23 September, 2019

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Clean, Practical Solutions To Sri Lanka’s Energy Crisis

By Chandre Dharmawardana

Dr. Chandre Dharmawardana

Newspaper reports mention how Mr. Ravi Karunanayake, the minister of Power and Energy had taken the initiative of contacting French and Canadian agencies regarding Sri Lanka’s  grave energy crisis. The Minister has even explored  awarding a Turkish company a tender to provide electricity from two power-ships. A sense of desperation is clear from  reports that “the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) officials offered alms to the Sri Maha Bodhi” and begged the gods  to fill the hydro-electricity reservoirs! Some rain has come, and the Easter bombings have intervened. Ant yet, the power crisis continues. 

The CEB should have turned to the Sun God and solar energy sooner, but even now it is spurned in the belief that solar cannot provide “firm power” (continuous power). CEB planners have also ignored energy generation from the vast biomass available in Sri Lanka, considering it to be small potatoes. Given these ASUMPTIONS, the CEB  planners concluded correctly that a combination of hydro-power and large installations of coal-power is the optimal answer to Sri Lanka’s energy needs. Such large-scale approaches to power needs long-range planning and a FIRM commitment to the plans till completion.  

While coal power is one of the most polluting types of energy, Sri Lanka is already ringed in the north by dozens of Tamil-Nadu coal plants. Sri Lanka’s largest contribution to noxious fumes comes from burning over 60,000 barrels of diesel,  motor and other fossil fuels a day. Even so, Sri Lanka’s per capita emissions are a tenth of most western countries, and well manged coal-power plants can be run with a much reduced threat to the environment. So, contrary to the claims of the so-called “environmental lobby”, the pollution from the proposed coal plants is arguably irrelevant to the total picture as cleaner  and AFFORDABLE alternatives were unavailable. This was the basis of the CEB long-ranged plan.

The Rajapaksa government adhered  to the CEB plans and delivered continuous power from 2005 to 2014, electrified the whole country, and brought down tariffs by 25% when the Lakvijaya coal-power plant opened in Norochcholai – a name derived from “Horagolla”, ironically evoking a salubrious clump of “Hora” trees! Unfortunately, Lakvijaya bears stark testimony to the CEB’s incapacity to  meet even minimal environmental standards and in endangering the health of the local people. Hence the cancellation of the proposed coal powered plant in Sampura (located in the  ancient “Somapura” historic area, )  before it became another horror story is fortunate for Sri Lanka. 

In the following we point out that fossil power is NOT NEEDED and that there are inexpensive non-polluting options that can be implemented RAPIDLY, unlike commissioning thermal or hydro-electric installations. Sri Lanka spent some $5 billion per year a few years ago, and still spends nearly $3 billion per year at current lower oil prices. However, the country can be largely FREE of such a burden. 

Here we show how solar energy can give firm power WITHOUT batteries or alternators. We show how whole agricultural sectors that are now ailing can be re-booted inexpensively  to become vibrant bio-energy sectors, while vitalizing them. The potential is vast enough to meet Sri Lanka’s needs for decades to come, and even to sell to the Indian continent using a cable link, breaking the isolation of Sri Lanka’s power grid.  

Floating Solar Arrays 

In 2009,  just after the end of the Eelam  war,  Prof. Epasinghe (a Presidential adviser) and I met the then president, Hon. Mahinda Rajapaksa, and discussed this very question of future power needs. I was given the opportunity to address some officials of the Presidential secretariat and show a film on solar energy. One of my proposals was  the possibility of using floating solar arrays positioned in reservoirs, with the power generated STORED AS WATER in the reservoir itself  instead of in batteries. 

Power  is stored  by pumping the water back into reservoir, or just saving the equivalent amount of water that otherwise flows into a turbine if the reservoir is equipped with generators. The resulting power is rendered when needed by the turbines as firm alternating current. Those were new ideas at the time. The talk can be accessed even today. 

Of course, solar panels were quite expensive in 2009, but our projections showed solar panels to become competitive soon. When the Rajapaksa government raised the price of electric power on May day in 2013, I hailed it as a great step forward in making an equitable playing field for solar (see my article in Island, May 7th 2013). Other proposals suitable for Sri Lanka that I made  included energy from biomass, and a call for electric trains instead of motor ways. Unfortunately, suggestions by scientists  are rarely accepted by politicians, unlike suggestions from deep-pocketed businessmen,  or astrologers, or psychics who “hear the voice of God Natha”. 

