20 October, 2017

The Electricity Tariff Hike – A Great Salutary Step Forward

By Chandre Dharmawardana

Chandre Dharmawardana

The government’s decision to raise the electricity price to realistic values, and its decision on May day to bring down the price for those consuming less than 60 units may not have been policy decisions that were arrive at in a rational manner. However, these happen to be exactly the right decisions in the context of Sri Lanka’s development trajectory.

At a talk I gave at the presidential secretariat in July 2009, (and also to a number of learned societies in Sri Lanka) I pointed out that the cost of electricity was too low in terms of the mode of utilization of power in Sri Lanka. More details can be found in that talk which is available on the internet (dh web.org/place.names/posts/dev-tech.ppt/). Many of the new installations  are hotels, airports, offices etc., that use large amounts of electricity for air-conditioning and comfort, rather than for manufacturing and production.

Electricity is one of the most efficient forms of energy (compared to heat energy whose efficiency is controlled by Carnot’s theorem, as discussed in simple language, e.g.,  in my recent book – A physicist’s view of Matter and Mind). Electricity should be reserved for high-end purposes, and other energy sources should be used for low-end non-productive purposes.

Why is the rise in electricity tariffs such a blessing in disguise? Will it not slow down our industrial sector? The blessing comings from the fact that the new tariffs make solar energy  (and new types of jobs), an attractive competitor among the available energy sources. The current usage pattern of 0.3-0.4 kWh per household will increase an order of magnitude within a decade, and future energy bills would be quite horrendous.

During the last decade Japan, a country with no oil or hydro-power strongly subsidized  roof-top solar panels for public and corporate  buildings and homes. However, with the new tariffs in Sri Lanka, no such subsidies are needed. It is now just good business to install solar panels on buildings for air conditioning and other domestic needs, while the main power-grid is the steady source. Solar energy becomes even more sensible when we note that in India today, solar electricity has fallen to about 8-9 Indian  rupees per kilowatt-hour compared with 18-20 rupees for diesel-power. This is not due to improvements in the efficiency of ordinary solar panels (15 to 20 per cent efficiency). The inefficiency is outweighed by their new low price.

Luxury hotels think nothing of installing expensive marble, Jacuzzis and many high-end items in their construction. However, most architects and urban planners, unaware of solar technology simply dismiss it out of hand as `too expensive’. Similarly, given the equipment costs that go into building an airport, covering its roof with solar panels is in fact a negligible budget increment. Given today’s energy tariffs, and anticipating future tariffs, not installing solar panels is stupid. Unlike diesel or coal-power installations, solar panels need no further fuel as the fuel is delivered by the sun’s rays. The maintenance is much less costly and produce no pollution compared to traditional power generation,  as we can see from the horror stories coming from the Lakvijaya powerstation in Horagolla (Horagolla is the traditional name of Norochchollai – see http://dh-web.org/place.names/).

Another technological development that cuts the cost of lighting by a factor of 10 is the use of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) for ceiling illumination panels. The cost of LEDs as gone down, while their efficiency has increased substantially.

Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka, instead of doing the obvious technological solution to a technological problem, we convert it to a political problem and quote Marx or Friedman, hold meetings or go on demonstrations. So at last, the force of circumstances have forced our policy makers to do what should have been done many years ago. The turn of events is like the removal of rice subsidies carried out during Dudley Senanayake’s time, and will have similar benefits.

It is now up to the engineers, architects and  construction managers in the private and public sectors to include solar panels and LEDs as integral parts of their design practice. The garment manufacturing industry can become energy self-sufficient with such installations. A private home designed with solar panels on the roof, and a heat pump which uses the cool  underground water table to cool the house can easily sell energy to the main grid. Everyone cannot afford this additions to the construction bill, but here the banks can give installation loans, to be paid up from future electricity savings.

So let us have a round of applause to high electricity tariffs for grid-based electricity. Keep them up and UP.

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    Energy is still a public utility.
    With 90% of the population with an average IQ of below 60% and patriotic. If you think SL are better than the west then why not the miracle of asia government start farming electricity from solar and wind?

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      It is not an “asia government actions” or state farms that are needed. When someone
      builds a house, he may buy galvanized sheet panels and put them on the room.
      In the same way, buy solar panels, fix them on the roof and connect them according
      to the instruction sheet. Then call and electrician to hook it up to the meter.
      During the day time the meter will run backwards and reduce you bill! You are selling power to the electricity board. If people can afford cars, motorcycles and
      TVs, threy can affor solar panels. The government should come in by ensuring low interest bank loans. All this has been done in Germany, in many municipalities in the US, and indeed in Japan as the author has mentioned.
      It is a very timely article.

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        Go back to the stone age with GI sheets and amude.

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      While solar energy is the best and cleanest the overall argument is rather silly, since the problem with the huge energy bill is the CORRUPTION and WASTE and WRONG DEVELOPMENT MODEL – building white elephant airports and ports in Hambantota, and the loss making state enterprises that have massive energy bills which the public have to subsidize ..
      Once these loss making institutions like Mihin Air, Mattala Ariport and Hamabntota Sea port are shut down and others restructured the publics’s bill will be greatly reduced..

