By Chandre Dharmawardana
Sri Lanka recently had a nationwide blackout that cost millions, and even compromised its security. A blackout may be compared to a sudden heart attack, leaving a debilitated individual. This was the fifth “heart attack” suffered by the grid since the end of the Eelam wars, with blackouts in 2009, 2015, twice in 2016, and on 17th August 2020. So we have a chronically sick patient.
Letting the Cat out of the Bag.
The CEB authorities have conveniently ascribed the problem to “human error”. The patient got the 5th heart attack accidentally, because he yawned too hard – but we don’t mention his chronic condition!
Dr. Tilak Siyambalapitiya has written to The Island newspaper (19-08-20) about the “anatomy of the blackout”. He suggests that the CEB grid can be perturbed by small erratic inputs from solar and wind energies, making the grid unstable!
The SL-power grid provides about 2000 MW. However, even if many solar installations, wind farms etc., contributed erratically to the grid, they might hardly add to 10 MW within a time interval of a few seconds. A few seconds is a “large” time for electrical systems that react in milli-seconds or faster. A 10 MW fluctuation in a 2000 MW system is just a half percent fluctuation!
So, the “human error” is merely the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. The 2000MW system should have a peak to trough daily fluctuation of, say, plus or minus 500 MW, and these are “scheduled changes” handled by the grid using set procedures for load adding and load shedding.
The CEB power system is not a smart grid controlled by an intelligent set of algorithms that deftly and rapidly manipulate well maintained “on-load tap” changers, shunts, relays and switches. Instead focusing on such realities, we are told that a superintendent accidentally earthed a live line and the system collapsed, almost like a cheap Wesak pandol without a fuse built by the village “Baas”. The “Baas” and the CEB technicians also work without written-down procedures. Is the CEB “just managing”, riding the cusp of the blame for neglecting to modernise it and maintain it.
There is hardly a scientific paper or engineering report published by the CEB scientists in peer-reviewed technical journals of, say, the IEEE, that would report the evolution of the CEB’s control systems, its many blackouts etc. In effect, the officials have worked like “Baas Unnaeheys”, with no Research and Development (R&D) or establishing a learning curve. Although five blackouts have occurred since 2009, does the CEB have “in-house” capacity to simulate such events? Its only “R&D” are to host an occasional student working with a University Professor to do research that costs a dime.
The CEB boasts of some 22 major hydro-electric stations. But it has not acquired the knowledge to, say, innovate a new pilot plant better fitted to the needs of the country. If such competence had been acquired, it could export its knowledge and win tenders in foreign lands!
So, the CEB is only an UNTHINKING beast that generates, transmits and sells power, and calls for tenders when needed within the standard frame of available “ready-made” power plants. Anything beyond that set path, even a modest roof-top solar panel, gives the creature a heart attack.
Is there a “Wealthy CEB Mafia”?
The public talks of “a power mafia leading a high life” in the CEB. The blackout has even been linked to conspiracies! A Derana TV discussion labelled the CEB a “fifth power” that can hold the country to ransom!
However, the CEB can point to successive governments that have scuttled their plans. Though building a power plant may take just a couple of years, the approval, tenders, acquiring land and licenses may add decades.
The government can change every five years. Sri Lanka periodically changes governments and the new politicians discredit and smash the plans of their predecessors. Power plants proposed in the 1980s have been cancelled, re-approved and new tenders called by politicians since the time of Premadasa, through Kumaratunga, to Rajapaksa and Sirisena a dozen times!
The CEB engineers can say, if we only had that “excess capacity” then these blackouts wouldn’t have happened! On the face of it, this might indeed be true. But this is irrelevant given Dr. Siyambalapitiya’s admission that the system cannot even handle a 0.5% power fluctuation from “un-monitored” sources like “solar and wind”.
We now understand the foot dragging of the CEB in incorporating wind, solar and bio-energy. The grid is an ad hoc patchwork of wires connecting a bunch of power stations in the simplest manner possible. It is a STUPID grid when a SMART grid that collects its own data and servo-controls the supply and demand is needed.
The engineers, taken individually, are technically capable well-trained people whose integrity must be accepted until proven otherwise. They are not political appointees like some secretaries to ministers. So, what has gone wrong?
