19 October, 2019

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Renewable Power Should Replace High Pollution Coal Plants In Tropical Sri Lanka

By M.W.N. Dharmawardene

Dr. M.W.N. Dharmawardene

Dr. M.W.N. Dharmawardene

Readers should be thankful to recent articles in Colombo Telegraph on options on power generation for Sri Lanka focusing on the use of coal as the most suitable option, which has opened up a very useful discussion on its merits and future power generation plan for Sri Lanka. This is most opportune as the new government is looking at various options available to it bring about a rapid growth together with employment creation.

Obviously, power generation has a prime seat in this context as one unit of power is nearly equivalent to one unit of GDP as GDP growth is a mirror image of power generation. If this exercise can be coupled to employment creation, then power generation becomes a prime candidate in government options for country development.

In the discussion thru Colombo Telegraph, coal power was considered as the prime candidate to fill the gap ignoring the greatest danger paused to the general public of having highly polluting Coal power plants as against zero emission renewable power systems.

The purpose of this brief note is to show the greatest threat to humanity is thru highly polluting coal power, metalloids & metallic elements, and the soot poisoning the air and their ill effects, which once liberated to biosphere cannot be reversed and all coal power plants are known to do so and thus developed countries have ceased to use coal power while the power requirement of Sri Lanka could be met thru developing its renewable power resources which have zero emission and creates plenty of job opportunities where it is mostly needed.

Of all the fossil power sources in the world coal has been proven to be the dirtiest & irreversible polluter which causes greatest misery to man & biosphere through its emission of mercury. One of the highest sources of pollution of air, water & food including staples like rice, fish & meat is already proven to be Mercury from Coal burning for power and heat & its use in gold mining & chemical industries.

Levels as low as 55mcg/L of blood is considered the beginning of neurotoxic level. The infamous Minimata disease of Japan which caused irreversible brain damage, loss of memorary,suffering, crippling of limbs & death as well as loss of hair, kidney & other organ failures are already well documented.

Mercury pollution in Asia- A review of Contaminated sites by Li etal (2009) in J of Hazardous Material is good eye opener to those who are blind to reality. Unlike any other, Hg once released into environment is not degraded but converted to more toxic alky mercury compounds which accumulate in the food chain like fish & rice, the common staples of general population. It shows, in the Asian world map, Sri Lanka was considered to be free of Hg pollution in 2009, and let us keep to that even at loss of coal powered plants, but countries such as China, India, Philippines, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Israel & Kuwait already suffering and all are moving away from dirty coal to other zero emission sources for power.

Unfortunately CEB planners, in its future power generation plan relying heavily on Coal power has completely neglected this aspect either in ignorance or neglect of the immediate & irreversible damage to life & limb of people & that of biosphere at large. This is the typical attitude of the engineers while dealing meticulously with physical systems, tend to ignore the impacts such systems have on the biosphere in a given country because environment impact assessment unfortunately is not an integral part of their training or thinking. Dr Kumar David being an old school engineer is therefore no exception.

The Question that begs an answer is, whether the power generation by CEB is to sustain a healthy nation or sick & incurable population as well as giving rise to an irreversibly damaged soil where any crop or animal would neither thrive nor safe to be used as food. They must make their intentions clear. Or have they completely missed this aspect in bargaining for a cheap and steady resource but one with hidden poisons. Coal lobby is so strong all over the world, these dealings and options reminds one of Watergate scandal & Panama Papers!

However, let us look at reality beginning with neurotoxicity. When neurotoxicity begins at 55mcg/L of blood, the staggering amounts of 117x 330x24x500-1000/1012 = 0.0005-0.001 kg/annum mercury from coal burning being equivalent to 500-1000mcg/annum of mercury in just one year would kill or maim whole of Sri Lankan population making either Sampur or any other coal plant being useless to a sick nation. Indian coal is known to be highly contaminated of many pollutants, notorious being Hg, Cd, Pb, Cr, Se etc. If environmental mitigation costs and health costs are taken into account, then unit cost of coal power would be frightening! Now the next question the CEB has to answer is their contribution of Hg, Cd, Pb, Cr, Se into the environment (air & water) thru Coal burning power plant in Norichcholai and how much it has contributed to the prevalence and spread of CKDu & other NCDs in the country. Before a clear cut quantitative assessment being made how wise is to pursue the same line one wonders. I am not aware whether CEB has even browse along these lines let alone embarking on methodical investigations.

