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Scaling up renewable energy in Sri Lanka

  • Technology transfer and an enabling environment

By Vositha Wijenayake

Energy security remains a key point of focus today due to the global energy crisis and risks which pertain to accessing safe and consistent energy sources. In Sri Lanka, the issue remains vital. 

It would not be false to say that there might not be many in the land who are unaffected by different energy needs. This is a common occurrence in present-day Sri Lanka, and a transition in the energy sector to a cleaner, more sustainable, and climate-friendly energy generation could contribute to addressing the key issues related to Sri Lanka’s present energy sector. 

With fuel queues and the anxiety that most feel regarding their ability to access sufficient fuel as an energy source, the move towards renewable energy and the enabling environment for scaling up renewable energy generation remain of pivotal value.

Sri Lanka’s energy sector

Sri Lanka’s total energy demand is primarily distributed among biomass, petroleum, coal, and electricity. The country has several indigenous resources for energy such as biomass, hydropower, solar, and wind. Biomass remains one of the largest energy sources, which supplies the largest share of energy supply for rural households. However, despite the availability and use of indigenous resources, Sri Lanka’s energy supply remains heavily dependent on fossil fuel such as petroleum and coal.

If scaled up and utilised effectively, renewable energy sources have a great capacity to support Sri Lanka’s energy needs. For example, hydropower, solar power, and wind power could be scaled up which could contribute to enhancing Sri Lanka’s energy security and reducing the burden placed on fossil fuel-based energy generation. 

In order to transition to an energy-secure country, it is important to enhance the enabling environment to scale up renewable and climate-friendly energy sources, including scaling up accessibility and availability to means of implementation that would help achieve a higher energy generation based on renewable energy sources for Sri Lanka. 

This includes financial as well as technical support which could be mobilised through multi-stakeholder driven processes and through collective regional and global actions which would facilitate accessing technology needs for scaling up energy generation through renewables in Sri Lanka.

Enabling environment

A renewable energy source refers to energy that is sustainable and climate-friendly. The term ‘alternative energy’ also refers to renewable energy sources to highlight that these sources of energy are alternatives to fossil-based energy sources. 

Renewable energy is also often considered as clean energy which is generated through natural sources and processes that do not exploit and pollute the planet’s resources. Renewable energy can be considered an innovation which could harness the planet’s resources in a manner that replenishes the planet’s natural resources.

Among the most popular renewable energy sources include solar energy, wind energy, hydro energy, geothermal energy, tidal energy, and biomass energy. Renewable energy sources contribute to 26% of the planet’s electricity and it is projected to reach 30% by 2024. To benefit from this transition, one that would move Sri Lanka’s energy mix to a cleaner one, is important that the country is able to access and use appropriate renewable energy technology.

Renewable energy could focus on both locally generated technology and innovation, as well as those adopted to suit Sri Lanka’s needs and context at regional level or through international processes. 

Such collaborations could be South-South partnerships where regional cooperation for technology applies within the context of South Asia, while a cross-regional effort for technology-sharing and cooperation could form a North-South partnership supporting the expansion of renewable energy generation in Sri Lanka. 

Through innovation that could contribute to bringing down the costs of renewable energy generation, it would be possible to implement plans for a just transition in the energy sector.

Climate technologies and technology development transfer

Technologies that contribute to addressing climate change are considered climate technologies. These technologies help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and support implementing climate solutions which contribute to mitigating emissions and building resilience.

Technology development and transfer form a key area of climate action under the process related to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the Convention includes provisions on technology which aim to achieve the objectives of the Convention. This includes promoting and cooperating in the development and transfer of technologies that lead to GHG emission reduction while urging developed countries to take measures to promote, facilitate, and finance the transfer of, or access to, climate technologies to other countries, especially developing ones. 

Over the years, technology transfer has also focused on climate change adaptation, and the Paris Agreement highlights the need for technology development and transfer that aims to build resilience as well as contribute to the mitigation of GHG emissions.

Enabling technology transfer

Experts in Sri Lanka from the energy sector consider addressing technical needs and improving the enabling environment for the renewable energy sector among the key actions to move towards energy security. Among some of the needs related to this are enhanced innovative and conceptual thinking which focuses on technology needs for a just transition into a renewable energy sector in Sri Lanka, as well as increased awareness and know-how related to different types of technology available and applicable to Sri Lanka’s context.

Additionally, sector experts have highlighted the need for adopting unique ways to invest in indigenous renewable energy as well as scaling up investments in the renewable energy sector which would provide additional means of implementation for technology development and transfer to achieve energy security through renewable energy sources. Among other aspects to be addressed for enhanced technology development transfer are the need for policy changes that would facilitate the implementation of research and development; accessing climate finance through different sources; and application of choice of technologies that address the needs of communities.

In addition, partnerships and collaborations with multiple stakeholders remain vital for ensuring means of implementation to apply climate technologies to the energy sector in Sri Lanka would play a key role in scaling up access to finance and resources which would contribute to taking concrete actions related to the energy sector which will be vastly renewables-based. It would also be important to provide recognition to indigenous technologies and solutions which could be promoted and contribute to attracting investments for innovative technology that would be country-specific as well as replicable. 

Furthermore, it would be equally important to improve stakeholder engagement in the energy sector. Transparent and accountable processes, information sharing and opportunities to be part of solutions through collective actions through partnerships of different actors could help support the enabling environment, fund accessibility as well as technical support. 

It would be important to identify opportunities for collaboration and cooperation not only at national level but at regional and international level as well. To achieve this, multi-stakeholder partnerships and collaboration of different actors with the common objective of a just transition in the energy sector towards climate-friendly, clean energy sources would be important. 

This would include engagements with finance mechanisms, identifying them, and ensuring that Sri Lanka focuses on ensuring the requirements to access funding are met, as well as engagements with the banking and private sector, civil society organisations, academia, and community-based entities who could contribute to ensuring that technologies needed to scale up renewable energy generation in Sri Lanka are implemented in an inclusive, participatory, and accountable manner through innovative and forward-thinking approaches.

Note: The experts’ inputs referred to in this article on Sri Lanka’s energy sector needs and actions for technology development and transfer are reflective of the synthesis of discussion points shared during roundtable discussions related to renewable energy sector and enabling environment for its enhancement conducted in July 2022.

(The writer is an Attorney-at-Law specialising in public international law. She leads the work of SLYCAN Trust, a nonprofit think tank working on climate change, sustainable development, biodiversity and ecosystem conservation, social justice and animal welfare. She has worked over a decade on climate change at local, national, and international level with a focus on climate change related law and policy, UN climate change policy and actions, climate adaptation and loss and damage related action, multi-stakeholder engagement in policy, and climate action, including youth engagement and gender.)