12 August, 2022


Power: Planning, Generation, Usage & Potential Savings In Sri Lanka

By Ratnam Nadarajah

Ratnam Nadarajah

“And God said, let there be light: and there was light.” ~ Genesis

In recent times power or more to the point lack power to meet peak demand has been a real issue for all concerned. There is a possibility to declare emergency and deployment of armed forces to deal with ongoing effects of drought and power outages.

In a developing country, such as Sri Lanka, power system planning faces enormous challenges and problems as, for example, future load growth in the face of uncertainties, the constraints imposed on investment, the type and availability of fuel for the generating units, the need for consolidating the dispersed electric producers, the isolated regions as a prerequisite for future interconnecting these regions via local and national grids. Also, how an optimal reliability level can be achieved that will guarantee a continuous power flow with at reasonable costs.

Planning for power systems is essentially a projection of how the system should grow over a specific period, given certain assumptions and judgment about the future loads and the size of investment in generating capacity additions and transmission facilities expansion and reinforcements.

Any plan can become technically and economically obsolete over a period. New inventions in electrical utilisation equipment or unforeseen industrial, commercial, or residential projects can change load forecast. Breakthroughs in new generation and transmission technologies, unexpected inflation in equipment or labour costs or change of national income can all mean that system plans may take another direction.

In developing countries, power system planning has become more difficult, but more important to provide the necessary information to enable decision to be made today about many years in the future.

Reliability and uninterrupted generation is one of the most important criteria which must be taken into consideration during all phases of power system planning, design build and operation.

One capacity related reliability index, known as the loss of load expectation (LOLE) method, is presently considered as the most common adopted probabilistic index in system generation expansion planning. This method computes the expected number of days per year on which the available generating capacity is not sufficient to meet all the period of peak load levels.

Broadly, Sri Lanka needs power for domestic use, commercial use and for industrial purposes. Over the years, the domestic consumption has gone up with more appliances consuming more and wider availability of electricity to the far corners of the island. Commercial sector too has grown considerably with big shopping malls and multi-story office spaces with increased air conditioners and computers and support items.

On the industrial scene, too power requirement has gone up considerably with the opening of manufacturing units and other infrastructure developments. With the planned mega projects, such the Port City development-work in progress(Wip), Mega polis, Hambantota Industrial Zone, and many others in the pipeline scale of power requirement far exceeds the current available capacity many folds.

Do our planners have a master plan for power requirement, in the short, medium, and long term? From my perspective and observation, I would safely say there is no such plan(s), comprehensive or otherwise.

Let us consider the power generation in Sri Lanka

Total Electricity Generation Mix- First Half of 2014

CEB Hydro     ——-       18.55 %

CEB Thermal-Oil—-         18.52%

CEB Thermal-Coal—-     23.95%

IPP Thermal————     32.53%

(independent power producers)

Renewable————–     6.45%

(Source: Power Utility Commission of Sri Lanka)

The overall power generating capacity is much higher. For instance, the Hydro power installed capacity was 37%. It means that only 50% of installed Hydro power capacity has produced electricity. Put it simply although the power generating capacity is high at 37% but the actual production is only half of the capacity. This is due to various reasons, the main one being the water levels in the reservoirs being low due to natural causes vis se vis insufficient of rain leading to drought.

Renewal power generation is very low at 6.45%. There is very good potential in Sri Lanka for solar power with 12 hours of sun shine, wind power and some geothermal power. The planners need to increase these sources of power generation considerably to meet the increased power requirement and to keep the carbon foot print low. We are all signatories of the Paris 2015 Climate change control protocol.

Solar power generation for Sri Lanka should be encouraged with added government incentives, on top of the tax credits offered for installing solar panels as an alternate energy source. The pay back could be within 5 to 10 years depending on the incentives such as CEB paying for the additional energy supplied to the national grid.

In the UK, the government used to be 45pence a unit and in recent times it has come down to 2-3 pence due the low cost and more efficient solar panels. This way owners also have the added luxury of future proofing their energy bills.

All new houses and public buildings should be installed with solar power panels. And retrofitting on suitable buildings and locations.

In the medium to long term we should aim to produce our solar panels locally both for local consumption and export markets, as we have abundant supply of Silica, which is now being exported for pittance. The grade of silica we have is ideal for the PV cell production. One could attract foreign direct investment (FDI) for this venture from leading manufacturers of Solar panels. Local resources and local labour would be a win, win for all. Generating wealth and employment to the land in dire need.

Germany, Japan, China, Canada France are the leading producers in this market. Also, the technology is improving all the time making the solar power generation more viable.

In Germany, though not a tropical country, they are making major investments in renewal energy such as solar, wind etc., since they abandoned further building of nuclear power plants in the light of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in March 2011. At present, I believe they produce as much as a third of their power requirement from renewable energy sources. Not a mean achievement in such a short space of time. Germany leads the way on Renewables, setting 45% target by 2030.

Power usage parallel with power saving

Power utilisation should be optimised and any potentials of savings should be encouraged. Energy efficient fridge will use about 350 Kwh a year, at minimal cost to the consumer. This applies to other household appliance such as washing machines and dish washers. Also, simply switching off the power of computers and vdus and TV s at the source when it is not in use, can save a lot of energy at the national level thus also lowering the national load considerably.

