strong on vocals

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The group Mirage is very much alive, and kicking, as one would say!

Their lineup did undergo a few changes and now they have decided to present themselves as an all male group – operating without a female vocalist.

At the helm is Donald Pieries (drums and vocals), Trevin Joseph (percussion and vocals), Dilipa Deshan (bass and vocals), Toosha Rajarathna (keyboards and vocals), and Sudam Nanayakkara (lead guitar and vocals).

The plus factor, where the new lineup is concerned, is that all five members sing.

However, leader Donald did mention that if it’s a function, where a female vocalist is required, they would then feature a guest performer.

Mirage is a very experience outfit and they now do the Friday night scene at the Irish Pub, in Colombo, as well as private gigs.

 

 

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Dichotomy of an urban-suburban New Year

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Ushered in by the ‘coo-ee’ of the Koel and the swaying of Erabadu bunches, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year will dawn in the wee hours of April 14. With houses to clean, preparation of sweetmeats and last-minute shopping, times are hectic…. and the streets congested.

It is believed that New Year traditions predated the advent of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. But Buddhism resulted in a re-interpretation of the existing New Year activities in a Buddhist light. Hinduism has co-existed with Buddhism over millennia and no serious contradiction in New Year rituals are observed among Buddhists and Hindus.

The local New Year is a complex mix of Indigenous, Astrological, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. Hindu literature provides the New Year with its mythological backdrop. The Prince of Peace called Indradeva is said to descend upon the earth to ensure peace and happiness, in a white carriage wearing on his head a white floral crown seven cubits high. He first plunges, into a sea of milk, breaking earth’s gravity.

The timing of the Sinhala New Year coincides with the New Year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia. Astrologically, the New Year begins when the sun moves from the House of Pisces (Meena Rashiya) to the House of Aries (Mesha Rashiya) in the celestial sphere.

The New Year marks the end of the harvest season and spring. Consequently, for farming communities, the traditional New Year doubles as a harvest as well. It also coincides with one of two instances when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka. The month of Bak, which coincides with April, according to the Gregorian calendar, represents prosperity. Astrologers decide the modern day rituals based on auspicious times, which coincides with the transit of the Sun between ‘House of Pisces’ and ‘House of Aries’.

Consequently, the ending of the old year, and the beginning of the new year occur several hours apart, during the time of transit. This period is considered Nonegathe, which roughly translates to ‘neutral period’ or a period in which there are no auspicious times. During the Nonegathe, traditionally, people are encouraged to engage themselves in meritorious and religious activities, refraining from material pursuits. This year the Nonegathe begin at 8.09 pm on Tuesday, April 13, and continues till 8.57 am on 14. New Year dawns at the halfway point of the transit, ushered in bythe sound of fire crackers, to the woe of many a dog and cat of the neighbourhood. Cracker related accidents are a common occurrence during new year celebrations. Environmental and safety concerns aside, lighting crackers remain an integral part of the celebrations throughout Sri Lanka.

This year the Sinhala and Tamil New Year dawns on Wednesday, April 14, at 2.33 am. But ‘spring cleaning’ starts days before the dawn of the new year. Before the new year the floor of houses are washed clean, polished, walls are lime-washed or painted, drapes are washed, dried and rehang. The well of the house is drained either manually or using an electric water pump and would not be used until such time the water is drawn for first transaction. Sweetmeats are prepared, often at homes, although commercialization of the new year has encouraged most urbanites to buy such food items. Shopping is a big part of the new year. Crowds throng to clothing retailers by the thousands. Relatives, specially the kids, are bought clothes as presents.

Bathing for the old year takes place before the dawn of the new year. This year this particular auspicious time falls on April 12, to bathe in the essence of wood apple leaves. Abiding by the relevant auspicious times the hearth and an oil lamp are lit and pot of milk is set to boil upon the hearth. Milk rice, the first meal of the year, is prepared separate. Entering into the first business transaction and partaking of the first meal are also observed according to the given auspicious times. This year, the auspicious time for preparing of meals, milk rice and sweets using mung beans, falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 6.17 am, and is to be carried out dressed in light green, while facing east. Commencement of work, transactions and consumption of the first meal falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 7.41 am, to be observed while wearing light green and facing east.

The first transaction was traditionally done with the well. The woman of the house would draw water from the well and in exchange drop a few pieces of charcoal, flowers, coins, salt and dried chillies into the well, in certain regions a handful of paddy or rice is also thrown in for good measure. But this ritual is also dying out as few urban homes have wells within their premises. This is not a mere ritual and was traditionally carried out with the purification properties of charcoal in mind. The first water is preferably collected into an airtight container, and kept till the dawn of the next new year. It is believed that if the water in the container does not go down it would be a prosperous year. The rituals vary slightly based on the region. However, the essence of the celebrations remains the same.

