22 May, 2022


Solar Set To Create History

By S.Sivathasan



A 73 fold global leap in 12 years is the performance of Solar in the present century. For the stellar story to continue what impels and what impedes? Principally, declining cost of Photo Voltaic (PV) fuels growth. Capacity Factor (CF) not rising in tandem has kept back spectacular expansion. Now both are receiving redoubled effort most conspicuously from scientists. The year 2013 may be the watershed year. The prospects are more than promising.

The unit price of electricity to the end beneficiary, the consumer has been the critical determinant in the choice of energy source. Governments as well as investors in power have been watchful over recent decades about declining costs of PV generation of solar power. The great performers in this exercise were scientists whose innovations opened new vistas. Technologists gave shape to the inventions and took development forward thereafter. The result has been a dramatic reduction in the cost of solar generation.

Photo Voltaic Costs

PV module costs have fallen from $4 per Watt in 2006 to below $1 in 2012.  These prices have fallen 80% since 2008, with 20% in 2012 alone. A fourth of the decline is accounted for by fall in silicon prices. Silicon price of $130 per kg in 2008 is forecast to be $25 in 2013. A 67% decrease in costs of modules is predicted between 2011 and 2020. In this evolution, 75% is attributed to ‘experience’ ie, sharing of knowledge through interaction and could be even collaborative effort. The above factors have made PV solar quite competitive when compared to other major sources.

Relative Costs

A thorough and protracted study to calculate the direct costs of energy was made by a body of professionals and the outcome was published in July 2012. The methodology employed was to bring the calculation to a common denominator of delivering 1 trillion kWh of energy.

The study yielded the following results for cost per kWh in US cents: Hydro 3.3; Nuclear 3.5; Natural Gas 3.7; Coal 4.1; Wind 4.1 and Solar 7.7.

The total cost of installing capacity necessary for the above delivery was in billion $: Hydro 32.8; Nuclear 34.9; Coal 41.4 and Solar 76.8. When it comes to pro-rata cost of installation, it is highest for Nuclear at 5 times more than for Solar. Yet the unit cost of 1 kWh of Solar is more than double that of nuclear. This vast difference is attributed to the contrast in Capacity Factor of 90% for nuclear and 18% for solar. The CF for the latter is influenced greatly by the Intermittency Factor. Massive research and innovation are needed before solar can become more competitive and achieve grid parity. When Intermittency Factor (IF) constraint is overcome with a consequent trebling of CF, the whole mix of energy source in power development is bound to change. A brief duration is forecast for this transformation.

Photo Voltaic Growth

Global increase of PV generation from 5364 MW in 2005 to 102,156MW in 2012 flowed from this price environment. The critical factor to stimulate speedier future growth is Grid Parity (GP). Solar reaches parity when it stands as an equal with other sources without subsidies or Governmental support. As of now among six sources, Hydro is cheapest at 3.3 US cents per kWh and solar is costliest at 7.7 US cents. Despite the disparity in costs, Solar has registered appreciable deployment particularly in the last three years, because of cost reduction with the added advantage of pollution avoidance.

Great advances in technology are expected in 2013 and going steadily up to 2020, when real Grid Parity ie, without hidden costs, tax credits or subsidies will be reached. This breakthrough will be made when the present Capacity Factor (CF) ie (actual as a percentage of potential) of 20% or less is more than trebled. It is the Intermittency Factor (IF) – caused by nightfall, weather patterns, clouds- that induces heavy capital investment in PV. It is as much as seven times compared to hydro. Put differently, it takes 700 MW of solar installed capacity against 100 MW of hydro. This contributes to high unit price of solar.

It is sought to cross the IF through research in energy storage. With recent developments in Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), Capacity Factor can be increased up to 75% with current technologies that are cost effective. It is said that ‘solar salt’ batteries can retain over 90% of captured heat for up to 24 hrs. This efficient storage system allows electricity round the clock. Gemasolar a solar plant in Spain with a capacity of 19.9 MW was commissioned in May 2011. The first one of its kind in the world, it is 24/7 and has a CF of 63%. It is high cost but it opens up possibilities for further research and innovation. When GP barrier is crossed and unit costs are brought below other sources, the stage will be set for exponential growth of solar. All these developments may be seen within the next 5-7 years.


The performance of solar in 2012 signals the turning point in global PV development. The consequences for the future are profound. In the use of solar power, drastic global changes have taken place in deployment as well. The dominance of Europe in the PV market is ceasing in 2013. It declined from 74% in 2011 to 55% in 2012. In the current year, momentum is shifting to the developing world with China gaining swift ascendency. Year on year increase of 34 GW is forecast for 2013. This growth is estimated to reach 48 GW in 2017. This is forecast under a Business As Usual (BAU) scenario which means without major reinforcement of support mechanism. Under a different scenario which is Policy Driven (PD) where administrative barriers and grid connection procedures are removed, 84 GW increase in 2017 is estimated. In two different scenarios, the cumulative projections are 288 GW and 422 GW. Perhaps 350 GW, 3.5 fold increases on 2012, is likely.

Sri Lanka

There are quite a few un-understandables about the power mix in Sri Lanka. Till 2010, when world had 42% coal fired electricity, Sri Lanka had nil. When the world had 16% hydro, Sri Lanka had 45% which reflected the use of abundant  water resources. Yet there was no price advantage to the consumer. For exploiting wind energy which too is abundant, capacity installed is a meagre 50 MW. Even by 2013, solar power on the grid is only 1.2 MW when sunlight is plentiful.