No new coal plants including Sampur should be built as national power requirement including firm power could be met from renewable resources available itself in Sri Lanka namely hydro, solar, biomass, wind, geothermal and ocean sources. In fact Sri Lanka being a tropical country has the ability to produce surplus high energy biomass, including Miscanthus, Erianthus, energy cane, high fibre bamboo etc. in addition to woody biomass in plenty which can be made into high energy pellets & briquettes which could not only replace all the coal power but could open up an export market too giving several millions of jobs. There are specialist firms in UK and elsewhere in the developed world who have mastered the commercial harnessing of sea waves through floating buoy systems which translate motion of sea waves to rotary motion to drive turbines enabling sea wave motion to be tapped throughout day and night all along the year. Blow hole in Dickwella Hummanaya in down south itself can be one promising power station being one of the highest water jet blow holes in the world.

1978 UNP government had fresh thinking of compressing a 30 year plan for Mahaveli development into 06 years putting development ahead of population growth. Similarly, it is time ripe now for the new government to think afresh and take bold steps in development of renewable power by rapid development of renewable energy sources by inviting the world leaders in biomass and renewable power development elsewhere to assist us as JRJ did with Mahaveli Accelerated Development Plan by taking bold and pragmatic steps. If this second UNP government dares to take bolder steps renewable energy from our own sources could be the second accelerated country development programme even surpassing the developments that were ushered in thru Mahaveli Development. Let Sri Lanka use its location being the paradise of the tropics in the Indian Ocean harvest the ultimate nonpolluting source of energy the sun thru biomass & other renewables available here itself.

The Old hackneyed and world condemned “resources” such as coal should be discarded without further ado. Noricholai power station be phased out for neither prosperity nor sustainability of a nation could come from such dirty power unless of course the aim of CEB planning is for a sick & ailing nation as its prime motive. Are we again being hoodwinked by our giant neighbor in Asia ignoring reality elsewhere in the world? If allowed to go ahead, HE the President will have to make a plan for begging for more neurological & kidney hospitals & not just one kidney hospital for Polonnaruwa. Coal power catalyzed environmental pollution is such a vicious poison, anyone who offers such dirty tricks as aid should be classified not as your friends but foe. It is in such instances that they say it is good to know your friends!

If CEB & the government wishes to go ahead with coal power plants, then it is better to make allocations in their estimates to include provisions for both Kidney & Neurological hospitals with each dirty coal power plant & provisions to man & upkeep them together with a planning unit for health & environment remediation in each coal power plant area itself.

Mind you, making a decision is one thing but putting it into practice is entirely a different task & CEB should realize that, for a nation, health is wealth & not vice versa.

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Latest comments

  • 2
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    Dr. M.W.N. Dharmawardene

    RE:Renewable Power Should Replace High Pollution Coal Plants In Tropical Sri Lanka

    1. “In the discussion thru Colombo Telegraph, coal power was considered as the prime candidate to fill the gap ignoring the greatest danger paused to the general public of having highly polluting Coal power plants as against zero emission renewable power systems.”

    2. “Levels as low as 55mcg/L of blood is considered the beginning of neurotoxic level. The infamous Minimata disease of Japan which caused irreversible brain damage, loss of memorary,suffering, crippling of limbs & death as well as loss of hair, kidney & other organ failures are already well documented.”

    3. “Unfortunately CEB planners, in its future power generation plan relying heavily on Coal power has completely neglected this aspect either in ignorance or neglect of the immediate & irreversible damage to life & limb of people & that of biosphere at large. This is the typical attitude of the engineers while dealing meticulously with physical systems, tend to ignore the impacts such systems have on the biosphere in a given country because environment impact assessment unfortunately is not an integral part of their training or thinking. Dr Kumar David being an old school engineer is therefore no exception.”

    4. “If CEB & the government wishes to go ahead with coal power plants, then it is better to make allocations in their estimates to include provisions for both Kidney & Neurological hospitals with each dirty coal power plant & provisions to man & upkeep them together with a planning unit for health & environment remediation in each coal power plant area itself.”

    Thanks. Yes, a complete cost benefit analysis should be undertaken.

    Yes, the Old School usually neglects and ignores the environmental damages.

    How does Solar power compare to complement the power shortfall? Hydro Power? Waves?

    Coal power plants bring big commission checks to those on the gravy train!

