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Role of solar energy in overcoming Sri Lanka’s energy crisis



We are writing this article after watching the Derana TV “Aluth Parlimenthuwa” – “Viduliya Mahajana Peminilla” on 26th January 2022, and after reading a newspaper item where the State Minister of Solar Power, Wind and Hydro Power Generation Projects Development, Duminda Dissanayake has stated in Parliament that the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) has not provided the connections for 40MW roof top solar panel systems for almost two years after they were installed on the roofs of homes. It is strange that the Minister has no power to take action against individuals in his own Ministry who block the entry of solar energy to the national grid and provide us with a way to overcome the current power crisis.

Duminda Dissanayake reminded Parliament that the project to supply power through solar panels for low-income earners had already been approved by the Cabinet. He stated that there is a project proposal to install solar panels on the roofs of 100,000 low-income Samurdhi beneficiary families. This is a laudable venture which will benefit both the Samurdhi families as well as the government since a 5 KW solar roof will provide Rs. 12,500 under the net-plus scheme. Out of this, even if the Government pays Rs. 2500 as the samurdhi allowance, Rs. 10,000 is available to pay back the bank loan. After the loan is paid in about seven years, this full amount of Rs. 12,500 is available for the betterment of livelihoods of these poor people. If each low-income household is provided with a five kilowatt solar roof this would amount to a power generation of 500MW, more than the capacity of the Victoria Hydropower Plant (300 MW) or half of the Norochcholai Coal Power Plant (900 MW), and provide more power than any of the diesel thermal power plants. If this 100,000-solar-roof programme can be implemented soon it will have considerable economic benefits since building extra diesel power plants to provide 500MW will cost much more. Furthermore, this solar project can be completed in about two years while building a thermal power plant will take at least five years.

The writers of this article have carried out research on solar energy for over three decades and organised several international conferences on solar energy from the 1990s. We, along with other academics, involved in solar and renewable energies, have had similar experiences to that stated by the Minister during their campaign to promote clean energy applications. From their reluctance to implement solar roof programmes, the CEB appears to love fossil fuels (Coal, Oil and Gas), and apply brakes and obstacles on projects with alternative and indigenous energy sources such as solar, wind and bio-mass.  One of the reasons for the CEB to block the incorporation of solar energy may be because of various other personal benefits which these officials get by purchasing extra emergency power from private diesel power plants.

During an energy conference, organised by the writers’ academic network in the early 1990’s in Colombo, a  CEB senior staff member presented their energy policy for Sri Lanka as “Coal, Coal & Coal”. We noted that some of the same CEB officials, during the “Aluth Parlimenthuwa” programme, saying that they have given full support to implement the renewable energy programmes in the country! This “double game” is the main reason we are heading towards a major power crisis in the energy and power generation sector in the country; saying positive things in front of the camera to satisfy the public and the government and implementing completely the opposite behind the curtain. It is imperative for the present Government to deal with these few senior individuals in the CEB who continuously obstruct the implementation of the solar energy projects and to demand that they work for the benefit of the Nation and not for personal gain.

Because of the colossal use of fossil fuel, global warming, climate change and other health- related issues have been created, and the whole world is working hard to move away from a carbon-based economy towards a carbon-neutral-economy and finally to a hydrogen-based economy. Sri Lanka is a signatory to the Paris Climate Agreement which came into effect in 2015 and one of the key features here is the total incorporation of renewables by 2050. This Government’s manifesto (“Saubhagye dakma”) too had an ambitious goal of achieving a target of 70% from renewables.  These policy decisions, at global level, were further enhanced and endorsed by the recent U.N. (COP26) climate summit held in Glasgow in November 2021 where representatives from about 200 countries agreed to shift away from coal and develop renewable energies to generate electricity in their fight against climate change. The summit ended with calls on governments to return next year with tougher pledges to slash greenhouse gas emissions. However, the CEB authorities still live in the past, talking about intermittency of solar and wind energy sources!  Even young schoolchildren understand the intermittency of solar and wind, but the CEB staff during the ‘’Aluth Parliamenthuwa’’ were spending so much time explaining these simple matters.  The whole world is working to produce hydrogen by ‘’water splitting’’ using solar and wind energy to completely remove this intermittency and decarbonise the world. Some decision-making individuals in the CEB seem to go in the opposite direction. Many countries in Europe where solar energy is more intermittent compared to Sri Lanka, are successfully promoting solar energy as a viable alternative. CEB engineers are always coming out with the excuse that it is not possible to balance the grid to incorporate more than 10% of the total energy but Germany is already using 50% of its energy requirement from renewable energy sources. Maybe the CEB has a fear of going for the latest technology on grid balancing. During a recent lecture at the Institution of Engineers, Prof. J.B. Ekanayake, an expert on power transmission, told the audience which had many senior engineers of the CEB on how this can be done. These engineers meekly listened to this lecture but when they go back to their offices, they continue to stick to their old habit of discouraging solar energy use.