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    “Electricity is one of the most efficient forms of energy (compared to heat energy whose efficiency is controlled by Carnot’s theorem”

    i wonder then why still people run cars and rocket launchers on chemical fuel. why cities have networks of gas pipelines for room heating and cooking amidst the risks involved in routing gas underground in metropolitans, compared to the transmission/ distribution of electricity. did the author confuse efficiency with effective/versatile? i wouldn’t raise this question if you didn’t bring up carnot efficiency unnecessarily in an article that you present to a more general readership. with this type of intellectuals advising and advocating for a corrupt and bankrupt government, no wonder we have such a rate of drain of active brains! these people just (mis)quote technically specific ideas to get people buy what they are to sell, on authority. i got the bad impression about what’s going to be in your book already, i will limit my reading to hawking and penrose – of course on mind and matter.

    then it is followed by
    “Electricity should be reserved for high-end purposes, and other energy sources should be used for low-end non-productive purposes.”
    i dont’ see what type of logical connection exists in between the two parts of that paragraph.

    here is what i believe you ought to say (although i believe it doesn’t make much economic sense, looking at the larger picture):
    electricity, a very versatile form of energy that could easily be transported and converted on demand into many other useful forms, involves a lot energy loss during generation and subsequent conversion. hence, it is advisible to preserve the available energy in the electrical form for demands that couldn’t otherwise be catered for and to make use of other forms of energy conversions wherever there is possibility. Further, domestic and localized small-scale harvesting of solar, tidal and wind energy should be considered to cater for the ever increasing demand of electicity. This is something I learned from my ninth grade English textbook long time back and i still find it valid.

    Further you mention the cost of solar power production in India. I would like to remind you also that the cost of an automobile is about 3.5 times less than that it would sell for in SL – local production makes the difference, again a factor that depends on government policies towards prioritizing and promoting of local production and provoding industrial infrastructure, market stability for local industrial (state/private) ventures. a political/economical policy matter indeed!

    not installing solar panels is *not* stupid, if you really work out the cost of installation per W and the savings. The last time, i tried, the break even happens in tens of years. Then there are uncertainties with regard to the regular solar power harvesting as well the technological stability and energy availability.

    As for Japan, they also operate nuclear power plants.

    “Unlike diesel or coal-power installations, solar panels need no further fuel as the fuel is delivered by the sun’s rays. The maintenance is much less costly”
    even a little kid knows that. but for some strange reason though, engineers still prefer burning stuff, no? – to get their trains moving and to run offices, which in a school kid’s imagination can well be powered by solar panels! unless you are in the outer in the inner solar system, people are not convinced of that free of charge 1.3 * cos(something) kW/m^2 power flux to put an end to all those research costs on nuclear fusion and fuel cells and tidal energy and wind mills.

    “and produce no pollution compared to traditional power generation”
    true. when the whole world is drilling the ozone layer and trading carbon quota, the sri lankans have set an examplary model! quite recently there was a sri lankan ambassador to some place teaching the super powers of the world about the sri lankan example/advice on nuclear disarmament :D good lord didn’t give horses wings.

    “Horagolla is the traditional name of Norochchollai”
    soon, nallur in jaffna will get a new name.

    all of your LED technology improvements and solar power efficiency growth and population are all well known throught the world. and yet, you think the wheel is to be invented in sri lanka? why don’t for a moment appreciate the fact the whole world is after new modes of energy savings and all your elementary textbook methods have yet to make it to an engineering manual?

    “a heat pump which uses the cool underground water table to cool the house”
    sir, for the last time i tell you, don’t insult yourself by (mis)quoting science/technology. a heat pump delivers heat from a cooler system(ambience usually) to a hotter system by consuming additional work from outside. every kid on earth knows that the legitimate question then is, where that extra energy (work) you put comes from? the magical *heat pump* you seem to suggest is an obvious violation of the second law of thermodynamics. anyway, what you wanted to mean is called a ‘refrigerator’ ( an’airconditioner’ to be specific to the application you mention) and that gadget pumps heat from a colder system to a hotter system (which ambience in this case). again this also requires external energy input, for which the most effective established engineering solution humanity has figured out is to supply them with electricity. of course you tell people that it’s wise to run compressors by ancient technologies people used in irrigation :D but there must be some reason people do it with electricity instead of with cowns and donkeys, right? while i see airconditioners being sold in the market, i have never heard of that magical heat pump you refer to in sale anywhere. of course there are different principles used in airconditioners, but none of them convert water into work that helps heat-pumping :D maybe you consume too much theoretical physics? besides, it took generations of engineers to figure out the best coolant fluids (to make the best use of the power supplied to the compressors and to do the most efficient heat transfer for the specific requirements) in refrigeration and air conditioning. when you say water does the magic, it’s an insult to the heritage of such hardly acquired expertise of the human race. the only place where anyone can agree with you is to make use of locally produced (solar for instance) electricity to power airconditioners because usually it’s hot/uncomfortable in SL while it’s sunny. of course, civilizations have invented architectural techniques to indoor cooling and those ideas have been studied and are adopted by modern architects and are applied wherever possible. people do perform calculations on the heating, ventillation and air conditioning aspects while designing buildings. if that’s what you meant by your mystical ‘underground water table heat pump’, you got to be a little bit more explicit to demonstrate your intellectual bankruptcy on the subject matter and the state of the art in technology.

    R&D on energy technology is a primary focus of many nations – both developed and developing. Until experts (which in my opinion based on the above arguments excludes you) come up with workable solutions that can practically, reliably replace the conventional methods, the debate remains more of a political and economical policy related one.

    overall: the article lacks in both quality and substance. the regime needs to outsource the job they gave you.

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      In this rather rambling long essay I find the statement:
      ” where that extra energy (work) you put comes from? the magical *heat pump* you seem to suggest is an obvious violation of the second law of thermodynamics. anyway, what you wanted to mean is called a ‘refrigerator’ ( an’airconditioner’ to be specific to the application you mention) and that gadget pumps heat from a colder system to a hotter system (which ambience in this case)

      The “ambiance” is not hot but the cooler ground water!

