By Dr Tilak Siyambalapitiya
On a windy day, way back in 2002, an engineer from the CEB, approached the Mannar island, searching for a location to set up a wind measuring system. Those were difficult times, with the ceasefire taking hold, but a flareup between the two warring sides was imminent. He precariously crossed the makeshift bridge, on the Mannar causeway, previously blown-up in the war. Moving toward Thalaimannar, the road was deserted and full of potholes, the result of years of neglect during the war. With calculations and estimates in hand, he knew Mannar would be a superior location for wind power, compared to Hambantota, where a pilot wind power plant had been fixed three years back, in 1999.
Still looking for a location to fix the measuring instrument, taking a left turn after Pesalai and now walking along a narrow, tarred road covered with sand dunes, the engineer reached the Navy detachment in Nadukkuda, on the western sea front of the Mannar island. Navy officials readily agreed to “take good care” of the measuring instrument, standing 40 meters tall, fixed in close proximity to the camp. Thus, began the wind measuring “campaign”, in wind industry terminology, to collect wind data in Mannar.
Well, before many of the present-day promoters and guardians of renewable energy ever dared to venture, wind measurements were being collected and analysed. “Wind power is too expensive”; “there is no wind in Sri Lanka but only doldrums or trade winds”; “this will be an utter failure”, said the wind sceptics. “Wind power can provide all electricity requirements of Sri Lanka”, “pay us 3 UScts per unit and we will build wind power plants and supply electricity”, said the over-enthusiastic lot, who had no data in hand.
This week will mark the soft opening of the Mannar wind development zone, Sri Lanka’s first world class wind park. The ongoing work, when completed, will deliver 100 megawatt of electricity when the wind flow is good, and zero megawatt when the wind flow is below its start-up speed. The road to Mannar wind power generation was indeed, literally, a road full of potholes and obstacles.
The conflict flared up again in 2005, and Mannar being hardly accessible, went out of focus, and wind development focused on Puttalam-Kalpitiya, perhaps a consolation price, for any wind power enthusiast. Although not as good as Mannar, Puttalam wind zone was available for development, soon after the government streamlined the approval process: the newly-formed Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority (SLSEA) managing the approval process and a technology-specific cost-reflective feed-in tariff, paid by CEB for electricity produced by private investors using wind energy. The proliferation of wind turbines observed in Puttalam and on the way to Kalpitiya, is a result of the policy, streamlined in 2007.
The first wind power plant in Puttalam commenced producing electricity in 2010. Sceptics were never in short-supply. Similar power plants in Tamil Nadu were producing less electricity; how come? Wind turbine blades will get detached and fly all over; birds will hit the turbines and get killed. Opinion makers were many, but the government stood firm in the resolve that renewable energy development has to be facilitated, but the road to a renewable energy future will be slow but steady. Within weeks of the first power plant in Puttalam showing good performance, the sceptics turned enthusiasts, were now falling over each other, to make investments on wind power plants. The price formula was breached, and the price paid for electricity produced from private wind power plants hit the roof: Rs 25 per unit. The investor “queue” was breached, and the price formula was manipulated, and in 2012, the government said: “no more at this price”. No new wind power plants were allowed from 2013. The inability of Sri Lankan investors and their hidden representatives in state institutions, some in Parliament, too, to build and enjoy guaranteed profits from wind power, was lost for several years.
Sri Lanka currently has 16 wind power plants in operation, all by the private sector. Data published for 2018 for 15 of them (the 16th commenced operations recently) show that they produced 325 million units of electricity, at prices ranging between Rs 13.05 and 25.80 per unit, working out to an average of Rs 20.40 per unit. That is only the production cost. Since wind is seasonal, there have to be other power plants standing by, to come-up when wind does not blow. Such standby capacity cost was Rs 3.09. Transmission and distribution expenses were Rs 4.36 per unit, said the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), in its approvals.
Although electricity costing is not that simple, an approximate cost of producing and delivering a unit of electricity from existing wind power plants in 2018 was Rs 20.40+3.09+4.36 * 27.85 per unit. The average selling price of electricity to customers was Rs 16.70 per unit, fixed by the same PUC.
Buy at 27.85 and sell at 16.70. Such a business cannot survive. The promotional prices offered had to come to an end, and the end was reached through two initiatives: competitive bidding for wind power from private sector, starting 2015, and the CEB building its own wind power plant in Mannar. These two actions established new benchmarks for sizing and pricing of electricity produced from wind power plants. The government or the CEB has never defaulted on commitments already made; therefore, even if wind equipment prices have decreased and financing is cheaper than in 2010, agreements signed at difficult times, at higher prices, are being fully honoured.
