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Renewable energy generation targets: Govt. moves ahead despite engineers’ obstacles 

a year ago

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  • CEB engineers write to President noting RE targets not practical  
  • Plan to achieve RE target by 2030 formulated and given to CEB: Dissanayake 
By Maheesha Mudugamuwa  Achieving President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s renewable energy (RE) goal remains uncertain, as the engineers attached to the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) reiterated that the target is not practical, especially to a country which is facing the worst economic downturn in 73 years.  As they predict, if the country goes ahead with the plan of achieving 70% of the country's electricity generation through RE sources by 2030, the electricity bill might increase ten times higher and would not be affordable to the majority of consumers.   Furthermore, they stressed that to achieve 70% of RE target, the Government would have to spend billions of rupees to upgrade the transmission system, which is not practical at a time the country faces a huge dollar crisis.  They further claimed that while implementing the RE agenda, the construction of all affordable power plants would be delayed and as a result, the prevailing energy crisis would continue for many years.  Still in the pipeline  During the last two years, the power sector was given three different policy directions as to the RE share expected in 2030; namely, 50% from RE by 2030 (as per April 2019 policy guidelines), 70% from clean/low carbon sources by 2030 (as stated in September 2020), and 70% from RE by 2030 issued recently.  However, it was in President Rajapaksa’s election manifesto, a 78-page document named “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour” that he had first highlighted the importance of the RE sector of the country. He stated that by 2030, the target for the country’s renewable energy mix would be 40% of the total portfolio while anticipating that hydro and RE together would account for 80% of the overall energy mix by 2030.  Highlighting the already committed projects, the manifesto stated that a total of 230 MW of power would be added to the national grid by installing the Broadland hydropower station by 2020 while completing projects such as Uma Oya by 2021, Moragolla by 2023, and Talapitigala and Seethawaka by 2024.  In the RE sector, it is stated that 100 MW of wind energy in Mannar would be ready by 2021 and 800 MW of solar energy would be added to the national grid by executing a wind and solar power project with a public-private partnership in potential locations around the country including Mannar, Pooneryn, and Monaragala.  It was further stated that rooftop solar systems will be encouraged, so that households and small businesses would have access to low-cost energy, which will be done in the course of the next five years of which the total cost of such investments would be made available through bank loans with low/concessional interest rates.  Also, his plan was to introduce a new method to release excess power generation to the national grid in improving solar energy utilisation.  However, it’s been over two years since the plans have been discussed, but none of these projects have yet been completed or commissioned.  In such a backdrop, The Sunday Morning learnt that the CEB was asked to formulate a new energy plan that included the President’s RE target for which, as engineers claimed, it would take another three years.  Therefore, the archiving of the RE target is currently uncertain.  Priorities and challenges  In such a backdrop, the Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers Union (CEBEU), in a letter to the President, had explained that the country has limited large-scale renewable energy resources/sites and those must be carefully handled and optimised. It further stated that it is not feasible for the country to develop all these limited sites rapidly with older RE generation technology, as the sites will be underutilised for the next 20-30 years.  “We should adopt a gradual and steady approach in the next 20-30 years to get the maximum benefit from growing technologies in the RE generation. If we rush the RE integration with a giant leap, we will not be able to optimise these limited resources/sites and the country will not be able to harness the total benefits of the renewable energy sources,” the letter stated.  Highlighting the financial commitments the country would have to make in the future to achieve the RE target, the union had stressed that the Government will have to invest billions of US dollars during the initial period to improve infrastructure, including new 220 kV and 400 kV transmission lines, 100 0-l SOOM W of batteries, and gas turbines/diesel engines.  “At a time when the country is running with limited amounts of foreign reserves, investing billions of dollars in a very short span of time (during the period of 2022-2026) will not be feasible,” the letter stated.  Elaborating on the situation of countries like Germany and Denmark that generate nearly 50% of electricity through wind and solar, the union had explained to the President that those countries have the highest tariff in the world.  They also highlighted the situation in neighbouring countries like India and Bangladesh where targets like 40% RE by 2040 have been declared.  “If the CEB is forced to adopt 70% of generation from RE sources by 2030, 950 MW of thermal power plants in the current approved LTGEP 2018-2037, to be commissioned before 2030, will have to be suspended,” they stated.  “Usually, a significant lead time is required for activities such as acquisition of lands, EIA, tendering, etc. in a large-scale low-cost thermal power project. So, in case a major part of the targeted RE development, to a scale not seen before anywhere in the world, is not materialised before 2030, there is no way we could revert back to the original plan in a short period. Hence, it will definitely lead to power cuts or the purchase of high cost ‘emergency power’ running into billions of rupees,” the letter stated.  Meanwhile, when contacted by The Sunday Morning, CEBEU President Eng. Saumya Kumarawadu said that the President’s target was not practical and therefore, it is hard to achieve during the set time period.  “This is not something we can do very easily. We have to do a comprehensive study which could take several years,” he stressed.  Kumarawadu stated: “To achieve the 70% target, we need to generate 4,000 MW of solar power by 2030. But at present, we have only 460 MW. Also, since solar is available for around maximum eight hours a day, we need to store the energy for the rest of the day. For that, we need batteries which are expensive and also, we need to improve the transmission network.”  The Sunday Morning learnt that to achieve the 70% RE target, the present installed total solar capacity of 425 MW needs should be increased to about 3,700 MW by 2030, requiring the addition of nearly 400 MW of solar PV capacity every year from now until 2030, which is equivalent to developing two Siyambalanduwa-sized 100 MW solar parks every year from next year onwards, in addition to solar development from other sources such as rooftop. Similarly, the present total installed wind capacity of 248 MW needs to be increased to 1,500 MW, requiring the addition of nearly 150 MW of wind capacity every year from today until 2030. This is equal to adding three Mannar-sized 100 MW wind parks every two years.   A step ahead   While the experts claimed it is unrealistic, the State Ministry of Solar, Wind, and Hydro Power Generation Projects Development had already formulated a plan on how to achieve 70% RE target by 2030 and it is learnt that the plan had already been described to the CEB as well.  According to the Ministry, the plan included all possible technologies that use the land, air, and water resources as surfaces to collect solar power.  Speaking to The Sunday Morning, the State Ministry of Solar, Wind, and Hydro Power Generation Projects Development Duminda Dissanayake said his Ministry had already formulated a plan and now it is up to the CEB to prepare plans for the implementation and the expansion of the existing grid and transmission capacities.  He also noted that the CEB should prepare a comprehensive plan on how to achieve the target and seek government approvals for the required funds.  As learnt by The Sunday Morning, the Power Minister had already submitted a cabinet paper to seek the approval to obtain a $ 150 million loan facility from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to expand the existing transmission and grid capacities to cater to future energy needs.

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