      In most parts of USA, a “heatpump” is a layman’s name (and indeed makes layman sense), and I think the author has used it in the conventional way understood in the trade. It just pumps cool water from the underground water table and sends them through cooling fins to cool the house, and sends back the warm water into the ground (recycling). It is much much cheaper than an air conditioner, and does not violate any laws of thermodynamics. In common parlance, it pumps out the heat from the house. Of course, air conditioners do a much better job and are independent of a supply of cool ground water not found in places like california, but abundant in Sri Lanka. “Heat pumps” need a compressor to do exactly what an air conditioner does, and then the “heat-pump+compressor” is more efficient than an air conditioner because it pumps heat DOWN a temperature gradient, and not UP a temperature gradient.

      Pierre Simon, Marquis de Laplace was a mathematician who wrote crisp, economical prose and valued very much his “DE” that is found in his name.

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      Regarding Nallur, Fr. Rasanayagam and other scholars had many views trying to understand the etymology of the place name. However, in the end, in concurrence with the views of Indian etymologists, it seems that the place-name Nallur has come from Nagpur (Nagapura in sinhala prakrit). In fact, on googling I land in the very same dh-web.org site which says:
      Nagapura → Nakpura → nakpur → nakkur → nallur. The Nagas lived in many parts of Sri Lanka including the Maaya Rata, with the capital near the mouth of the Kelani river. Naga Deviyo → Natha Deviyo is a deity revered in the Kelaniya Raja-maha viharaya (Buddhist temple) and many other Buddhist shrines. The place name “Nallur”, i.e., Nagapura, is found even in the western province today. Similarly, the proto-forms of Nallur, viz., Nak-ur, Nagpur etc., exist even today in India, and in some place-name stems in Sri Lanka. A village near Panadura south of Colombo, and a coastal village near Mooduthora (Muttur) are known for their “Nalluruva” placename.
      The Nagadeepa island (Nainaative, or Nagadoova) even today has a shrine to a five-headed Cobra. Today it is the sanctum of the Nagapooshani Amman Kovil, which is located near the nagadeep Vihara.

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        so now that we have etymological argument, when do we do what we are morally obliged to do, as a reconciliation towards the social injustice that seems to have happened over generations?

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      rambling: i accept. it’s not my research paper, but a comment. apologies for the length.

      ambiance: yes, in the case of cooling, you are transferring heat from a cooler indoors to a hotter ambiance. you want your room cooler than its naturally, right?

      heat pump being layman’s term in the US: yes, my apologies that i don’t speak american english, although I use american spelling, but a google search shows me you are right with regard to the american laymen. however, an author who for whatever reason brings up a text book stuff like carnot efficiency being the theoretical limit on heat engines needs to be explicit when it comes to ambiguously employing established terminology in the specialization he attempts to show expertise in. again, your heat pump does transfer heat up a temperature gradient, it looks otherwise because you are considering only the heat exchange between the working fluid and your room. there is also the disposal of heat to the ambience. if you look at things that way, an air conditioner also absorbs heat down a temperature gradient at one point in the cycle. i can only take the author’s argument in favor of this type of ground water heat pump for indoor cooling as a sales pitch for experimenting it against the proven performance of now-conventional air conditioners. that stuff is a good alternative to heating that is found in conventional domestic heating systems which are powered by burning gas. still you need to power a pump that transports water through the circuit, just like the air conditioner needs for its compressor! the competition between water or some refrigeration coolant is not the problem here, we need to work out the electrical power we put in, in order to run the circuit – open or closed – against the transfer of heat. anyway, this is just another alternative power-saving idea the author is suggesting just like LED bulbs. but he has to work out the investments and savings in rupees and cents to realize why that is not case we see in reality.

      restating my position: this whole tariff issue is a policy problem; a problem to be democratically evaluated and be subject to criticism without requiring a degree in energy engineering. the author didn’t have to try too hard to hijack it to make it a purely technological one. Carnot theorem is not needed for anyone to understand electricity tariff changes. Further, one who tries to establish himself as an authority on the subject should be careful not to demonstrate himself to be too out of touch with the business to make a mistake like speaking of power demand in kWh and state school text book ideas like solar panels without thinking of the economic payback. but i do have respect for the author’s enthusiasm towards utilizing and promoting technology for solving public problems and for having the guts to say Prof. Nalin De Silva’s claims are crackpot science.

      laplace: agree, that using it as a pseudonym to comment on CT is an insult to Laplace himself, but a trivia: some children’s toy i found has a pokemon called Laplace :D Also, it is noteworthy that Laplace’s writings were not all that economical.

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    I find it quite difficult to grasp what you would mean from your statement, “The current usage pattern of 0.3-0.4 kWh per household will increase an order of magnitude within a decade, and future energy bills would be quite horrendous”. Could you please elaborate me on what it means to say a house hold consumes 0.3 kWh? Am I missing to presume that it’s per day or for making tea for a family of five? isn’t the average power consumption the most proper quantity to argue about?

    Does CT really do a verification prior to publishing as to whether the author mentioned in this article is the real one that i find while googling, because the wikipedia page about him makes quite an impression about him, except that i’m yet to find a decent profile page from an institution that he represents? Also in the ppt file he refers to, he says “Energy crunch. Currently: 5000 kWh/capita increasing rapidly” is that annual? So that means CT does verify? :D or by doing this, he invites the participation of his audience by doing their homework to get familiar with those figures and appropriate units?

    Except for the specific energy issue the author does share some good personal and positive (too optimistic i would say) thoughts, not in this article but in his ppt file. however, i would say the political/ constitutional solutions are more realistic when implemented while his suggestions are more technocratic, although not entirely impossible.

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      I wonder if the author would replay some of these questions. However, some
      questions are so trivial that they shouldn’t have been asked. Example:
      “Could you please elaborate me on what it means to say a house hold consumes 0.3 kWh? Am I missing to presume that it’s per day”

      kWh means kilo-watts per hour. So, to get the number of kilowatts per day, simply multiply by 24. It has nothing to with making tea or what ever you did with the kiloWatts!!