With the conclusion of the war, focus shifted again to Mannar, and a new wind measurement “campaign” commenced in 2012, re-confirming the good potential to produce electricity. The potential for wind power generation in the Mannar District alone was assessed to be 375 megawatt, with minimal disturbance to other social and economic activities. With a master plan complete by 2015, the next step was to proceed to establish building and other land-use regulations, to facilitate harnessing the full potential. However, all that was not to be, and ended up only with a 100 megawatt power plant. Whether the balance 275 megawatt will ever be built, is a question that has no answers, at least for now.
So, at what price does wind power come from Mannar? According to published information, the power plant cost USD 130 million, and produce a conservative estimate of 345 million units per year. The power transmission line from Mannar to the wind power plant cost USD 26 million. Including a modest maintenance budget, the production cost would be Rs 10.03 per unit of electricity produced. This price is half the price of production from the existing fleet of wind power plants, which are smaller, located in not-so-good wind zones, and built at times when investment risks were higher.
So, using the same assessment, wind power can be delivered to your doorstep at a price of Rs 10.00+3.09+4.36 * Rs 17.48 per unit, still more than the present selling price of Rs 16.70. The backup for wind power has to come from thermal power plants, and a future pumped storage power plant, and when they become cheaper, perhaps from batteries.
Many who significantly contributed to making the technological feat a reality must be happy, especially the landowners who parted with their plots, to facilitate this nationally important project. Their names will not be etched on the plaque—surely there will be those of many others, on the Mannar coastline, glorifying politicians.
So, what about the engineer who went on foot in 2002 to locate the first wind measuring equipment at Nadukkda in Mannar? Surely, he is happy, silently, and anonymously, and will be seen but not heard in Nadkkuda when the power plant commences producing electricity this week.
The wind power plant in Mannar begins producing electricity this week
Dangerous rail travel by tourists: Why not create an opportunity?
Before the Covid Pandemic hit Sri Lanka, there was some debate and concern voiced about tourists standing at the door ways of trains and even hanging out, while the train is moving. Some pictures of a young couple hanging out of an upcountry train, while clutching on to the side rails, went viral, on social media, with debates of the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ reaching fever pitch. While certainly this is a dangerous practice, not to be condoned, If we ‘think out of the box’ could there be a way to make this seemingly popular, though dangerous pastime among some tourists, into an opportunity to be exploited. This paper aims to explore these options pragmatically.
By Srilal Miththapala
Social media, and even some of the more conventional media, were all a-buzz before the CoVid crisis, when some pictures of a young tourist couple appeared, hanging out of a Sri Lankan upcountry train in gay abandon, savouring the exciting moment. There were hot debates about this form of ‘promotion of Sri Lanka’, with many people talking about the dangers of such a practice, and that it would bring negative publicity for Sri Lanka if something dangerous were to happen. This part of the train ride, along the upcountry route, is arguably one of the most scenic train routes in the world.
And quite rightly so, I guess. I myself was one who joined the chorus who vehemently spoke against this.
However thinking out of the box, I got thinking – Can we create an opportunity here ?
The ‘new’, experience and thrill seeking tourist of today
There is no doubt that there is a new segment of discerning, younger, experience and adventure seeking tourists, emerging and travelling all over the world. They are very internet and social media savvy, seeking more adventurous and exciting experiences, and are usually very environmentally conscious. They are most often seen exploring ‘off-the-beaten-track’ holidays, planned out individually according to their needs and wants.
Through the ages, mankind has been pushing the limits of exploration: We have conquered land, sea and space. We have discovered many hitherto unknown wonders of our planet with our unabated thirst for knowledge.
Tourists are no different. To get away from their daily stressful life, they seek something different, even venturing into hostile or dangerous places to experience the excitement of discovery and the feeling of adventure. No longer is a clean hotel room with a range of facilities, good food and some sunshine good enough to a tourist.
According to booking.com, the yearning for experiences, over material possessions, continues to drive travellers’ desire for more incredible and memorable trips: 45% of travellers have a bucket list in mind. Most likely to appear on a bucket list are thrill seekers wanting to visit a world famous theme park, travellers looking to go on an epic rail journey or visiting a remote or challenging location. ()
Drive-reduction theory in psychology postulates that one is never in a state of complete fulfilment, and thus, there are always drives that need to be satisfied. Humans and other animals voluntarily increase tension by exploring their unknown environments, self-inducing stress and moving out of their comfort zones. This gives them a sense of achievement and self-satisfaction. ()
Therefore, unknown thrills, adventures and the ‘adrenaline rush’ does attract travellers.
What have other countries done ?
As mentioned many countries are developing unique , memorable and thrilling experiences into their product offering.