How to correct the mess
Given the finances of the CEB, it MUST be guided by its own vibrant research arm with in-house research, pilot projects and research publications. If industries like Tea and Rubber can have their research institutes, how can the power sector which dominates Sri Lanka’s foreign expenditure not have one? The CEO’s of the CEB are unforgivably guilty of not establishing such a research arm. The first task of R&D should be to create a smart grid with automatic data collection at a large number of monitoring stations within months.
Unlike in the old days when power engineering was the strength of a power utility, today the Information Technology division plays a key role. The CEB R&D branch should work on new technologies like solar power. The public must not grudge high salaries and attractive perks to top engineers and researchers who produce new research, build pilot plants and usher in new technology. Here we are not talking of bureaucrats who spin narratives to justify ongoing failures.
How to cut costs, and boost hydro and solar power.
A large fraction (usually over 50%) of the cost of a unit of power goes for the generation step, and additional costs arise in transmission and marketing. The generation cost of hydro-electricity in Lanka is about Rs 2 to 4 per unit. Clean coal and dendro energy may cost Rs 12 per unit, while fossil fuels (LNG or Diesel) need Rs 20-30 per unit. Today, a unit of solar or wind energy may be less than Rs 10 for large scale installations. Of these, hydro, wind, solar, and dendro are the only environmentally acceptable energy sources.
Clearly the best option is hydroelectricity. Although most hydro sources are already tapped, there is at least a 30% increase possible with very little effort. The CEB is “gungho” for building floating (off-shore) LNG storage units and coupling them with pipelines dangerously passing through busy urban areas to deliver fuel to a new 300 MW power plant. And yet, it does not seem to be able to put floats and cover hydro-electric reservoirs to prevent the evaporation of the water that occurs day and night! Evaporation will get even worse with global warming. But the CEB has no plans for global warming.
So, preventing evaporation will rapidly increase the island’s power capacity by, say, 30% . Given some 22 major hydroelectric reservoirs with a surface area of about 1000 ha each, if 50% of the surface be covered using floats, 11,000 ha (110 sq km) are protected. It can be shown that the environmental impact is positive. The annual hydro-power of about 6000 GWh will rise to 8000 GWh when evaporation is cut. This is the cheapest and cleanest electricity!
Typically, sunlight can annually produce about 100-200 GWh per sq. km (100 ha) under Sri Lanka’s conditions. If solar panels are also placed on the floaters deployed to cut evaporation, then 1000-2000 GWh per annum of solar energy can be harvested, with no hassle about acquiring land rights. Any excess daytime energy can be saved by retaining the corresponding amount of hydro-head in the reservoirs, without sending the reservoir water down into the turbines. That is, solar electricity has been stored without batteries!
Of course, this kind of fine tuning and optimal control cannot be done using the “stupid” grid that is available to the CEB at the moment!
[The author has published over a hundred research papers on high-energy density matter and topics on laser-assisted fusion energy, often in collaboration with scientists at the French Atomic Energy Commission & Electricite de France, the US Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, and the US Los Alamos Laboratory.]
An air of discontent prevails
We have had a series of “Avurudhu parties” here in Aotearoa. No shortage of Kavum, Kokis, Athiraha, and even Wali Thalapa. Buffalo curd available locally and of course imported treacle in abundance. Yours truly has assumed the role of a fly on the wall during these festivities and gleaned much information, worth talking about.
First to get on to the Pearl, the talk of the botched-up vaccination plan and running out of the second dose of vaccine. Bizarre permutations as to what would happen if the second dose was not available on time and to who would be press-ganged into getting the “dodgier” types of vaccine from China and Russia, etc. The possible repercussions of getting a second dose of another type of vaccine to the original, the speculations of which left me rather glad that the general populace of Aotearoa has not been vaccinated to date. The talk moved on to the Easter bombings and the recent comments by leaders of the Roman Catholic church as to the possible perpetrators of the attack. Some increasingly obvious conclusions as to those responsible for the planning and funding of same are being reached by those other than some of us who dared to voice our opinions over a year ago! This combined with the increasing and very rapid unpopularity of the person they elected to high office hoping he was genie of the magic lamp type, and the possible reverse of Hong Kong that could take shape on the reclaimed land near the Colombo port, does not bode well for an already dubious future. By reverse of Hong Kong, I mean Hong Kong is trying to hold out as a bastion for democracy, whilst the proposed port city seems to be modeled on the opposite!