So I was happy that a 100 MW floating solar array will be launched on the Maduru Oya reservoir, a decade after my suggestion. However, the proposal is still technically less satisfactory than my proposal which needed no batteries to store the electricity and  no alternators.  If, say  200-250 hectare of the  Randenigala reservoir were covered by solar panels, some 200 MW may be produced per hour when the sun shines. The produced  solar power can be fed into the grid and, assuming a head of 100 meters, some 800 cubic meters per hour can be saved IN THE  RESERVOIR, for use after sunset. No batteries are needed! The cost, even inclusive of the floater  is incredibly low since the installation amortizes over a life of about 20 years. 

The saving is much more, as emphasized in my talk in 2009. Some 35% of the water  in a reservoir is lost by evaporation in a tropical climate. If 25% of the reservoir is covered, the solar panels shield the water from the sun’s heat during the day and from the wind, both day and night. Assuming 400GWh of annual power generation at Randenigala, a potential 120GWh is “lost” to evaporation. The  mere presence of the solar panels saves 30 GWh of power! Applying that to all the suitable reservoirs, the floating arrays save some 300GWh per year -equal to one Laxsapana – by just being there! 

The presence of solar panels discourages the growth of algae in the water. The environmental advantages compensate the disadvantages as long as we do not exceed 25% coverage. The panels should be  distributed in an environmentally optimal manner. While floating panels are more expensive  than fixed  land panels, it avoids tricky negotiations for renting roofs of consumers. No clearance of land is needed for floating arrays. However, given some six million homes in Sri Lanka, most without roof-top solar panels, the claim that solar energy is not a viable option for Sri Lanka is false. 

However, Solar energy is not the only option available to Sri Lanka. In a continuation of this article, we address the potential for biomass and also show how it can be used to re-vitalize seceral ailing agricultural sectors like coconut and rubber.

Conclusion 

We have shown that solar power, the least polluting form of energy after hydro-power has high  potential in Sri Lanka for FIRM electric power and meet the expected power shortage. However, Solar energy is not the only option available to Sri Lanka. In a continuation of this article, we address the enormous potential for biomass energy, and also show how it can be used to re-vitalize  ailing agricultural sectors like coconut, rubber etc.

To be continued…

*The Author was a past-Professor of Chemistry and a Vice-Chancellor of the SJP University in the 1970s. He is currently a Professor of Physics in Canada.

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Latest comments

  • 1
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    The writer is saying that the Rajapaksa government stuck to the CEB plans and delivered power without shortages etc., and that the yahapalanaya government derailed these plans? The Rajapaksas and its power minster had the coal deal in their pockets and so they carried on with it. The new government wanted to get the coal tender, or the LNG tender, or some other tender into THEIR pockets, and so they canceled the on-going projects and attempted to re-start them anew. That is the nature of capitalism. Breaking existing contracts cost money in penalties. The public pays. But the new tender means new commissions.

  • 4
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    There are allegations that the CEB people release two or three times more water than needed from the reservoirs to deliberately create a power shortage. That means the thermal plants which burn fossil fuel become a dire necessity, and the public are forced to pay TOP DOLLARS in buying power – usually at two to three times the normal price. The minster of power is a big businessman who glided easily out of businesses with hedge-fund financier Rajaratnam who was jailed in the US, and brushed of accusations regarding the Bond Scam claiming a forgetful memory abut who pays for his luxury apartments. The Prime Minister seems to be blind to every thing, be it security, power, collapse of the Tea and Paddy sectors, Universities and public services which are always on strike, recurrent floods.

    • 2
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      A rather intriguing character, this Professor Chandre. He has his fingers in everything from kidney disease to running websites called JaffnaHistory, which are anything but that. Pro-glyphosate but anti coal power. Sinhala Buddhist racist but no time for Ratana sadhu. Even in this piece, purported to be about green energy, he manages to get in a jibe or two about “Horagolla” and “Samapura”.

      • 2
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        I guess as a chemistry Prof. he can talk about the environment and health issues, and as a Physics Prof. he can write about energy.

        The other stuff must be his eccentric hobby horse that we are not supposed to take seriously?

        Or it may be to add some pepper to what he writes so that he can enrage Old Codger or Native Vedda or Jim Softy or Eagle Eye or Mulliyavran or any such retired old farts with strong opinions, who do not have much to do, but spend their pension money writing comments as if they are experts on every thing from politics to glyphosate to Yahapalanaya to God knows what else.

        • 1
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          Dear Bulner,
          By the time you are an old fart, and can afford to retire, you will find that you know a LOT more about things than you appear to think you know now.

          • 0
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            Old codger

            I think Bulner is an ignorant old fart who has nothing better to do nor has anything useful to say.