A few are described below
Walk along Sydney Harbour Bridge
Walk along Sydney Harbour Bridge
Small groups are taken on a walk along the massive, arched steel structured Sydney Harbour Bridge . The dramatic 360 deg. view from the bridge, 135 meters above ground, of the harbour, and the nearby Sydney Opera house, while being completely exposed to the elements, is, indeed, a rare and thrilling experience.
Coiling Dragon Cliff skywalk, Zhangjiajie, China
In the northwest of China’s Hunan province, visitors can take a leisurely stroll along the walkway attached to Tianmen Mountain — 4,700 feet above the ground.
The glass-bottomed walkway is more than 300 feet long and only about five feet wide, providing an experience that is said to be exhilarating and frightening .
The CN tower Edge walk, Canada
The tallest attraction in Toronto lets people stand right at the edge of the CN tower and lean over. It is the world’s highest full circle, hands-free walk on a 1.5 m wide ledge encircling the top of the Tower’s main pod, 356m , 116 storeys above the ground. EdgeWalk is a Canadian Signature Experience and an Ontario Signature Experience.
A variety of unique trekking opportunities, in Rwanda and Uganda, allow you trek into the jungle to gaze into the eyes of the Gorillas in their natural habitat. It’s a completely unique African safari experience. This moment leaves a lasting and unforgettable impression, coming so close to this majestic wild animal.
These are just a few. So there are already a range of unique, visitor attractions that thrill tourists the world over.
The CN tower Edge walk, Canada
Safety – the one overriding condition
All these thrill seeking, and seemingly dangerous tourist attractions have one common denominator that is never ever compromised – Safety.
Safety is of paramount importance in all these activities and are subject to stringent checks and review, periodically. All personnel who guide and instruct these thrill seeking tourists are well trained and disciplined.
Any equipment that is used for safety, such as harnesses and safety belts, are designed to the highest standards and are periodically tested. Nothing is left to chance and if there is the slightest semblance of danger, due to any unforeseen environmental conditions, the attraction is closed down temporarily. ( e.g when there are strong winds the Sydney Harbour bridge walk is suspended).
Such safety measures are an imperative necessity, because any unforeseen accident can lead to serious and grave consequences of litigation and even closing down of the attraction.
So what about our train ride ?
The attraction of the Sri Lankan upcountry train ride (most often between Nanu Oya and Ella – the most scenic section) is the fact that a tourist can stand ‘on the footboard’ of the open train carriageway door, and feel the cool breeze against their faces while absorbing the beautiful hill country and tea plantations. This is something most western tourists cannot do back home, where all train carriageway doors are automatically shut when the train starts moving.
In fact I am told that some Tour Agents in Australia are specifically asked by tourists to arrange this ‘experience’ for them, when booking their tour.
So why not be creative and make a proper attraction out of this ?
Cannot we modify one carriage to have an open ‘balcony’ along the side where a person can stand ‘outside’ and ‘feel the open environment’? It could be fitted with proper safety rails and each person can be anchored to the carriage with a harness (like what is used in other attractions where the interaction is open to the elements). A special charge can be levied for this experience.
One factor that favours the safety aspect is that during traversing this stretch, due to the steep gradient, the train travels at a ‘snail’s pace’, unlike in foreign countries where speeds could reach 80-100 kms per hour.
This attraction could be used as an income generator for the Railway Department as tourists wanting to experience this ‘thrill’ can be charged a fee, for a specific time period that they could use the facility.
Although this may seem simplistic, in reality there may be several logistical issues that need to be addressed.
But, if there is a will, and the different departments involved can all see the opportunity, and get on to the same ‘wavelength’, cutting through the inordinate bureaucracy that usually prevails, then surely it would not be at all difficult.
But the overall point in this entire treatise, is that we have to ‘think out of the box’ and grasp at all possible opportunities that are available, especially as we gradually open up for tourists after the pandemic. We are quite used to ranting and raving about all the shortfalls that prevail.. But there’s so much that still can be done if there are a few motivated and dedicated people who can get together.
Tourism after all is really ‘show businesses’ and without creativity, panache, actors and showmanship, what is show business?
Remebering Prophet Muhammad’s legacy – ECOLOGICAL WELFARE
By Dr M Haris Deen
COVID-19 came and as yet remains, at the same time the world is plagued with another serious issue, that of global warming and other ecological disturbances. While remembering the birth of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) let us recall the contributions he made towards the applying Islamic principles of Islamic welfare towards protection of the environment.