Moving on to Aotearoa, the rest of the world seems to be praying for a leader such as our own Jacinda Ardern, but the fat cats of Aotearoa are getting rather sick of her. Those who own multiple houses and have been setting off their interest payments against their taxes due to a loophole in the law that has now been plugged are grumbling. The fact that most young people can’t afford to buy their first houses due to rich people and property developers snapping up all available property, happily funded by banks who are only interested in the bottom line, is of no consequence to them. The fact that this could lead to so much discontent that it could even lead to armed insurrection doesn’t bother them. They seem to have forgotten that we have had almost no deaths and hardly any Covid 19 cases in our community when they say that the lockdowns, we underwent were too excessive and how the economy and business sector has suffered. These very people throng the stadia during the rugby and cricket games and enjoy music concerts with gay abandon. Megacorporations are not happy about the restrictions that are coming on with regard to the use of Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) due to environmental concerns. To top it all off I had a lecture from my 13-year-old daughter about how I am being “led by the nose” by Jacinda Ardern and her propaganda! Where she got that from could only be from her elder brothers whose get rich quick schemes have seen a setback due to certain leftist policies coming in from the Labour government that is in power with an absolute majority.
I laugh to myself and think about other examples I have seen of self-proclaimed pundits never being content with their lot. My education was in a very large Government school. As a perfect and a member of some sports teams we handled the administration and some of the governance of this school. Later in life when my children were attending a private school I got involved in the Executive committee of the PTA of that school. The “problems” faced by the private school and the vast dramas that were involved in trying to solve those problems were laughable when compared to those faced by even us, senior students (a much lower level in the administration) of the Government school.
It led me to believe that people always grumble. They are never content with their lot and there is always someone plugging their case and trying to sow the seeds of discontent among the populace. If those living in Aotearoa, in the present situation and well aware of the chaos and mayhem that is prevailing in the rest of the world are dissatisfied, when will anyone be satisfied? Everything is relative and one should try to step outside the confines of one’s own situation and look at the broad picture. In the words of learned barristers, I rest my case!
This week’s missive will not be complete without a tribute to the memory of Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh. He lived through some of the best and worst times of human existence on this planet and conducted himself impeccably. He showed his humanity and his failings, with a few bloopers down the line but most of those had an undercurrent of humor and couldn’t really be construed as offensive, despite the best efforts of the media and others to make them so. He served as consort to her Majesty the Queen with loyalty and aplomb and he leaves behind an enviable legacy in the world of conservation and youth affairs. It is hoped that his heirs will be up to the task for they face a task which in cricketing terms could be classed as coming into bat after the great Sir Vivian Richards had just scored a century, in his prime. Something very difficult to surpass in skill and entertainment value. Unfortunately, the Duke made just 99. May he rest in peace!
We have much to learn; and emulation is no disgrace
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” said Oscar Wilde who, through sharply ironic wit, often proclaimed the absolute truth.
Cassandra quotes him today as she wants to point out how much we in Sri Lanka can benefit by reaping some ideas from the recent royal funeral in Windsor. And she does not excuse herself for placing stress on our mediocrity as juxtaposed with greatness. Nationalists may shout themselves hoarse and bring down a few more majestic trees by decrying the comparison. They can justifiably claim we have a cultural heritage of two and a half millennia but have we remained cultured, following faithfully and correctly the four great religions of the world? A loud NO from Cass, echoed by millions of others. Though Britain’s development of the English language, culture, arts and science was later than our civilization, they outstripped all countries at one time and are again elevated, while we are poised on bankruptcy, with the begging bowl in hand and thugs and thieves as legislators. We in Sri Lanka are mediocre if not degraded against the greatness shown by the Brits in many spheres. This is no Anglophile speaking but a dame who was born when the Brits were leaving us to govern ourselves and grew up with our statesmen doing a jolly good job of it; Sinhalese, Tamil, Burgher, and a few Muslims taking the lead graciously and effectively with complete honesty, to serve the people. They maintained and improved our country so it was admired by others and even some desiring to imitate Ceylon as Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew admitted. And where are we now? Except the Rajapaksa family from Medamulana, wearing rose tinted glasses or with eyes shut by arrogance, and their followers and throngs of sycophants, others see our country and our people for what it, and the people, really are. No need to elaborate.
The funeral of Prince Philip juxtaposed against customs here
The low-key funeral observing all Covid-19 restrictions was noteworthy for being utterly devoid of bombast and vainglory. It was dignified and moving. Cass wonders how many of her readers watched the funeral on Saturday 17, late evening here. Prince Philip had detailed all arrangements from the Navy being prominent and other Forces joining in plus the substitution of the gun carriage with a jeep he had helped design. The horse carriage he was adept at racing was stationed close by the entrance to the chapel. He has bequeathed it to the daughter of his youngest son and Sophie; the Wessexes having been very close to him and the Queen.