Although IT departments have probably felt the crunch more than anyone else, a drain on the IT budget is continuing when offices are empty at night and at weekends. In the offices to estimate the savings potential, count the number of PCs in the company, multiply this by 1200 and place a rupee sign in front of the answer. This is the potential annual saving if you take a few energy-efficiency steps. Put another way, in a company with100 PCs, turning off all the computers and monitors every night and at weekends would save Rs. 120,000 /year (these are based on 40-60 watts/unit). Compound this to the national level the potential savings is enormous. You could virtually shut down couple of generators at national level. A watt saved is watt less needed to produce. Educating the people is one of the priorities for the march towards progress.

On the air conditioning, front organisations should use the state of art monitoring system to optimise the power consumption. A single degree change could lead to considerable savings in power consumption.

Incidentally the only wind farm is the one in Hambantota. With an installed capacity of 20MW (10+10) but actual generation of roughly 13%of installed capacity. This is obviously not the right location. There are much more viable sites with potential outputs ranging from 40 to 60 %.

Also, the development of large scale liquid metal based storage batteries in the pipe line, in years to come any short falls can be compensated. (MIT has a 10 years’ head start on this technology).

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Latest comments

  • 3

    “And God said, let there be light: and there was light.” ~ Genesis

    So he built the universe in the dark first, and then switched the lights on? Wow I’m impressed!

    • 3

      That is because in ‘God’s’ world, there is one side of a coin. But in reality (Paramaththa Damma), darkness exists as a result of light. This called ‘Mithya Drushtiya’. The elite ‘Romans’ did invent this theory for their survival just like our politicians and law makers in Sorry Lanka past and present.

    • 3

      Ratnam Nadarajah

      “And God said, let there be light: and there was light.” ~ Genesis

      CEB Thermal-Oil—- 18.52%

      CEB Thermal-Coal—- 23.95%

      IPP Thermal———— 32.53%

      All the above imported, makes the foreign trade deficit wider.

      So, use solar, photo voltaics, convert the light God made, to electricity, and then back to light, mechanical energy or heat.

  • 1

    The article is generally OK, but for a few quibbles:
    ” Energy efficient fridge will use about 350 Kwh a year, at minimal cost to the consumer. This applies to other household appliance such as washing machines and dish washers.”
    Fridges use the most energy in Sri Lankan homes. But 360 Kwh is a hell of a lot for any fridge. There is one on the market which claims to run on 1 unit per day. That’s 365 Watt-hours a year.
    “On the air conditioning, front organisations should use the state of art monitoring system to optimise the power consumption”
    Why not get rid of air conditioning altogether where possible, by designing buildings to suit the climate, as we did 50 years ago? Who needs all these fancy glass ovens?
    “the only wind farm is the one in Hambantota. With an installed capacity of 20MW (10+10) but actual generation of roughly 13%of installed capacity.”
    This applies to solar PV power too, due to highly variable sunlight.
    Also, storage is a problem. Batteries of any kind are expensive on a national scale.Solar thermal plants work better, since they can store heat for the night in the circulating fluid.
    As the author says, there is some geothermal capacity available.The hot water wells in Trinco obviously have some source of heat. There have been only half-hearted attempts to tap this. Is it because there are no commissions?

    • 3

      old codger,
      In the sixties, many offices of Medical Officers of Health, had refrigerators powered by kerosene – one gallon lasted for more than a month. Thus, they were cheap to use without any sort of maintenance.
      These were supplied by UNICEF to store vaccines for immunisation mainly.

      Staff used them also to store food items and fruits and provide ice cubes and cool water.
      These were later replaced by standard electricity powered ones.
      None knew why.

  • 2

    A great deal of energy is wasted in commercial and public buildings as a result of the air conditioning being set at too low a temperature. It is surprising that the CEB or other concerned authority has not issued any guidelines on this matter.

    I would suggest that a temperature of 24 degrees Celsius would be ideal for offices where people perform sedentary jobs. In factories and so on where workers are engaged in physically active work, the temperature could be set to about 22 degrees Celsius. All air conditioned buildings should display a thermometer in a prominent place so that anyone may check the temperature.

    In some production plants the air conditioning is set at different temperatures in different departments. In chocolate factories the final moulding and packaging sections have to be air conditioned but the earlier processing stages need not have A/C.

    • 2

      estate worker
      Yes I fully agree with your comments. These days there very sensitive detectors which can adjust the temperature as well as humidity to a very optimum levels thus saving energy. In large buildings and factories there need to be dedicated “energy managers” whose sole job is to ensure that energy is not wasted and keep the energy bills low as possible
      I have seen in Sri Lanka and elsewhere, people wearing sweaters in air-conditioned offices because the room temperatures are so low,may be 18-20 degreesC. Yes there should be a national public awareness campaign on this matter both by the CEB and the environmental agency. Also schools should be involved in this vital aspect of teaching the children the fundamentals of climate change and its adverse effects

  • 1

    Mr Ratnam Nadarajah has been writing some excellent articles on many subjects, I believe. If the number of comments are anything to go by, not enough people are reading his articles. For instance, having read what he has said here, I thought of the Uma Oya Project in the area I have lived in all my life. This Daily Mirror article is not exaggerated:


    The talk of the town are the two 300 meter machines that are ruining us. Apparently they can’t reverse. They are described here:


    Perhaps the pictures help!

    I looked at the archive of his articles: when Mr Ratnam Nadarajah wrote on this subject only two have commented:


    I recently met a man who had been in charge of Electricity in the country at the recent Motor Show. Mr Arjun Deraniyagala has this Pipe car (made in Belgium in 1913) which he was proudly exhibiting. He said that they knew thirty years ago about the potential for hydro-power from the waters of the Oya, but their plan was to take it overland, and return it to the Mahaweli system. But even at that time there had been a mad guy obsessed with tunnelling.

    Why, oh why do we keep blundering like this?

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