  • 5
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    A well argued article. The government should totally give up the idea of installing any more coal power plants anywhere in the country including Sampur. Instead they should concentrate on accelerated development of all varieties of renewable energy, which fortunately, the country is well blessed with!
    Sengodan. M

  • 4
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    Dr. You have reproduced number of proven scientific knowledge on dangers of coal power plants. However, you are misinformed on vital practicle aspect “thus developed countries have ceased to use coal power”…
    Just Google to see how huge coal plants civilised world still uses and how many were built after 2010. Do you know UAE in oil rich Middle East stated building a massive coal power plant in year 2015? (DEWA’s Hassyan clean coal power plant project in Dubai) . If we can generate 1000 or 2000MW using renewable energy or 50% of our energy we use by renewable sources, whole world would respect us as very innovative nation and we could earn lot of money by selling our knowledge to the world (and stop sending our mothers as house maids to ME)
    Do you know greatest renewable energy we have is human energy, physical energy and thinking power. Like sun radiation energy is lost if we don’t use it, human energy available today is completely wasted if it is not utilised today… Do you know productivity of SL working humans are less than 40%? Most of cacausian and mongoloid nations utilised this renewable human energy at or above 80%.. Dr , if you can help to improve utilisation of this greatest renewable human thinking and physical energy, then going to 100% clean and environment friendly energy generation would be a reality…

  • 1
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    It sounds a bit cliche but all that money that has been taken out of the economy by corrupt politicians and their friends could have been invested in things like renewables (solar panel subsidies, etcetera). There is only a few countries in the world where corruption is down to a bare minimum and they are mostly in North-West Europe. These ‘low-corruption’ will always have the global competitive advantage that we – also not under Sirisena because half his team is the worst kind – and it will take decades for Sri Lankans to get solar up and running – and lets face it, we have plenty of sunlight right above us, so any flat roof could be used.

    The only hope is Ranil W, but he strength is long term vision, he doesn’t really care about short-term issues, and short-term issues is what the joint-opposition is good at.

    Only if we see that tipping over towards Ranil in the coming 12 months, I predict that renewable energy is going to be significant in Sri Lanka.

  • 2
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    On all International Platforms the dangers of using Coal for energy generation has been made patently clear. The negative impact of of Coal on human health, to biodiversity and to Ecosystem Services has been demonstrated time and again. Yet, the sad argument “The Western countries used Coal and got developed, so we have an equal right to use Coal for our development”, is oft repeated by some ill-educated people, ignoring the reality as to what its use is doing to the planet, to our health and our wellbeing. The uncomfortable rise in temperature that we all recently experienced is an outcome of the interconnected nature of the planet. We are all going to have to pay the price of the ignorance of this fact, which during the rise of the technological revolution enriched the ‘west’. But to demand that we want the world to pay a similar price today, in order to enrich ourselves in the full knowledge of the consequences, reeks with irresponsible greed. It is like a group in a sinking boat, the group in front has created some leaks, to get water easily, now the group at the back are demanding that they have a similar right to create another leak

    The energy policy of this nation seems to have been set in a manner cynical to our international obligations. What responsible mind would argue that we can poison others just because we have a right to do so ? Currently the fact that Sri Lanka emits fossil carbon under 2 tons per head has not been showcased a cause for pride as a responsible nation. Rather, the current thinking is that “ Oh, we are way below the legal limit for our emission levels, so we can make some money raising our pollution levels”. Have these people spared any thought for the price we Sri Lankans will have to pay? Here is a simple math, ” the further you are from legally admissible levels of pollution the healthier you will be and the closer you get to the legally admissible levels of pollution the sicker you will be”.

  • 1
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    Very pertinent points, on all International Platforms the dangers of using Coal for energy generation has been made patently clear. The negative impact of of Coal on human health, to biodiversity and to Ecosystem Services has been demonstrated time and again. Yet, the sad argument “The Western countries used Coal and got developed, so we have an equal right to use Coal for our development”, is oft repeated by some ill-educated people, ignoring the reality as to what its use is doing to the planet, to our health and our wellbeing. The uncomfortable rise in temperature that we all recently experienced is an outcome of the interconnected nature of the planet. We are all going to have to pay the price of the ignorance of this fact, which during the rise of the technological revolution enriched the ‘west’. But to demand that we want the world to pay a similar price today, in order to enrich ourselves in the full knowledge of the consequences, reeks with irresponsible greed. It is like a group in a sinking boat, the group in front has created some leaks, to get water easily, now the group at the back are demanding that they have a similar right to create another leak

