The Pen­du­lum Swings

Sri Lanka plans to be­come fully suf­fi­cient in fuel by 2020. What will it take to achieve this ob­jec­tive?

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Mahrukh Fa­rooq

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.

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