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        Dear Anura,

        There was only one question in my comment and the fact that it is not one that trivial is very well demonstrated by your response.

        A question for Anura:
        Could you please elaborate me on what it means to say “get the number of kilowatts per day”

        Every layman in the energy trade (i don’t know the californian jargon) knows that energy is measured in Joules in Le Système international d’unités and in kWh in ordinary electricity tariff calculations and this is an O/L question that the kids prepare for today. kWh means ‘kW’s consumed during one hour period’, not kW’s consumed *per* hour, and it is a unit of energy while kW is a unit of power. kiloWatts per day, as you suggest, doesn’t make sense, while kWh per day does. when you talk about energy consumption rate you are essentially talking about a physical quantity called power ( i don’t know how that’s called in california, but the last time i checked caltech works the way i work too). indeed a household consumes exactly (the kilowatts mentioned in the kettle * time duration it takes) to make tea for the family!

        why i should raise my first question is very apparent from my comment itself. you can see in his ppt document the author cares to put a slash in ” 5000 kWh/capita” before capita while he misses before h (typo lets assume generously! and ask him for clarification was my thought).

        my argument is that the author, independent of his academic/professional reputation, just jotts down numbers and inappropriate units and elementary theorems from a specialization to make it appear to a broader audience as if they were listening to some specialist of the trade in question and is thereby trying sell a nonsensical tariff package to the public. or is the esteemed author having an incompetent assistant that drafts this type of articles?

        I strongly recommend that you have a conversation with a sample of people in the energy trade and have a comparison of different units they use to quantify various quantities involved in electricity business.

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    Another joker trying to justify the the hike!

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    Try telling this to the poor consumers that this is a blessing in disguise. It is neither a blessing nor is it in disguise. We all know about the colossal waste and mismanagement that goes on in government and governament institutations like CEB. The quick fix is increase prices instead of addressing the basic issues of mismanagement and corruption.

    Firstly staff and management at CEB can probably be cut by 50%. Ministers can be cut by 75%. Then address the problems of mismanagement by outsourcing or privatising. All new projects should be based on the Private Public model such as Build Own and Operate. Offer incentives for foreign investors to do the job of power generation.

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    Who is this man? Is he trying to suck up to Rajapaksa ? HIGHEST ELECTRICITY TARFFS IN THE WORLD!!!!
    What part of this is good for this country. ? For industry or investment??? Or for stifling the public??? Who is this rocket scientist??? Has he done his homework?

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    When taxes are so exorbitant ,and there is tax on tax , who would not want subsidies.? Are we richer than the Japaneese. Not once have you said that , the tariffs are high because of commissions and ,mismanagement. Does that happen in Japan?
    If. You are scared of white vans stay at home do not write crap

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    Yet another “I specialist” singing his own praises after living a life of unacknowledged mediocrity in a first world country !

    Probably one of the 711 brigade from the USA.

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    I do not know the credentials of the writer, but it was very clear that this article has been written on either false premises or with total lack of knowledge. Writer acknowledges that the original government proposal on electricity tariff structure ensures realistic prices. One example, if a household consumes one additional Kwhr above the specified limit will be charged the next higher rate, this I see as a punishment. In Sri Lanka the meter readings are read manually by a meter reader and have no fix time and date of collection. If this is to be strictly implemented government should install smart meters and structure the tariff based on the time it consumed- Peak, off peak and shoulder etc. This will provide the consumer to manage their consumption rather than having a flat rate 24×7 a day. How can one say this pricing structure is realistic?
    Writer also says the current consumption is in the order of fraction of KWhrs (0.3 to 0.4) and will increase an order of magnitude in the next decade. I do not know this is a typo or to purposely mislead the readers.
    Furthermore, he highlights the main consumption of electricity in Sri Lanka is for air conditioning and comfort and not for manufacturing and production. If this is so, why the high electricity consumers are have to pay marginal price increase (few percentage) than the people who consume very less- Is this a realistic pricing model? If you want to encourage hotels and airports for alternative source (incl solar) of energy the increase should be the other way- I.e. high percentage increase for bulk users. This contradicts your argument too.
    I also wish to know how did to arrive the solar efficiency figure as 15 to 20 per cent? The solar efficiency is in the range of 3-5% at present. Your figure could be still at research level not in commercial production. Sri Lanka is mostly cloudy 365 days; therefore I doubt that solar power is a viable alternate source of energy.
    According to my knowledge the base load should be hydro (because Sri Lanka has heavy rainfall) and secondly on coal. Other source of energy-Solar, windmill cannot provide supply on demand as they are related to weather patterns. You emit more CO2 to produce solar panels it is not environmental friendly.
    Make the efficiency of generators high and reduce the loss of power during transmission and distribution keeping power factor within acceptable limits
    I am sure in the near future you will be elevated as the president advisor on electricity tariff and I congratulate you in advance.

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      Jay,

      Although i strongly disagree with this authors enthusiam-driven praise and support for the new tariff, i am sure the solar cell efficiencies have gone beyond 5% especially for ground applications. yet they can’t be a viable replacement as the author suggests, taking all the factors involved into account.

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    Many of the comments (e.g., those of Jay or P. B.) are about the tariff structure.

    The beauty of Prof. Dharmawardana’s argument is that, once you have set up your own solar panels, you become INDEPENDENT of the government’s tariffs. Until then, the high government tariffs would force the high-volume users (capitalist or corporate organizations) to think and plan seriously for alternatives like solar. Jay is still addicted to his oil, coal etc. The world had to get out of its oil addiction.