    The energy policy of this nation seems to have been set in a manner cynical to our international obligations. What responsible mind would argue that we can poison others just because we have a right to do so ? Currently the fact that Sri Lanka emits fossil carbon under 2 tons per head has not been showcased a cause for pride as a responsible nation. Rather, the current thinking is that “ Oh, we are way below the legal limit for our emission levels, so we can make some money raising our pollution levels”. Have these people spared any thought for the price we Sri Lankans will have to pay? Here is a simple math, ” the further you are from legally admissible levels of pollution the healthier you will be and the closer you get to the legally admissible levels of pollution the sicker you will be”.

    • 0
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      Taking a drop of water from the ocean will not dry it up! If we stop taking that drop and our costs rise because we need to get it in an alternate way, how can we be competitive in a global market? I believe that saving the world comes second, feeding and clothing our family comes first!

  • 1
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    How long must we citizens paying through our nose to LECO , have to put up with thier thugery ? Everyday at least three to five times of power cut , every month, some go on for hour to hours .most of them 6am to 6 pm.and no discount fir the hour of no power and the power unused. No work for the small man who works in tire shops, welding etc. What the hell is the government doing that is any different or better than Mahinda? I do not give a damn .as if by avoiding coal we will. Be able to save us from the many other pollutions.. All the countries started with coal , so get the damn thing started give us cheap electricity, we too deserve aircon and ac electric trains etc and let us run and survive on our own, be thankful we ate not parasites on the government.

  • 1
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    Dr. Dharmawardena, all this is good.I followed the discussion on coal power and the objections raised.many countries including US, Brazil, India and China had made it mandatory to use biofuels in one proportion or the other.

    The funny thing is that no one had requested that the Govt should recognize the use of alternate sources of power.Then the govt should define what sources are they willing to back.

    Your argument against the polluting effect of coal is accepted.

    Why is that the facility of using fuel cells for power generation being ignored? It is reported that in Greenland Fuel cells are used to generate grid power.In the fuel cell Hydrogen combines with oxygen to produce water and release energy.

    The best system to generate Hydrogen is via the ABE reaction – Acetone, Butanol and ethanol reaction.During the process Hydrogen and CO2 are produced as by products.

    Butanol is a considered a better alternative to ethanol to replace petrol while Ethanol is considered as the best alternative to replace Diesel.

    The Govt should direct the Research Organisations to find a microbe that can generate this process.ie is the ABE process.

    Then original ABE process produced 6 parts of butanl to three parts of acetone and one part of Ethanol.(6:3:1). Later researchers identified another microbe where the production was in the ratio of 22.31:6.15:1.54.

    It is time that the GOSL encouraged research into this field and provide ie finance the facilities required to identify a suitable microbe found in our midst.

    I await the comments from Dr. Dharmawardena both Chandra and Nande, Prof Kumar David and that of Dr. Ratnasiri on this proposal.

  • 3
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    Below two news item from the The Guardian 13 May 2016, which shows even the biggest coal power countries are going solar in big way.

    James Fisher, the chief technology officer of Australian solar energy company Vast Solar, said solar thermal energy had been the “poor cousin” to photovoltaic solar panels for some years, but that may finally be changing.

    “We’ve got a whole lot of coal-fired power stations that largely are 30-plus years old and many of them are going to retire naturally,” he said.

    Port Augusta: embracing solar thermal a vital first step on the path to 100% renewable energy
    Stephen Bygrave

    Read more
    “[Concentrated solar power] CSP is basically a complete coal-fired power replacement.

    “We can act as base-load [power], we can run 24/7 if that is what is needed and we have all the benefits that a coal plant offers to the grid.”

    Companies working on large-scale solar thermal projects in Australia say they are tantalisingly close to achieving the dream of building plants big enough to replace coal-fired energy in Australia.

    That confidence is obviously shared by the world’s biggest coal producer, Chinese company Shenhua Coal, which signed a memorandum of understanding with SolarReserve last week to build ten, large-scale solar tower and storage plants in China, totalling more than 1,000MW and at a cost of $2bn.

  • 4
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    Below is from the energy world ..

    The Dawn of the Solar Age and the Greatest Investment Opportunity of all Time.