The Prophet of Islam (May peace be upon him) advocated during his lifetime the stringent application of Islamic principles in respect of ecological welfare. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) taught his followers to live on less, neither to be extravagant nor to be miserly and to protect animal and plant life and to worship the Creator by being merciful to His creations. He forbade the killing of any animal unless out of necessity to feed the people. Al Albani reports that the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “If the Hou r (meaning the day of Resurrection) is about to be established and one of you was holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the Hour is established to plant it”. Imam Bukhari reported the Prophet (Peace be on him) as having said that “if a Muslim plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, it is regarded as a charitable gift (sadaqah) for him”. It is also reported in Ibn Majah that once the Prophet (peace be upon him) happened to pass by his companion Sa’ad (May God be pleased with him) and found him performing ablution (wudu) next to a river and questioned him “Sa;ad what is this squandering? And when Sa’ad asked in return “can there be an idea if squandering (israf) in ablution?’ the Prophet replied “yes, even if you are by the side of a flowing river”.
In another Hadith narrated by Ibn Majah, the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “Beware of the three acts that cause you to be cursed: (1) relieving yourself in shaded places (that people utilise), in a walkway or in a watering place”.
The Qur’an in chapter 56 verses 68 to 70 states “consider the water which you drink. Was it you that brought it down from the rain cloud or We? If We had pleased, We could make it bitter”.
Prophet’s companion Abu Dhar Al Ghaffari (May Allah be pleased with him) reported the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “Removing harmful things from the road is an act of charity” and in another Hadith authenticated by Albani, the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “the believer is not he who eats his fill while his neighbour is hungry”. The Prophet further cautioned as reported by Tirmadhi and Ibn Majah that “Nothing is worst than a person who fills his stomach. It should be enough for the son of Adam to have a few bites to satisfy his hunger. If he wishes more, it should be : one third for his food, one third for his liquids and one third for his breath”.
Imam Bukhari reported an amazing story narrated by the Prophet (on whom be peace) that “A man felt very thirsty while he was on the way, there he came across a well. He went down the well, quenched his thirst and came out. Meanwhile, he saw a dog panting and licking mud because of excessive thirst. He said to himself. “This dog is suffering from thirst as I did, “So, he went down the well again, filled his shoe with water, held it in his mouth and watered the dog. Allah appreciated him for that deed and forgave him”. The companions inquired, “O Allah’s Messenger, is there a reward for us in serving the animals?” He replied: “There is a reward for saving any living being”.
Animals have a huge role in the ecological welfare system. The tenets of the Shariah Law towards animal rights make it obligatory for any individual to take care of crippled animals, to rescue strays and to guard birds’ nests of eggs’.
Sal Allahu Ala Muhammad Sal Allahu Alaihi wa Sallam. May Allah Shower His Choicest Blessings on the Soul of Prophet Muhammad.
Of course, I know for sure fans of the Gypsies, and music lovers, in general, not only in Sri Lanka but around the world, as well, would be thrilled to know that this awesome outfit hasn’t called it a day.
After the demise of the legendary Sunil Perera, everyone thought that the Gypsies would disband.
Perhaps that would have been in the minds of even the members, themselves, as Sunil was not only their leader, and frontline vocalist, but also an icon in the music scene – he was special in every way.
Many, if not all, thought that the Gypsies, without Sunil, would find the going tough and that is because they all associated the Gypsies with Sunil Perera.
Sunil receiving The Island Music Award for ‘Showbiz Personality of the Year’ 1990
It generally happens, with certain outfits, where the rest of the members go unnoticed and the spotlight is only on one particular member – the leader of the group.
Some of the names that come to mind are Gabo and The Breakaways (Gabo) Misty (Rajitha), Darktan (Alston Koch), Upekkha (Manilal), Jetliners (Mignonne), Sohan & The X-Periments (Sohan), and the list is quite lengthy….
Yes, the Gypsies will continue, says Piyal Perera, and he mapped out to us what he has in mind.
They will take on a new look, he said, adding that in no way would they try to recreate the era of the Gypsies with Sunil Perera..
“That era is completely gone and we will never ever look to bringing that era into our scene again.
“My brother was a very special individual and his place in the band can never ever be replaced.”
Will Sunil join this scene…at Madame Tussauds!
Piyal went to say that the Gypsies will return to the showbiz scene, in a different setting.
“In all probability, we may have a female vocalist, in the vocal spotlight, and our repertoire will not be the songs generally associated with Sunil and the Gypsies.
“It will be a totally new approach by the new look Gypsies,” said Piyal.
In the meanwhile, Piyal also mentioned that they are working on the possibility of having an image of the late Sunil Perera at the Madame Tussauds wax museum, in London.
He says they have been asked, by the authorities concerned, to submit a PowerPoint presentation of Sunil’s achievements, and that they are working on it.
It’s, indeed, a wonderful way to keep Sunil’s image alive.
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