      • 1
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        How does stuff on Horagolla and Samapura become Jaffna history?
        And if the TNA stopped the Sampur coal plant then they are guilty of causing the present power crisis, and also that action can hardly benefit the Tamils. If the Trinco area is a “Tamil” ethnic area, as claimed by the TNA, then the TNA should be happy to see it developed.

        • 0
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          We support all forms of development in all over Sri Lanka. However, shouldn’t compromise public health and safety in the name of development. Everyone knows the truth about coal that it produce mercury and Thallium. These byproducts will pollute the water resources and our agriculture.

  • 2
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    His understanding of energy technology seems poorer than his knowledge about the dangers of glyphosate.
    Anyone can offer hand waving solutions to a serious problems, but putting them into effect is another matter.

    • 2
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      The technology of floating solar-panel arrays is not some hand-waving solution.
      It is one of the fastest growing sector in Solar energy implementations today.
      China, Japan and USA are the leaders and there are many such installations as you are using surface area which is not used for dwellings farm or forest, and the set up is ecologically sound.

      The author says he proposed it in 2009 at a talk given to the Presidential secretariat. At that time this would certainly have been regarded as impractical, but NOT ANYMORE.

      The author has not mentioned the drawbacks. You need to pull back the floating arrays on to land if a storm or cyclonic conditions are anticipated. So a docking and safe-harboring procedure has to be built in.

      • 0
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        The power plant is comprised of a rectangular grid upon which sit rows and columns of movable lightweight plastic lenses that focus incoming sunlight onto a small panel of photovoltaic cells. The lenses can be programmed to follow the sun in tandem as it moves across the sky, thus taking full advantage of available sunlight. The lenses can also be made to slide beneath the waves when bad weather threatens, thus preventing damage from high winds or hail. The grid is, in essence, a floating raft that can be anchored in place wherever there is available water.
        From:- India signs on to floating solar energy power plant (w/ video) – https://phys.org/news/2011-03-india-solar-energy-power-video.html – Please understand the different technology available to meet the requirement to withstand bad weather.

  • 0
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    Because of the environmental concerns there is no any form of energy that does not affect the environment. Because of hydro power think of the ecology changes of aquatic ecosystems along the river that was changed for ever. On the other hand, I have heard Solar power scorch birds. fly over that. but, I think, the Proposals of the engineers of the CEB seems fair. Because, politicians wanted every thing to be LNG. tha looks risky as countries can exploit it using the Stock market or the commodity market. If CEB engineers can invent some filters to over come the dust of Coal and they can do that easily, would be a the best option. So, we have cheap power. On the other hand they, CEB engineers say, a mix of every alternative power source would be the best. LNG once they sign the contracts, they start and buld the Power plant, they may start increasng the prices of LNG. Besides, they may specialize the power plant for Certain composition of LNG.

  • 0
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    What I heard, Canadian Export development corporation or something signed a contract, after the new co-sponsored resolution, for installing a solar power plant in Maduru Oya.I think you are advertising that. That is fine. But, Srilankan engineers should involve and they should learn too. Other than that, Coal power usage is very cheap provided they invent the new filters or smoke purification methods. I think Srilankan build a floating LNG power plant in colombo when we do not need it we can power overseas too for cheaper rates. May be NAvy and a private firm cooperate in that. Colombo dockyard, I suppose has the initial capability.

  • 0
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    Samapura Power plant did not come into life because of TNA I heard. Because, Tamils want to make it a political issue saying the Sinhala govt is building a power plant in their homeland.
    the best option is ask people to be stingy in using electricity because of environmental concerns.

    • 1
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      There is no need to be stingy about electric power if the ideas presented by this writer or any other expert is put in place.
      There is enough potential in Solar. But the government’s policy of dilly dallying and looking for commissions has caused the power crisis.
      The Yahapalanaya and good governance has yet again shown their failure in failing to even provide power, let alone security or maintaining the value of the rupee.
      The previous government delivered power and electrified the whole country with NO power cuts. That and suicide attacks became a thing of the past.
      The TNA had better note that the Rajapaksas they detest, and they want us Tamils to detest, have built roads for the North, and provided electricity, rail and other infrastructure.

      All that Wigneswarn did was to build a huge statue of Sankili who had killed over 600 Christian Tamils. Then Wignesaran did NOTHING but passed resolutions designed to create hate.

      The budget allocation to the Northern PC reverted back unspent. Meanwhile the TNA spends its time in parliament doing nothing for the poor Tamils or middle class Tamils. It is tinkering with the constitution and blaming the other communities.