    We are at an historic junction of human history in which we are transitioning from the age of fossil fuels to the age of renewable and distributed energy, in effect a true paradigm shift. The tide has turned and the worldwide momentum is irreversible. This change is occurring all around the world and has been accelerating dramatically in the last three years.

    One of the most critical factors in this accelerated transition is plain and simple, yet financially compelling — economics! Strangely this is seldom highlighted in most articles. Renewables are in fact cheaper than all forms of fossil fuels especially when you compare all of the relevant factors — initial cost, timing of cash flows (cost of money), absence of any variable costs for decades, superior job creation by a number of magnitudes, no pollution, no huge resultant cleanup costs and few if any health related costs.

    The truly interesting and significant dichotomy in this transition is that at this time the greatest threat mankind has ever faced — Climate Change — is upon us and must be address immediately, and at the same time Climate Change also presents us with the greatest investment opportunity of all time!

    Climate Change must be addressed, and by far the fastest and cheapest way to address it is with existing renewable technologies — solar, wind and biomass working together connected to distributed energy networks that are far more flexible, extremely resistant to disruption (storms, terrorism) and have a significantly higher proven reliability.

    The investment areas are just starting to appear and present themselves and many more will arise as the transition accelerates. It will be the savvy and aware investors and corporations that will take advantage of it. Now that the economics are much more obvious, this will spark the investment community and they will further accelerate the transition. It will become increasingly difficult to ignore the superior financial numbers of renewables, and in the end, the best investment for investors and for the planet will be the same — renewables.

    Why are Renewables the Greatest Investment Opportunity in History?
    Renewables will be a great and transformative investment because they have all the key characteristics of a great investment. They are simply: Better, Faster and Cheaper!

    Better — it is clean energy, the only truly abundant energy source, available everywhere, has far less financial risk and is the only energy source that strengthens rather than weakens national security.

    Faster — solar scales up as much as 15 times faster than nuclear or fossil fuel plants. There is simply no financial comparison when it comes to speed of building and the time value of money involved.

    Cheaper – due to recent dramatic decreases in price (62 percent for wind and 82 percent for solar) in the past 5 years. These decreases have continued in 2015 and are projected to continue in 2016 and beyond. These do not include other external costs (pollution, health etc.) that are far greater.
    The Intrinsic Advantages of Solar Are Dramatic and Insurmountable

    1.Solar is abundant, can be utilized in almost any size (wrist watch to city) and available everywhere. One could say that it is the most “democratic” form of energy in existence.

    2.Solar is renewable and is not finite as are all other fuels and it is the only source of energy that can easily supply all our long term needs. ** The energy from approximately 2 weeks of sunshine hitting the earth is greater than ALL the energy stored in existing fossil fuels.

    3.Solar is the only energy generation technology that does not utilize (and pollute) vast amounts of fresh water. This is a key advantage that is seldom mentioned. However, it is without question, an advantage that is insurmountable.

    4.Solar is the only energy source that does not create or emit carbon and further contribute to climate change.

  • 3
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    Sovereignty of the people are sold by the Politicians and Public servants who are bribed by the interested parties. Who can dispute the value of renewable energy. These illiterates are trying to make sri lanka a dessert.

  • 1
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    One more comment,the raw materials for the fuel cells could be even rice.

  • 0
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    Wind and solar cost per kilowat is still higher than coal.

  • 2
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    Dr. MWND, very professionally written. As per some of the comments, popularizing the generation of solar power at domestic level will make great contribution in addition to other methods. One is that the household will contribute to the national grid and save hydro power for a future need. No pollution. When such ideas are discussed, the govt. decides to offer solar panels to new houses that are being built in the north. Not that it should not be, but they can promote all the potential households countrywide to install solar power panels and deduct the cost from the excessive power supplied to the grid.

    Other means of power generation need professional assessment and planning as you have mentioned. If politicians doesn’t know, why not consult professional bodies? Why depend in corrupt public servants and politicians?

  • 0
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    [Edited out] Please write instead of posting links – CT

  • 0
    0

    It’s perfect time to make some plans for the future and it’s time to be happy.
    I’ve read this post and if I could I desire to suggest you few interesting things or suggestions.
    Perhaps you can write next articles referring to this article.
    I wish to read more things about it!

  • 1
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    My thanks to all the comments.It shows that world trend is for renewables and let us learn from the experience elsewhere and do the needful. Innovation is the name of the game as SL has already proven in Mahaveli Diversion & more recently the Fight against Suicide squads of LTTE at Sea.MWND

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