    You generate your own electricity! You are your own boss and the tariff does not apply.

    Current research solar panels from General Electric or Siemans have efficiencies reaching 40%, but these are very expensive and used for very special applications. The 10-15% efficiency panels are cheaply available from China and India. The very-low efficiency panels ( less than 5%) are based on amorphous silicon photovoltaics, and they are dirt cheap. New, efficient and cheap plastic-based solar panels are also on the way from Heeger’s laboratory.

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      You are mistaken, I never said oil, I said hydro and coal.

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      I also wish to provide a link which highlights the solar to electric power efficiency. I do not believe average Sri Lankan household in a position to go for high efficient solar panels. As I mentioned previously Sri Lanka is cloudy most of the day and also prone to collect dust on the panels will further reduce efficiency.

      “At present, the best commercial solar cells convert between 17 per cent and 19 per cent of the sun’s energy into electricity. UNSW’s technique, patented this year, should produce efficiencies of between 21 per cent and 23 per cent.

      http://www.smh.com.au/technology/sci-tech/breakthrough-in-solar-efficiency-by-unsw-team-ahead-of-its-time-20130505-2j117.html

      (dated 6th May 2013)

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      Do you know at least a ,mortgage kind of payment scheme to get these panels?

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    Pierre C,

    dude, even google went on looking for alternative energy sources and solar cells didn’t replace everything or solar power is not their main alternative energy source. they even run heavy duty fuel cell systems.

    i wonder why all of these tech savvy people don’t quote a single price estimate in/under an article that attempts to justify a tariff change.

    here is a small calculation i did last year: to cater for a 0.35 kW average power requirement, one needs about 1.4 m^2 of solar array area with 22.2% efficient multijunction cells. if you went for 30% efficiency it would be about one square meter. now tell us the price of installation for 0.35 kW average demand. also include the cost of converter and storage units. or you can educate the readers simply in terms of price per W for installation.

    In 2007, i was experimenting with an imported high end solar panel for industrial installation. the surface area was about 0.75 m^2. it produced 90 W when operated with a sun seeker. the cost at that time (considering it wasn’t a mass scale import) was about 150 000 LKR including the inverter and storage battery unit!. (i know the indian ones are cheap now, but quote prices per W if you disagree with the overall argument). Now you also want people who have been using electricity on domestic subscription to invest 150 000 LKR to run a 750 W rice cooker for two meals daily just because it sounds cool to say solar power comes for free? so does the hydro power! clean energy that comes for free! can you go on to ask people to build tanks on top the buildings to harvest rain water and produce nano/ micro hydro power? there is a reason why people are still burning fuel.

    the point is that the tariff issue could simply have been solved if the govt took some integrated approach in its financial planning and cutting down on wastages and bad practices. the idea behind school text books stressing about solar power is to encourage you to contribute to improving its technical maturity so that it becomes the economically feasible choice, not to implement a technology when it’s in its infancy. until then, solar panels are only good for off-the-grid locations (where extending grid is a comparatively larger cost) and for spacecraft that don’t go beyond mars.

    the world will get out of oil addiction when fusion becomes reality. until then humanity will keep spending on wind mills, geothermal plants etc.

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    Thank you for the many comments. The figure of at least “0.3 to 0.4 kWH” had missed the script \into 10^{3} from the latex input file. It is 0.3-0.4 times thousand per year per person. This gives an annual consumption of at least 6-8 billion kWh per year for Sri Lanka during the pre-2009 period. Since consumption has almost doubled since 2000, and since people switch to electricity as living standards improve, SL’s power needs in the next decade would rise very steeply. It is not just that tariff’s would rise — there would be continual, disruptive power cuts. When global warming arrives, even the hydro reservoirs will become pretty empty.

    But `solar’ cannot ever become the only solution to the world’s power needs. However, a number of Nobel laureates have written in detail that it will provide 50% of the worlds needs in a few decades (at the 2009 meetings I showed a movie made at the University of Santa Barbara, Bell labs and GE by Prof. Walter Kohn, Nobel laureate regarding these detailed arguments).

    In 2009, you would make more money by depositing it in a bank than installing solar and looking for the savings. But the more higher the electricity tariff becomes, the more attractive solar becomes. Hydro-electricity is also NOT attractive at first sight. But huge capital investments went to our river-valleys projects, and for transmission lines and cables. We need such investments in solar as well.

    With the new tariffs, Solar is still too expensive, unless (basically zero-interest) bank loans are made available to kick-start the industry, as has been done in Germany and Japan for at least a decade.

    Then, many customers will look for solar installations and the market responds more cheaply to the volume demand. In Sri lanka today, most solar providers use photo-volteics to produce hot water!! That is why the reference to Carnot’s principle and heat energy that Carnot’s faux kinsman Pierre Simon Laplace (sans de) did not appreciate. If you want to just heat water with sun’s rays, there are more efficient, cheaper methods, widely used in, e.g., Israel.

    Sri lanka gets about 5 kWh solar energy per sq. meter per day (fixed plate), with the highs at about 7, and the lows at about 4 kWh/sq-meter/day. [A lot of such data about Sri lanka are available in NREL in Colorado and the NOAA from Satellite data over the Indian ocean]. So if you have a 5×6 meter array on your roof, and 300 average days of sunlight and 10% efficiency in your equipment, you collect about 900kEWh — not bad. If you can cover school roofs hospitals, office buildings and private homes you see that we can recover a good chunk of the annual 8-9 billion kWh that we need.

    Do we really have an alternative except to to invest in such a possibility? Is Sri Lanka going to for ever remain a slave to ever increasing fossil-fuel markets, tightly controlled by Western and Middle-eastern conglomerates? Looking through the very good comments from you guys, and the liveliness (although rather rude in tone) of the discussion, I think you guys can crack the problem if the development funding is made available; never say it can’t be done unless some law of physics forbids it. It is useless waiting for the politicians to solve problems.