      Wigneswaran did not think of govt. incentives for solar power or any such thing, even though Jaffna is ideally situated for it .
      Instead he preferred to go bare bodied to Nallur asking for divine power. Neither the chief minster, nor the TNA tried to get the diaspora to become sensible and invest in the North. Instead, the diaspora holds that it will invest only if power is transferred to the PCs! The Diaspora was ready to buy bombs, but not solar panels.
      Why give power to incompetent fools.

      I am a Tamil who has lived in Mount Lavinia for decades, and I frankly think matters were better for the middle class Tamils under the previous regime.

  • 0
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    Solar power plant should not be too specialized. Then the parts will be expensive when we reach the same manufacturer.

  • 1
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    I think the suggestion is very good and with least wastage and pollution. To gether, the Govt. could offer on a package form solar panels to residents for installation and link them to main grid. This covers a larger area in cities and villages and during the day the energy could be supplied via such panels and only the night demand has to be met by hydro or other means. The conservation of energy by pumping back the water to dam is a good idea as there is no pollution involved. The Govt. or CEB does not show much interest in such projects apparently because their pockets are not greased in the process. If legislators ensure that it is compulsory for all top decision makers to declare their assets to continue in office, perhaps some dynamics could be envisaged.

  • 0
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    Prof. Chandler
    Will you enlighten us further over the the energy needed to pump up water , the size and capacity of the pumps to do the job and their cost. Are there such pumps in existence?

    • 1
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      It would be nice if the author himself replies.
      But I am familiar with this technology and so let me give my reply.

      The beauty of the proposal is that it does NOT need big pumps if the floating solar array is on a reservoir like Randenigala.
      When the sun shines, you send the electricity to the grid and SAVE the water going down into the turbine, and no pumps or batteries are needed.
      In the night, when there is no sun, the saved water goes down the turbine and generate electricity (alternating current).
      If you have extra electicity during the day, and you want to store the solar generated electricity without sending it to the grid, then you don’t need batteries. But you need a pump to send water up into the reservoir. The pump is run by the solar electricity.

      The author says “some 800 cubic meters per day can be saved IN THE RESERVOIR, for use after sunset. Presumably this is the amount per day in 8 hours of sunshine, and if so one has to pump 100 cubic meters of water per hour 100 meters up, back into the reservoir. This is a trivial thing and most commercial pumps can do it – such pumps are truly inexpensive compared to batteries, and last for ever. Go on Amazon.com or Alibaba:
      https://www.alibaba.com/showroom/water-pump-100-cubic-meter-per-hour.html

      • 0
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        Godamunne,
        800 cubic metres of water is insignificant. Something wrong with your calculations.

        • 0
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          The rated discharge of just one turbine at Kotmale is 35 cubic metres PER SECOND.

    • 0
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      Good question Soma

  • 1
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    Where the hell is this Sampura, as Chandre puts it, “located in the ancient “Somapura” historic area”?
    “…..historic area”. My……my…..
    We know Chandre gets history lessons from HLD Mahindapala who by the way eats expensive glyphosate-free Basmathi.
    .
    Chandre pontificates {“Clean, Practical Solutions To Sri Lanka’s Energy Crisis”}.
    Bio-fuel farms? Need energy input, water and land. Brazil has these but never got this into a going concern.
    If SL tries it, in no time “There is a hole in the bucket dear Lisa….” will go full blast.
    This ‘Floating Solar Farm’ is absurd. Solar panels are expensive. Every nut, bolt, turbines and even cement for the power house will have to be imported. Show us the money Chandre.
    .
    Safe to assume Chandre, in the next part to follow, may suggest harnessing wind power, tidal, hydrogen and fusion.
    Developed countries have poured billions into wind and tidal power but are yet to come up with competitive ideas.
    Hydrogen? Yes we have sea water but how down get the hydrogen off it?
    Cold fusion? Yes can try.

    • 0
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      This ‘Floating Solar Farm’ is absurd. Solar panels are expensive. Every nut, bolt, turbines and even cement for the power house will have to be imported. Show us the money ….
      Indeed.
      Any type of energy installation, be it even hydro, will have major parts that have to be imported. But unlike for fossil fuel installations, once the panels are installed, you don’t need to import oil or coal, or much maintenance.

      The cost of the panels can be amortized over 25 years as the panels last long (and I think the author says as much). So the cost per KWh is very good and beats most other systems

    • 0
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      K. Pillai says “ancient “Somapura” historic area”?
      “…..historic area”. My……my…..
      We know Chandre gets history lessons from HLD Mahindapala who by the way eats expensive glyphosate-free Basmathi.”