Incorporating renewable energy (RE) to the national grid definitely has certain technical challenges since we are not equipped with ancillary systems to support the grid in a high RE scenario. A strong ancillary system is required for a higher level of penetration by RE and grid balancing is presently done only through hydropower. A comprehensive ADB/UNDP report titled “100% electricity generation through renewable energy by 2050 for Sri Lanka” gives the technical details of procedures that should be adopted to achieve this 70% target.

Another ruse adopted by the CEB is that there is no legal provision in the SRI LANKA ELECTRICITY ACT, No. 20 OF 2009 to include solar energy projects. Solar Industries Association wants this rectified and gazette RE target of 70% by 2030 to give legal cover to fast track dozens of backlogged projects that could add 1.5 gigawatts to the national grid. To our amazement these projects are pending approval for the last four years and the Power and Energy Ministry is not doing anything to clear this backlog through an appropriate mechanism.

To reduce the huge fossil fuel import bill of Sri Lanka, alternative energy sources must be developed and introduced rapidly, and fossil fuel burning should be gradually phased out. In the transport sector, to reduce the burning of petrol and diesel, it is essential to encourage and provide incentives for the use of electric vehicles (EV) and to install charging units powered by solar and wind energy.  The President’s suggestion last week to introduce electric buses is a commendable move in this direction. Electric trains, at least in the Colombo suburban areas, is another viable possibility in this direction.

In the UK, it is government policy now, that as of 2030, there will be no newly manufactured/imported sale of vehicles fitted with combustion engines.  This does not mean that the UK will stop the availability of petrol/diesel as a fuel for existing vehicles.  To gear up to the 2030 target, the UK Government has provided tax incentives to the private sector to introduce EV charging points, as well as a 100% exemption from annual road fund tax for EV’s.  Furthermore, a cash grant has also been given to EV owners to fit rapid charge electric outlets in their own homes/garages, etc., so that the EV can be re-charged safely at home based on domestic electricity tariffs.

Similarly, in Sri Lanka, incentives can be offered to allow the import of EV only to impose a reduced vehicle duty and/or a reduction or full exemption from the annual Licence Fee.

In addition to the private sector involvement in adding EV rapid charging outlets, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation/CEYPETCO and/or the SL Sustainable Energy Authority (SLSEA) can install EV rapid charging stations in the existing network of petrol filling stations, car parking areas, etc.

It is a shame that Sri Lanka with an abundance of solar power has to resort to more and more carbon emitters like coal, LNG, diesel and naphtha to supply the power needs of the country. The Government should take a firm stand on the future energy generation plans and provide both legal cover as well as financial incentives to achieve a greener Sri Lanka.

The writers:

Professor I. M. Dharmadasa, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, United Kingdom., Professor L. Dissanayake, National Institute of Fundamental Studies, Kandy, and Professor O. A. Ileperuma, Emeritus Professor, University of Peradeniya,

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Export what?



The dire need to increase Sri Lanka’s export earnings and thereby reduce the trade deficit to meet the severe financial crisis we are facing today has been emphasised by many. According to Central Bank annual reports (see Table), export incomes have not increased substantially during the last few years. Tea, which contributes around 12 % of the total exports, registered a notable decline of 16.0 per cent in 2022, attributed to many factors.

In 2022, production of high, medium, and low grown tea, declined by 13.8 per cent, 21.2 per cent, and 15.4 percent respectively. Meanwhile, the average yield in the smallholder tea sector decreased to 1,193 kilogrammes per hectare, registering a year-on-year decline of 15.6 per cent in average yield. Production of rubber and most of the other export crops too have decreased during the last decade.