    If you disagree with my numbers, take this vision and put in your numbers and see how it works out.

    As for corruption and mismanagement, societies too obey thermodynamics — in this case off-equilibrium evolution. The faster the rate of change the greater is their entropy production. Systems in equilibrium do not change, and produce no entropy and no corruption. Even in slow linear response we know it happens,from Callen and Welton’s fluctuation dissipation analysis. So, why are you surprised that there is corruption? Even if you change this set of politicians and put in a different set of actors, the phenomenon will be exactly the same. It is a feature of the nature of the differential equations that govern these complex systems (whose dynamics are close to the edge of chaos), I have discussed some of this in chapter 8 and 9 of my recent book `A Physicist’s view of matter and Mind’ available from Amazon com, world scientific etc.

    http://www.amazon.ca/A-Physicists-View-Matter-Mind/dp/9814425419
    A few sample chapters are available at: http://dh-web.org/physics/apvmm/

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      Chandre Dharmawardana,

      with all due respects, i hate doing this, you are a learned man of great reputaion with guts and enthusiasm for promoting knowledge and technology, but electricity tariff is certainly not your turf, sir.

      you point to fact that the electricity demand can no more be catered for by teh existing generation infrastructure and natural resources. it’s true. technically solar power generation is capable of supplying for a great portion of our demand, but at what cost? can we afford it as we did when we were investing on hydro/coal power plants? is that why you are distributing the burden on the poor chaps? you say the market dynamics will eventually adjust itself to help make the installation cheaper, but did that happen in japan and germany? are germans and japanese exploiting the solar power availability fully yet?

      i still don’t understand how carnot’s theorem is relevant to heating water?

      your kW/m^2 figures tell us that solar power harvesting will liberate us from being slaves to oil market factors – very true. and you agree that the avg citizens cannot afford it on their own. you too agree that we are talking about domestic customers too. but you think the stupid govt that cannot solve a crisis like this the way it should have been instead of raising the prices unjustly, will shower interest free loans on its people? why not the govt instead start investing on solar energy using its own land and infrastructure in the first place and push it to the grid, if you ever think the solar power investment does pay back in near future? it’s better than subjecting the mass to heavy loans and making them slaves to banks and money lenders, but your trick is only understood as passing the ball over to the public to save the govt.

      professor, it’s not just the laws of physics that determine the utility of a technology. there is also the readiness level of a technology and its economical competitiveness. until the latter are favorable, the technology in question is one that deserves a great attention in research, as you suggest, but not in domestic use.

      your comment is more clear in its content than the artice itself. if in overall your intention was to opinionate people on technological alternatives, i believe the title (maybe CT chose the title, this happened to a nightclub buddhist article once – that’s what Malinda told us :D ) and your last paragraph in the article do not tell us so.

      as are corruption and malfanction part of nature in societies, so are voicing against them and attempts to correct things – like we have in this price hike debates. i refer you to the works of steven strogarts on synchrony which in essence tells us that just as there is entropy (in teh generalized sense) working in nature, there is also the mysterious yang to that yin taht drives the forces of order and generation of higher states of lively forms, of course paying the cost elsewhere perhaps. this is also alluded to in newton’s last scholium in principia – by that time, entropy wasn’t known. in a recent publication, dawkins quotes that besides the local fluctuations, in overall, human positiveness has been on an increasing trend over millinnea (just like some global warming conspiracy theorists hold) – e.g. from direct slavery to sophisticated milder ones and now towards animal rights!

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        Chandre Dharmawardana,

        GH Hardy in his apology said that a mathematician’s ability to ‘write mathematics’ depreciates as he ages, anything above 30. then it’s perhaps time they ‘write about mathematics’.

        Here we have a theoretical physicist at his age of retiring in the west and taking up a science and tech policy advisor role in his homeland demonstrating his dementia by recalling carnot efficiency from his undergrad times only to establish authority (the article) before making his argument in favor of an electricity tariff revision and then justifies it by relating it to heating of water by solar radiation (the comment).

        the case for Carnot efficiency limit was conceived purely as an engineering concept in the eighteen hundreds. The concept itself demands establishing the idea of a heat engine, a carnot reversible cycle and two thermal reservoirs to apply the idea. a heat engine in thermodynamics is something that converts thermal energy into work. the idea is that any ‘heat engine’ operating between two thermal reservoirs has a *limitation* (the carnot cycle case) on its efficiency entirely determined by the temperatures of the (two) reservoirs it’s in contact with regardless of the internal workings of the engine; quantitatively, the carnot limit on heat engine efficiency is a pure function of the ratio of the two temperatures in absolute temperature scale. it was a special case of engineering importance which, with other observations, was later extrapolated/ generalized to formulate the second law and the concept of entropy. i would like to hear Dharmawardana’s version of carnot efficiency and how the concept applies now to solar heating of water whatever.

        just as you show in your article that you are not at all relevant to electricity tariff, you have demonstrated in your comment that you have paid very less interested while learning about engineering applications of thermodynamics. Did you skip the pages in Callen’s popular textbook where he made a few brief passages on heat engines?

        next time, just stick to meta-scientific arguments. don’t further detail your ignorance on subjects that are not your specilization.

        i believe this public clarification of this expert’s awareness that i’m making here will stay on the internet and serve at times when he is making his moves to become teh technology advisor to the govt. that’s the purpose i’m writing another lengthy comment here. if one is to look for advice from learned men having turned into technology policy, socio-economic policy matters, poverty eradication etc., i would rather recommend them the serious and truthful works by APJ Abdul Kalam (India 2020 etc.) and Manmohan Singh from the neighboring third world country.