The entire proceedings proved first and foremost that the royal family observed strict pandemic restrictions like mask wearing and physical distancing. There was no one rule for them and another rule for us, thus proving beyond doubt that England (usually), and more so the Royal Family (definitely) are a country and an institution despising double standards. The monarch decreed and abided by the same regulations that have restricted everyone else in the UK, sharing their fate. An anecdote is relevant here. The Queen learned that lesson long ago. She was 14 when her mother said, after Buckingham Palace was bombed in September 1940, that she “could look the East End in the face now.”
Do all our people follow rules common to everyone? Oh! My heavens NO! There are differentiations according to layers in society. Shangri La would host a party for a hundred when only 30 are allowed to gather. During the height of the first wave when restrictions were strict, SLPP electioneering saw hordes thrust together and baby carrying, patting heads and hand clasping mostly by Mahinda Rajapaksha sans a mask. He has a charismatic bond with the masses but that needed to be curbed. Sajith Premadasa’s meetings were strict on physical distancing and mask wearing.
Only 30 were invited to the extremely solemn and yes, beautiful funeral service at Windsor Chapel. This meant eliminating even close relatives of the Family; but it was done. The Queen sat distanced from her daughter and sons and their spouses. Her now diminutive figure seated alone emphasized the loneliness she must be feeling after a close and successful marriage of 73 years.
This brings to mind our First Ladies. Cass steps out bravely to say that Elina Jayewardene was a gracious lady of restraint and dignity, the only perfect consort so far. Cass remembers Hema Premadasa beating her breast (true) and crying over the coffin of her late husband’s remains – in the true sense of the word – at the Prez’s funeral at Independence Square. There is dignity in restraint of even tears over a death in public. Among the women Heads of the country, the mother completely beat the daughter in dignity and ability.
We Sri Lankan women are now much more restrained in our mourning at funerals. Time was when widows even hoarsely wailed their sorrow, coiled and roiled with grief, and begged the dear departed “To look once more; say one word.” Cass in all the expressed grief of such funerals suppressed her laughter with difficulty. How would it be if the corpse obliged?
The choir at the funeral of Prince Philip was just four – one woman and three men. But their singing resounded in the high vaulted, completely majestic, centuries old church. The lone kilted piper within the Chapel evoked much. The service itself was short, just a Reading, prayers and listing of the multitude of honours bestowed on the Duke of Edinburgh, whose medals and decorations were on display beside the alter. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Dean of Windsor, David Conner conducted the service.
To conclude, the Duke of Edinburgh had advised and laid stipulations on a simple funeral with the necessary pomp and pageantry but low key and very unostentatious. The actual funeral was even more low-key with mourners requested not to be on the streets or place flowers. The latter they did in all the residencies of the Royal Family in appreciation of a man who faithfully stood by the Queen and in his own way gave service to the nation.
Coming back to Free Sri Lanka, we seem to stress on that first word Cass inserted to the country name, even in these dire times of no crowds. And the worst is milling crowds are apparently encouraged to boost popularity of certain VVIPs by sycophants and by the preference/orders of the VVIP himself.
Consider the funeral of Minister Thondaman: crowds in Colombo and all VIPs wishing to register their presence before the body, and then the commotion at the actual cremation Up Country. Consider this year’s Sinhala New Year celebrations which were very dignified at the President’s residence but were inclusive of all traditions and a large gathering in the PM’s home, even raban playing by the Second Lady, and milling crowds outside.
Roller coaster ride of the country continues
Cass is relieved she had a topic to write on; namely that we should emulate the manner in which the much admired Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral was conducted, abiding by his stricture of it being low key and the country’s Covid restrictions. Our leaders especially must accept the saying I quoted at the beginning.
The country continues its roller coaster bumpy ride with some crying out the country is being sold to the Chinese, we will be a colony of theirs after they occupy the Port City; and others in remote areas sitting down for days on end, some near 100 days, drawing attention to the human elephant conflict. Much is touted about the Bill relating to the rules to govern the Port City.