Increasing exports is of paramount importance to overcome the current financial crisis. But what we are going to export is the main question. Newspaper reports indicate that the quantity of most of our crop exports has dwindled during the last few years. As indicated above, production of tea, our main export crop product, has not shown any substantial increase during the last few years. All these data indicate that the production of our export crops is dwindling and it is sine qua nun that an effective plan is implemented to increase our export incomes. In such a plan, increasing the production of currently cultivated crops such as tea, rubber and coconut need to be adequately dealt with.

Sri Lanka has a wide variation in soil and climate with 46 agro-ecological zones, each characterised by specific climate and soils making it possible the cultivation of a number of different types of crops such as tuberous crops, horticultural and floricultural crops, medicinal herbs, cane, bamboo, sunflower, castor etc. which have a considerable export potential. Out of the 6.5 million hectares of land, around 2.0 million hectares are in the wet zone. About 75% of it is cultivated and most of this land is of low-productivity due to soil degradation. In the dry zone, out of the 4.5 million hectares, only about 2 million acres are in productive use. Thus, there is a large extent of potentially cultivable land in the dry zone. Most of the soils in the dry zone are relatively more fertile than those in the wet zone. Non-availability of adequate rainfall during the Yala season is one of the limiting factors of crop production in the dry zone. However, better water management practices would reduce this limitation. Also, various major irrigation projects such as Mahaweli, Kirindi Oya, Muthukandiya and Inginimitiya provide irrigation to about 200,000 hectares in the dry zone. The numerous minor irrigation projects too would increase the irrigable area in the dry zone. Thus, there is a considerable potential to increase the level of crop production in Sri Lanka.

Although there are many organisations such as the Ministries of Agriculture, Industry and Commerce, Export Development Board, Industrial Development Board etc. there appears to be no proper medium long-term plan to promote the cultivation of these crops and develop appropriate agro-industries except for some ad-hoc projects. The Ministry of Industry and Agriculture should implement an effective agro-Industrial Development Programme which undoubtedly would increase our exports incomes, improve employment opportunities and incomes in the rural areas. Private sector can be involved in such projects for which appropriate technical assistance needs to be given by the relevant public organizations.

In any programme/plan to increase foreign exchange earnings from the agric. sector, agro-industries have to be given much emphasis. A large number of crops cultivated in Sri Lanka have considerable potential in various agro-industries. However only rubber, coconut and a few fruit crops are used in industries. Crops such as cassava, horticultural and floricultural crops, medicinal herbs, cane, bamboo, sunflower, castor, ayurvedic herbs, etc. have a considerable industrial potential but are not cultivated to any appreciable extent for want of better and improved varieties, technological know-how, relevant market information etc. Development of agro-industries will also increase export income and will have a tremendous impact on the economy of the country and also provide employment opportunities among rural people.   Private sector can be involved in such projects for which appropriate technical assistance needs to be given by the relevant public organizations.

There has been rhetoric on promoting exports. It is meaningful and effective actions that are necessary. Giving talks at numerous seminars etc. will not increase exports unless there is a realistic plan implemented effectively.

Dr. C. S. Weeraratna

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It’s the economy, again



There is a report in the Lankadeepa of 30 September, 2023 that thousands (‘dahas ganang’) of university graduates in biotechnology (and engineering technology) languish without employment. There is a comment that even if all of them were employed as teachers in state schools (in fact, there is no money to do so), the pool of unemployed graduates in biotechnology, which is filled yearly,

would not dry up; not dissimilarly (the reporter comments) from the fate of graduates in Arts. That graduates in biotechnology are unemployable in this economy as graduates in Arts are, validates a position that I have repeatedly brought up in these pages: university graduates and other young people are unemployed in this economy because this economy is arid and sterile and not because the education system, at whatever level, is fundamentally flawed.

The moment they land in a vigorously growing economy, they become the output of an excellent education system. Not that the education system (school and university) cannot be improved: Cambridge University has improved since 1215; Harvard University continues to improve since 1635. China (Mainland and Taiwan), Malaysia and many other economies did not await reforms in their education systems to grow rapidly as during the last several decades. It is a bit like the truism about savings and investment in the total economy: you don’t have to save to invest; if you invest savings will accommodate investment. It might be apt to say, ‘it is the economy stupid’.

The report in the Lankadipa highlighted that it was Dr. Bandula Gunawardhena, who, when he was the Minister of Education in 2012, with great enthusiasm, installed these branches of learning in schools and universities. And, he earned a Ph.D. degree in Economics!