        Dharmawardana, why does one of your book in sinhala reads “Demala heda gath Sinhala gam nam” and the english title goes as “Traditional Sinhala Place Names in the North and East of Sri Lanka”? You don’t care about how that opinionates a neutral knowledge seeker, but you just want to sell more books, don’t you? may i also extrapolate that to say you don’t really care about the far-sighted visions, but just want to take the best advantage of the immediate situation at hand for the benifits of the little social circles and kith and kin centered around you?

        You are not a suprising case anyway. We have had GL Peiris, Nalin De Silva, Dayan Jayathilake (another chap who advertises his book so desperately :D ) and a quite a number of other academics/ professionals that become simply blind to obvious established facts when they are too pumped up with the motive to (handed over the task to) back up an evil in a subtle way. i don’t remember exactly the proverb that fits here – goes like when something is the case, something blinds something.

        P.S. I’m not faking Laplace. Everybody would know that i’m using it as a pseudonym and it’s obvious that I’m not making a case for the French people here.

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          To Laplace

          I was hoping to leave the discussion where I left it, but since Laplace wishes to further discuss a few questions, let me give a last try. I see that he has a mathematical training and so perhaps it is worth the effort to discuss a bit more.

          1). Unlike some commentator who criticized you for lacking a `de’ in the name, I do appreciate people using names like Laplace, Tesla etc as we need to honour these people whose work gives us today the benefits of air-conditioning, electric trains, internet etc that we take for granted. [of course, calling Charles de Gaulle, charles gaulle, looks a bit iffy without the de].

          2). We both know the second law very well, but I like to start from Caratheodory’s axiomatic formulation so that I can derive Carnot’s result in a very clean manner as a theorem. For the practical man in the context of this discussion, it tells him that there are low-quality energies and high quality energies. Some 98% of the `solar industry’ in SriLanka sells water heaters where the 5% good energy they recover from the sun via the panels is debased into heat, just like the other 95% lost in the panel!!! This is a grade-I fraud on the customers and the Learned Marquis de Laplace should expose this.

          3). regarding tariffs, that tariffs as discussed are meaningless quantities – this has been an on-going debate in this dismal pseudo-science, and von Hayak in his Nobel-price address state that his profession (economics) is based on a `pretense of knowledge’ – look up the 1974 Economics Nobel oration.
          That `tariff theory is meaningless’ can be proved rigorously in a number of well-defined models using existing definitions of tariffs used in several standard theories of firms. Let me outline the gist of one of the proofs in a non-mathematical way by taking the example of hydroelectric projects. Such projects have many stake holders like irrigation users, electricity utilities, consumers, farmers etc. Let there be N such stake-holders and each of them becomes a parameter in the tariff-defining phase-space. They are by no means entirely independent and so they don’t form an orthogonal set of variables. Furthermore, they are themselves functions (or possibly functionals) of other variables and hence we are dealing with a function-vector space where the value of the tariff is a point in this abstract space. The tariff vector can be described by an NxN matrix T_{ij} where i, j run over the variables. Now, to assign a unique tariff to each variable, say i, we need to diagonalize this matrix (i.e., orthogonalize our basis vectors and do a rotation and shift within a unitary transformation, say U).
          Unfortunately, T_{ij} is NOT a symmetric matrix in any demonstrable non-trivial economic model, let alone for highly multi-faceted hydro-electric utilities like Mahaweli or even NortonBridge etc. Hence there can be no meaningful tariff = t, where U is the unitary rotation matrix that attempts to diagonalize T. There is hence no matrix t whose diagonal element t_{ii} can be used as the clearly disentangled tariff assigned to the client class denoted by the variable i. Hence using such a tariff idea is meaningless, and no one has come up with a sensible formulation that satisfies these elementary requirements imposed by mathematics itself..
          Q.E.D.

          So, what is imposed as `tariff’ by governments or markets is a purely fictitious thing based on what the customer will will take without realizing that he is being hoodwinked.
          As von Hayek said in his Nobel address, it is pure pretense of `knowledge’ by the members of his profession. I alluded to some of this in an article I wrote in the Island last year, about china and its development policy versus capitalist development.

          4). Karthigesu Indrapala, Michael Roberts, Horsberg, Thambimuttu and other historians have used phrases like “original sinhala place-names in a `tamil garb’, or Tamilized place names of Sinhala origin etc. So we picked some of their phrases and formed a set of possible titles for the book, and the editorial people in designing the cover etc pointed out that these two titles (english and sinhalese) are complementary and should be used as the readership will be bilingual.

          You can e-mail me at chandre.dharma@yahoo.ca (under a pseudonym if you wish) for further discussions, as I will not return to adding more comments here. I thank you very much for expressing your views about these matters.

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            Chandre Dharmawardana,

            It really doesn’t amuse me to hide behind a pseudonym and offend someone with genuinely earned reputation. apologies to have hurt you in anyway off the plane of ideas. indeed you make more sense in your comments than you did in your article.

            my responses:
            2) whether you take the historical, unpleasant, engineering route or any of the beautiful axiomatic formulations of thermodynamics, when you say carnot efficiency it is a special case (a corollary i would say) that follows from the second law and is applicable only when you talk about heat engines that draw thermal energy from a source and supply work to a sink (and reject some of the thermal energy elsewhere) or their reverse devices. you did have your turn to justify you quoting (you started it) carnot efficiency (not second law in its general form or anything) in an article titled to address a tariff raise and themed around technological alternatives and concluded with suggesting raising bills up and UP. in my judgement you have only stated here your knowledge of the idea of high and low quality energy forms/ states but haven’t stated how ‘carnot efficiency limit’ is applicable to water heating and how that efficiency limit doesn’t apply to an alternative mechanism you suggest to exist in israel etc.

            i don’t take hot water shower in SL (! neither am i a fan of wearing shoes and ties as a reminder to how my elders pleased their colonial masters seeking favors, in the wonderful tropical climate i am blessed with), so i’m not very knowledgeable about the solar heaters in sale to compare it against your non-specified alternatives. if i have time (very unlikely), i might complement this comment once i have gone through a few manuals of solar thermal collectors for heating water.