Cassandra listens to all, and is somewhat warned and frightened, but cannot comment. However, one matter she speaks about loud and clear. The people must be told the status quo of the pandemic – daily numbers catching the infection and numbers dying. This is not for interest sake or ghoulish appetites; but to know how things are so we relax a wee bit or shut in more stringently. The Covid-19 Task Force, or the Health High Ups (not Pavithra please) should tell the country of the true situ of the pandemic as it holds the country in its grip. We want to know whether the grip is tightening or weakening. Please give us daily statistics. This newspaper announces total numbers. No help. Are we expected to jot down figures, subtract, and give ourselves daily infection and death statistics? No! It goes to prove that other matters – political slanted, ego boosting and economics – are more important than warning, containing the pandemic, and saving lives.
Do you pump Octane 95 Petrol to your car to get better performance?
If your answer is YES, this article is for you
Dr. Saliya Jayasekara.
Senior Lecturer Department of Mechanical Engineering
University of Moratuwa
Many passenger vehicles, including three-wheelers and motorcycles are fueled by octane 95 gasoline when octane 92 gasoline (petrol) is available at a lower price.
Otto engine (petrol engine) is an internal combustion spark ignition engine invented by a German engineer Nicolaus Otto in 1876 and used in most of the light weight vehicles including cars, three wheelers and motor bicycles. Otto engines can burn most of the hydrocarbon fuels (including hydrogen and ethanol) that can mix with air by evaporation (low boiling point). But the combustion characteristics of different hydrocarbons are not the same when burned inside an engine. If an Otto engine is designed for a particular fuel, it would not perform similarly with a fuel that has a different chemical composition.
In a well-tuned Otto engine run on gasoline for which the engine is designed, the combustion of the gasoline (petrol) / air mixture will continue smoothly from the spark plug to the piston head by igniting successive layers of the mixture as shown in Figure 1 (a).
If low grade gasolines are used, the combustion of some of the air/ fuel mixture in the cylinder does not result from propagation of the flame front initiated by the spark plug, but one or more pockets of air/fuel mixture explode (Detonate) outside the envelope of the normal combustion front as shown in Figure 1 (b). This detonation can cause severe damage to the piston and the head of the engine while deteriorating thermal performance of the engine (low efficiency)
Gasoline is a petroleum-derived product comprising a mixture of different hydrocarbons ranging from 4 to 12 carbon atoms in a carbon chain with the boiling point ranging of 30–225°C. It is predominantly a mixture of paraffins, naphthenes, aromatics and olefins. Additives and blending agents are added to improve the performance and stability of gasoline. The engine designers learned that straight-chain paraffin have a much higher tendency to detonate than do branched-chain paraffin.
The tendency of a particular gasoline to detonate is expressed by its octane number (ON). Arbitrarily, tri-methyl-pentane, C8H18 (iso-octane) is assigned an ON of 100, while the straight-chain paraffin n-heptane, C7H16 is given an ON of zero. Hence, a fuel sample with the same anti-detonation quality as that of a mixture containing 90% iso-octane and 10% n-heptane is said to have an ON of 90. Gasoline is made up of a mixture of mostly branched-chain paraffin with suitable additives to give an ON in the range 90 –100. It was also learned through experiments that the ON of a gasoline blends (e.g. gasoline and ethanol) can be calculated by using weighted average ON of each compound. Most importantly, the octane number has nothing to do with the heating value (Calorific value) or the purity of the fuel.
Engine thermodynamics show that engines with a high compression ratio offer higher thermal performance than engines with a low compression ratio. These engines having high compression ratio require high octane gasoline (for example octane 95) to avoid detonation. However, using gasoline having higher octane ratings for the engines designed for a low octane rating (for example, 92 octane) would not provide an additional benefit or loss, other than increased fuel cost.
Therefore, it is important to know the designed octane number of the engine before fueling (refer owner’s manual of the vehicle). For example: the minimum ON requirement for two and three wheelers in south Asia is 87 (The World Bank). Most of the Toyota, Honda and Nissan models including hybrid engines recommend 92 octane gasoline.
Dr. Saliya Jayasekara received the B. Sc. degree in mechanical engineering from university of Moratuwa in 2001, and the M.Sc. and PhD degrees in decentralized power generation systems from Royal institute of technology Sweden and the Melbourne University Australia in 2004 and 2013 respectively. He has well over 13 years of national and international experience in design and installation of centralised/decentralised power plants, boilers (utility/package) and heat exchangers. Currently he is serving as a senior lecture at University of Moratuwa, a visiting lecturer and fellow at Deakin University Australia.
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