Our erudite president of the republic, who goes around the world from one conference to another, preaching to the rest of the world, shows great enthusiasm about digitizing this economy. He is falling into the same trap as Dr. Gunewardhena fell into. You digitize a growing economy, not a moribund and bankrupt one.

It is the economy, again.


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Tribute to Dr. Nilanthi Cooray



I have known Dr. Nilanthi for more than 40 years since her marriage to my cousin Frank.Dr. Nilanthi was born in Moratuwa to a middle-class Catholic family. Her siblings include an older sister and a younger brother, and all three of them were studious. Her parents, especially her father. was a devout Catholic who was a frequent visitor to St. Sebastian’s church in Moratuwa.

Up to grade eight, Nilanthi attended Our Lady of Victories Convent in Moratuwa and then joined the Holy Family Convent in Bambalapitiya. She was accepted to the Medical College in 1972 after her successful results at the A-levels. She traveled daily from Moratuwa to the Medical college until such time she was able to get a place at the medical college hostel. During her final years at the medical college hostel, she succeeded in her studies and graduated as a doctor in 1976.

Her career began as an intern at the Lady Ridgeway Hospital Colombo for six months and another six months at the Castle Street Hospital, Borella working with leading qualified senior doctors. In 1977, she got married to her lifelong friend, Frank Cooray, who was working as a Technical Officer in the Irrigation Department. Her first appointment as a fully-fledged MBBS doctor was at the Narammala Base Hospital. Thereafter she got a transfer to the Lunawa Hospital.

After serving the required number of compulsory years (five or six years) she gave up the government job and started her own private practice. This decision seemed a calculated risk as at that time Moratuwa had enough and more reputed and recognized senior doctors such as Dr. Festus Fernando, Dr. Winston Perera, Dr. Cramer, Dr. Muthukumaru, Dr. Keerthisinghe, Dr. Guy de Silva and so on. However, within a short span of time, Nilanthi was able to establish herself as a remarkable young doctor and by the time the senior doctors retired or left Moratuwa, she had become one of the highly recognized doctors in Moratuwa with diagnostic excellence.

The demands of work and the up bringing of two little daughters made it difficult for Nilanthi to cope with everyday life. To support her, her husband gave up his job and went on voluntarily retirement after serving for 18 years at the Irrigation Department. He was just short of two years to qualify for the government pension.

In her prime of life Nilanthi was diagnosed for cancer. More time was spent in rest and prayers. Nilanthi and Frank would have prayed to God and all saints for a miracle healing. This was proved, when she went to Lourdes in France, a place known for Marian worship, to fulfill a vow, after receiving the good news from Dr. S. R. Jayatilleke, who was her oncologist, that her cancer has disappeared. This was the first thing she wanted to upon receiving the miracle healing. She got the green light from the doctor to fly. After her cancer Nilanthi slowed down in her practice and limited the number of patients per day.

Nilanthi was never interested in having a luxurious life or extra comforts like luxury cars or overseas holidays. Her life was centered around her family and her medical profession. She was a loving wife to her husband and devoted mother to her two daughters. As time passed, spending time with her four grandchildren brought her great happiness.

Only after her death that most of the people came to know about her charitable acts of kindness and in treating the poor without charging a fee. During her funeral service, a priest who gave the homily mentioned how students and staff of St. Sebastian’s College Moratuwa benefited by her treatment during their illnesses.

It was only a matter of telling her husband who was now attached to the staff at the College and he made arrangements for them to consult Dr. Nilanthi on a priority line. There was no difference between a priest, staff member, minor staff or a student (of course the student had to wear the uniform to identify their school), all were treated free of charge.

Attending the funeral service were several priests (including Bishop Anthony who was a past Rector of the College) and Christian brothers who served the college. I am certain that they came not only to pay their last respects but also to express their gratitude for taking care of them during their time of illnesses.

In the latter part of her life, her health deteriorated and with the help of her domestic aid, she had chosen a saree and a blouse for her final journey, which she did not disclose to her family members. However, when Frank came to know about it, he was upset and he had asked Nilanthi what this is all about. But she had not given any answer to that.

However, taking that opportunity she had given one more instruction to Frank, and that is after she is gone to give the gold chain round her neck to the domestic aid. For her final journey she was dressed with that particular saree and when everything was over the gold chain was given to the domestic aid.

She leaves so many special memories and a legacy of love. May her soul rest in peace.

-Ralph Gunawardena-

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