      What has Mahindapala to do with Prof Chandre’s work on place names?
      I was a student at SJP in the 1970s when he started a committee to look into place names, at that time in relation to the Mahaweli basin, East and North East.
      Prof. Chandre was the chairman, Prof. Sivathamby was the Tamil Linguist. Prof. Henpitagedara Gnanawasa was the Sinhala and Pali expert., while Dr. Suraweers and the History Prof (whose name I forget) were other members, while some students who were interested also roped in. They collected the already existing material and systematized it. To begin with. Fr. Rasnayagam’s “History of Jaffna”, and K. Velu Pillai’s Yalpana Vaibhava Kaumudi, and much material by Nicholas and other scholars found in the Royal Asiatic society journals, and in Prof. Karthigesu Indraratna’s Ph. D thesis were brought in.

      That was in 1973 or 75 when Prof. Chandre was the Vice Chancellor. In 1975 Prof. Sivathamby was released to go to the newly created Jaffna University, and I think in 1976 or so, Prof. Chandre also left and joined the Sorbonne in France. But he continued the project with the collaboration of various people. The results were put on to the web around 2000 at https://dh-web.org/place.names/index.html
      This immediately angered the Eelam people and the Tamil Net began to construct its alternative place-names history! Denying that Vaddukoddai was Batakotte in flagrant violation of all available evidence was one such example.

      • 1
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        Dharmapala,
        Batakotte is marked as such in Dutch maps. That is because they could not pronounce the real name.
        Perhaps you aren’t old enough to remember “Kaygalle” and “Kernygalle” of British vintage.
        Anyhow, why only stick to Jaffna when looking at Dutch maps? There are places called “Paneture”, “Kalture” , Ginture and “Mature” on the West Coast. If Prof Chandre takes Dutch names as gospel truth, then these Southern ones will take some explaining. Interestingly, there is a Paneture on the West coast of India.. Is this evidence for ancient Sinhalese occupation?

        • 0
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          To: K. Pillai
          You don’t simply take just one item of evidence. You take ALL the available information, maps, literature, inscriptions, Sigiri griffti, land deeds, dispatches by British, Dutch and Portuguese officials etc. The big sign board of the American seminary in Batikotte, and their dispatches are some of the best pieces of evidence. It was attended by Tamil students who knew the Tamil place name used at the time.
          If it were Vaddukoddai or Vattakottai they would have told the missionaries and got it corrected. Dr. Karthigesu Indraratna is a tamil historian and his Ph.D thesis accepted by London University mentions the old Sinhala names in the Jaffna Peninsula; he does not correct Batakotte and does not claim it to be Vattakotti.
          The British civil servants like Horsburgh and Den ham also wrote so. If it was Vattukoddai the dutch would have written it as Wattukoddai because in dutch the “v” sound becomes F.
          But the Dutch used the letter B. So did the Portuguese.
          So, to distract it all, in a previous discussion Native Vedda began to ask about Bandakka and Vendakkai! Native Vedda is no fool. He is a pretty learned guy and he should know better than to attempt to distort a case like this where the evidence is MASSIVE.

  • 0
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    Solar energy is still expensive due to the high cost of lithium. Therefore, a combination of energy sources is recommended. This includes nuclear energy. Sri Lanka could build indigenous nuclear reactors. Furthermore, nuclear energy is 8000 times more efficient than burning coal. There is no pollution whatsoever, except in the form of spent fuel rods.

    • 0
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      Cost of Lithium is relevant ONLY if Lithium-ion batteries are used to store the energy. The scheme proposed by this author does not seem to need batteries

  • 1
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    Really most of the comments are utter rubbish when discussing serious issue like power and energy. World is going through a solar and wind power revolution for solar and wind power became so cheap and affordable but our donkeys – the politicians, CEB engineers and officials, and experts- think otherwise.

  • 0
    0

    The analysis given by this author is a fair assessment of the work done by the CEB, unlike the completely clueless article by some “environmentalist” that appeared in the Colombo Telegraph where that writer even claimed that the mercury in the fish in Kalpitiya lagoon came from the Lakvijaya plant.

    He is the same man who claimed that the Sri Maha Bodhi is affected by emissions from the Norochcholai plant!

    Looking at this author’s calculations for solar energy, the author seems to have used reasonable numbers (e.g., probably 8-10 sq meters to generate 1 KWh of solar electricity). So his science and his engineering calculations seem to be right on.

    He also rightly points out how a large amount of power is lost by evaporation, and how that can be curtailed. This proposal should be taken seriously, and it should generate electricity at a price much lower than the knee-jerk proposals using fossil fuels and LNG etc.

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