The Pendulum Swings
Sri Lanka plans to become fully sufficient in fuel by 2020. What will it take to achieve this objective?
Sri Lanka’s Power and Energy Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka plans to make the country completely self-sufficient in fossil fuel and energy by 2020. The resulting abundance in the resource will then be used for projects related to the economic development of Sri Lanka. The Power and Energy Ministry Media Unit has said that this objective is in line with the Ministry’s other aim which is to empower the country with green energy by 2030. Both plans are being launched under the theme, ‘Energy Powered Nation’ and have involved the services of nearly 500 scholars in the field.
With the implementation of the 15-Year Plan, Ranawaka expects that dependency on the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation and Electricity Board will
decrease substantially by 2030. He also said that future generations will be able to benefit from increased energy resources for power generation.
The reasons behind the implementation of the initiative by the Power and Energy Ministry are apparent. The current total installed power generation capacity of the country is approximately 4,050 MW (megawatts), consisting of 900 MW of coal power, 1,335 MW of oil burning thermal power, 1,375 MW of hydro power and 442 MW of non-conventional renewable energy sources such as wind, mini hydro power plants, biomass and solar. The total electricity demand for each year is about 10,500 GWh (gigawatt hour) which comprises 38% from domestic consumers, 39% from industries, 20% from commercial enterprises and the remaining balance from religious organizations and lighting.
The level of demand for electricity in the country is expected to increase annually by around 4%-6%; a trend that has been steadily rising over the years, in spite of Sri Lanka boasting a grid connectivity of 98%; an outstanding achievement by South Asian standards. In 2013, Sri Lanka’s total fuel consumption stood at around 11,125.7 ktoe (kilotonne of oil equivalent) with the primary energy supply mainly consisting of 4,814.3 ktoe of biomass, 4,582.2 ktoe of fossil fuels and 1,442.4 ktoe of hydro power. Today, nearly 56% of the country’s total energy consumption is from indigenous fuel sources (mainly biomass and hydro power).
As a result, fossil fuels need to be imported from other countries annually in order to maintain the balance and satisfy the growing demand for energy sources. According to Ranawaka, this requires purchasing 02 MMT (million metric tons) of crude oil, 04 MMT of refined petroleum products and 2.25 MMT of coal annually, which cost the country’s foreign exchange reserves approximately US$5 billion. The average annual total bill of imported fossil fuels, therefore, represents nearly 50% of total export income.
There is no denying the huge influence the power and energy sector of Sri Lanka has on its balance of trade. Similarly, there can be no doubt on the level of dependency the people of Sri Lanka have on the availability of fuel. Earlier this month, when, as per the new regime’s interim budget for 2015, the cost for fuel was reduced, the country’s fuel consumption almost doubled. The move was made in the hope of encouraging the people to pursue savings and investment. Instead, there was a 50% rise in the level of fuel consumed. The government was then forced to wonder how the Power and Energy Ministry planned on pulling off such a seemingly formidable plan.
Given the magnanimity of the proposal, Sri Lanka seems confident and well on its way towards ensuring that its goals are met. Just two months ago, the Sri Lankan government had planned on producing 100% indigenous energy by 2020 as part of its objective to ensure the country’s development while safeguarding its environment. “Right now, we are producing 10% of our energy through renewable energy,” said Suren Batagoda, Secretary for the Ministry of Power and Energy. “Our target (initially) was to increase it to 20% by 2020. But then, we thought, why not 100%?”
According to Batagoda, gas resources have already been located in the Mannar Basin and plans are being made to develop and eventually utilize these as well as other resources. “Currently, we are importing 49% of the country’s primary energy supply. That means, we have to produce that 49% within the country,” he explained. “With that, the target is to look at every single bio gas resource starting from a coconut shell to agricultural waste.”
Still, there is no guarantee that Sri Lanka will not face its own fair share of challenges. One of the biggest problems that the country currently faces is related to the level of fuel consumption. The move from fuel imports to indigenous fuel resources will have to be quick and without any gap as a possible void will result in total and utter chaos in the country. In addition, considering the country is already facing such a high level of consumption of fuel, the Ministry will have to ensure that Sri Lanka’s own fuel reserves do not get depleted.
For this purpose, the government will have to implement measures that encourage the people to reduce their overall fuel consumption, thereby helping the country save on a lot of money and investment. “If we can save 10% of electricity consumption, then we can save US$500 million annually,” said Ranawaka. “That is the total income we get from the tourism industry. If we reduce, say 5%-10% consumption, then we can also reduce our thermal power generation cost as thermal generation is very expensive.”
Whatever the country decides on doing, it will have to be done with great consideration for the public as ultimately it is they who decide which way the pendulum swings.
The writer is an assistant editor at Slogan and has an interest in advertising, media and public relations.
One of the biggest problems that the country currently faces is related to the level of fuel consumption.