Huge technological advances in solar and wind together with consequent cost reductions in their exploitation are in the offing in the current decade itself. It appears that Sri Lanka is poised to reap unplanned for benefits accruing from procrastination.

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Sri Lanka is still to exploit hydro potential to its maximum. As reported some of the turbines are taken down for maintenance during periods when spill gates are opened up. It may be feasible to install extra turbine capacity to get over this problem. It is reported that hydro capacity may be as high as 80% during such periods. It seems that there is a lack of planning and good management. Thermal plants can be stopped during such periods for annual maintenance.

    Generating from coal is given as 4.1 US cents which is about 6 Rs per unit, whereas we are being charged over 15 Rs. CEB and Govt seem to be unable to get their act together and match global standards.

  • 0

    Government taxes and duties levied on solar is unbelievably and unfairly high, thus enabling it a prohibitive option fir a national solution… Our government policy overall is still drawn in Montessori schools and implemented by mahouts and cow herders!

  • 0

    We learn lesson to be know that last industrial revolution and its industrial activities specially the burning of fossil fuels,coal,oil and gas together with widespread deforestation,the gas carbon dioxide has been emitted atmosphere.That increased amount over the past 200 years carbon dioxide and substantially over the past 50 years.Every year emission currently add carbon further 8000 million tonnes,which likely to remain there for a period of 100 years.
    Solar Power and Renewable energy are sources alternative energy.An option of climate change and its impacts and vulnerability deeply impact socio-economic development,as well human mitigation.Is an obvious climate process drivers concentration of emissions. Solar power is nation like SL need to be encourage.Not only cost factor of solar ,but energy uncertainty will be reduce.

  • 1

    Is solar really that successful for Sri Lanka? A solar panel that gives 17.5 volts when direct sunlight hits it at 90 degrees, will just give around 7 to 8 volts whenever a cloud covers the sun. So where is the power generation? SL is a tropical country where we get clouds almost 300 days off the 365 days of the year! Also we do not use tracking systems, so when the sun does not fall at 90 degrees again the power generation drops by another 30%. I see wind power as an ideal solution for our country, but not with the cheap wind generators that come to our country where the wattage is quoted at 600 rpm. Can we ever get 600 rpm, may be for a few hours in months of June july.

  • 0

    What is required is a pilot project and resulting facts and figures about the feasibility of solar energy in Sri Lanka. As stated by some commentators the cloud cover and also the presence of trees would hinder the operation of solar panels.

  • 0

    Response to Comments

    Even as the world stands on the threshold of a major leap in harnessing Solar Power, what needs to be done to make it happen in Sri Lanka? Three things.
    1) Seek expertise from where it is aplenty. Where? China.
    2) Mobilise finances from a power to whom the amount solicited is a trifle. Who? China.
    3) Who decides? The highest in governance vested with executive authority.

    Some elaboration is necessary on the above.

    1) Why China? Whatever she touches she excels in. In renewable energy, she came to wind power late but became No 1 in the world last year with 75,564 MW of installed capacity. With 83 countries using wind power, the world has a total of 282,000 MW.
    In solar power too she was a late entrant, but is tipped to become world’s No 1 in 2015 and to exceed 50,000 MW by 2017. In addition, she has the highest production capacity globally to manufacture PV modules. The West unable to stand competition wants tariff barriers.
    2) Why funding from China? That is where money lies. First in the world in foreign reserves &gold, first in current account balance and first as creditor of US’s foreign debt. She is also second largest in GDP, FDI at home and in Exports. Her foot print in SL is strong.
    3) To mention just two about decision making: Mahadeva Causeway with Sangupiddy Bridge added, was made a reality in 2010, after it excursioned for 77 years. Stopping the coal fired power circuit of 20 years, from Trincomalee, Hambantota and Puttalam and fixing it for good at Nuraichcholai.

    An anecdote on how the country sets about its business. In 1971, Mr. Sam Wijesinghe, Secretary General of Parliament, addressing middle and senior professionals at the present SLIDA said: “In war ravaged Germany, Hitler drove a hardy people and in five years she became the foremost power. What are we doing? CONNING AROUND”

    Administration, management, governance and Executive Presidency are all about making decisions without ever being assailed by doubts. If China can be invited for solar power development — technical viability permitting – she can deliver even 300 MW in less than 5 years. Likely areas are: NP, NCP, NWP, EP and SP.

  • 0

    Sri Lanka should have invested heavily on generation of solar power and wind power with Chinese help instead of having invested on two White elephants in Hambantota. Thereby the whole country would have benefitted in the long run and even the CEB currently operating at 98 percent loss will eventually get salvaged.

  • 0

    Apparently 40% of the production capacity goes as grid loss due to recent rural electriciation drive of the government explaining why we still have a capacity shortage despite several new power plants

  • 0

    According World Bank the average loss on Transmission and Distribution per year in 2008-12 was:

    Japan 4%
    US 6
    China 6
    SL 14
    India 22
    Zimbabwe 6

    1 MW saved = 1 MW produced = 125 MW produced if SL reduces loss to 10%.

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