Anointing of oil is another major ritual of the New Year celebrations. It falls on Saturday, April 17 at 7.16 am, and is done wearing blue, facing south, with nuga leaves placed on the head and Karada leaves at the feet. Oil is to be applied mixed with extracts of Nuga leaves. The auspicious time for setting out for professional occupations falls on Monday, April 19 at 6.39 am, while dressed in white, by consuming a meal of milk rice mixed with ghee, while facing South.

Traditionally, women played Raban during this time, but such practices are slowly being weaned out by urbanization and commercialisation of the New Year. Neighbours are visited with platters of sweetmeats, bananas, Kevum (oil cake) and Kokis (a crispy sweetmeat) usually delivered by children. The dichotomy of the urban and village life is obvious here too, where in the suburbs and the village outdoor celebrations are preferred and the city opts for more private parties.

 

 

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New Year games: Integral part of New Year Celebrations

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Food, games and rituals make a better part of New Year celebrations. One major perk of Avurudu is the festivals that are organised in each neighbourhood in its celebration. Observing all the rituals, like boiling milk, partaking of the first meal, anointing of oil, setting off to work, are, no doubt exciting, but much looked-forward-to is the local Avurudu Uthsawaya.

Avurudu Krida or New Year games are categorised as indoor and outdoor games. All indoor games are played on the floor and outdoor games played during the Avurudu Uthsava or New Year festival, with the whole neighbourhood taking part. Some of the indoor games are Pancha Dameema, Olinda Keliya and Cadju Dameema. Outdoor games include Kotta pora, Onchili pedeema, Raban geseema, Kana mutti bindeema, Placing the eye on the elephant, Coconut grating competition, Bun-eating competition, Lime-on-spoon race, Kamba adeema (Tug-o-War) and Lissana gaha nageema (climbing the greased pole). And what’s an Avurudhu Uthsava sans an Avurudu Kumari pageant, minus the usual drama that high profile beauty pageants of the day entail, of course.

A salient point of New Year games is that there are no age categories. Although there are games reserved for children such as blowing of balloons, races and soft drinks drinking contests, most other games are not age based.

Kotta pora aka pillow fights are not the kind the average teenagers fight out with their siblings, on plush beds. This is a serious game, wherein players have to balance themselves on a horizontal log in a seated position. With one hand tied behind their back and wielding the pillow with the other, players have to knock the opponent off balance. Whoever knocks the opponent off the log first, wins. The game is usually played over a muddy pit, so the loser goes home with a mud bath.

Climbing the greased pole is fun to watch, but cannot be fun to take part in. A flag is tied to the end of a timber pole-fixed to the ground and greased along the whole length. The objective of the players is to climb the pole, referred to as the ‘tree’, and bring down the flag. Retrieving the flag is never achieved on the first climb. It takes multiple climbers removing some of the grease at a time, so someone could finally retrieve the flag.

Who knew that scraping coconut could be made into an interesting game? During the Avurudu coconut scraping competition, women sit on coconut scraper stools and try to scrape a coconut as fast as possible. The one who finishes first wins. These maybe Avurudu games, but they are taken quite seriously. The grated coconut is inspected for clumps and those with ungrated clumps are disqualified.

Coconut palm weaving is another interesting contest that is exclusive to women. However men are by no means discouraged from entering such contests and, in fact, few men do. Participants are given equally measured coconut fronds and the one who finishes first wins.

Kana Mutti Bindima involves breaking one of many water filled clay pots hung overhead, using a long wooden beam. Placing the eye on the elephant is another game played while blindfolded. An elephant is drawn on a black or white board and the blindfolded person has to spot the eye of the elephant. Another competition involves feeding the partner yoghurt or curd while blindfolded.

The Banis-eating contest involves eating tea buns tied to a string. Contestants run to the buns with their hands tied behind their backs and have to eat buns hanging from a string, on their knees. The one who finishes his or her bun first, wins. Kamba adeema or Tug-o-War pits two teams against each other in a test of strength. Teams pull on opposite ends of a rope, with the goal being to bring the rope a certain distance in one direction against the force of the opposing team’s pull.

Participants of the lime-on-spoon race have to run a certain distance while balancing a lime on a spoon, with the handle in their mouths. The first person to cross the finish line without dropping the lime wins. The sack race and the three-legged race are equally fun to watch and to take part in. In the sack race, participants get into jute sacks and hop for the finish line. The first one over, wins. In the three-legged race one leg of each pair of participants are tied together and the duo must reach the finish line by synchronising their running, else they would trip over their own feet.

Pancha Dameema is an indoor game played in two groups, using five small shells, a coconut shell and a game board. Olinda is another indoor board game, normally played by two players. The board has nine holes, four beads each. The player who collects the most number of seeds win.

This is the verse sung while playing the game:

“Olinda thibenne koi koi dese,

Olinda thibenne bangali dese…

Genath hadanne koi koi dese,

Genath hadanne Sinhala dese…”

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