            3) yes, economics is not an exact mathematical science in its entirety, but that doesn’t make it anything irrelevant to life because in a same line of thought one might also go on to argue that life on earth is also meaningless. it’s just that even in a determinist scientist’s model, there are millions and millions of variables which essentially make this type of problems look governed by randomness in a localized approach. in the same way one can argue that human languages are self-contradictory and full of inconsistancies (sort of ‘fictitious’ too), but we do want to stick to socially evolved languages to communicate our ideas and we too want them to have ‘rules’ and ‘grammar’! the economics nobel laureate’s modestness is not an excuse for us to claim superiority over another territory of knowledge where teh entire terrain is different.

            i’m not Einstein (nor the real late Laplace for that matter), so a few questions on your proof:
            you are essentially trying to say that tariff (electricity price structure in our case) is a nonsensical idea. you want me to assume multiple stakeholders. let me assume two and for simplicity say that they are independent (in order to understand your model, later we will introduce complexities and dependencies). now you say that the tariff value (what is that?) is a ‘point’ in the 2-space we form by using those two stake holder variables. now what does it mean to form a 2-space by considering the two stakeholders as variables defining the dimensions – what does it mean to say that one of those variables, say the first stakeholder, has a certain value – what does it mean to say that a tariff point in that 2-space has a value for the first coordinate and another for the second? then you talk about a tariff vector that is described by a 2×2 matrix? not a typo certainly, because the remainder of your proof is developed on top of this matrix! what do the elements of this matrix, representing a ‘vector!’, mean in your model? why does T being a diagonal matrix mean that a unique ‘tariff’ (is that a scalar now?) is assigned to each stakeholder (the variables)? what do you mean by economic models in your proof and why do the non-trivial ones of them result in an asymmetric T? in short what does the word ‘tariff’ mean to you? am i reading an attempt to purposefully mislead the public so that you are taken as an authority on tariff models? or am i reading a failed, non-sensical, but original attempt of a physicist, at his age of decline of his original and unoriginal intellectual abilities, to throw some everyday mathematical tools a quantum mechanicist deals with? maybe i don’t understand the supposed math here, but there should be at least another that understands what you say – at least to confer you the crown?

            anyway, i understand that you attempt to formulate a mathematical model to demonstrate its invalidity and to point out its pointlessness. but it’s a rather exhaustive effort to read it than formulate it first hand, even if you did it correctly. you could rather have said the meta-scientific moral: “apples and oranges don’t compare well”. i remember reading a book titled ‘the mathematics of aesthetics’ where the author goes on to make a claim that the brown skinned averaged featured faces are the ones preferred most in the world, probablistically. in justifying safety factors some analysts assign monetory values (in some currency) to human lives so that they can work in the same physical dimensions when making high level design choices in aircraft systems :D . in some other place, people who have only empirical data on one model of an engineering device go on to produce what they call scaling algebras to generate numbers to design the same device for different specifications, only to find that the extensive mathematical model they formulated out of enthusiasm doesn’t agree with post-prototyping test results on the new device. i don’t take too seriously papers with such arguments, which start with the wrong premise that ‘inexact’ fundamental governing rules can be used as a foundation to build mathematical models that we are to rely on for practical purposes.

            i know of people who do econometrics and actuarial sciences and real life game theory applications, but they start with quantifiable entities and investigate on quantitatively meaningful variables, but those studies are not the same as these.

            there is a layer of reality in which the term ‘free will’ makes sense and what i tell you is understood by you even if i used a human language, which is mechanically imperfect. it is in this plane of reality that we want to say that we need a tariff for the public that makes sense and doesn’t overburden us and that the current problem that threatens the stability of the tariff is caused by factors that can be reconfigured to recover the previous state of equilibrium.

            4) so it’s the editor/ publisher’s choice! but i still don’t get how “Demala heda gath Sinhala gam nam” and “Traditional Sinhala Place Names in the North and East of Sri Lanka” complement each other. what i see is that the sinhala title sells very well among sinhalese readership while the english part helps it get a neutral-looking impression among the non-sinhalese book collectors. the third variety (the bilinguals and trilinguals that seek knowledge) is, by some strange laws of nature, always a minority whose voice doesn’t get heard too farther to opinionate the public. congratulations on a marketing-optimized book title!

            Let us call it a day – truce. I am sorry that i’m not possibly emailing this to you. I wish you all the best in your further contributions to mathematical sciences. ego-centric warfare that this turns out to be is a shame on me when i’m hiding behind a pseudonym. thanks for your clarifications too. hope you would some day be informed of this response of mine awaiting to your attention – perhaps you can address it in another article of yours.

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    The title of this article (“The Electricity Tariff Hike – A Great Salutary Step Forward”) is meant to argue the benefits of the recent new tariff proposed by the government. The author attempted to justify that this is a realistic pricing model. But now it appears to me that the prime focus was to drive people out from consuming power from the sole supplier CEB and encourage households to be independent.

    I see this is totally a different subject and I believe there are other effective methods to achieve the independence without burdening the most vulnerable folks in Sri Lanka.

    This is purely a non-technical subject/issue and it is common sense of formulating policies. Bringing enthalpy and entropy has no relevance here.

    This is my final comment. Thank you

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