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Better plan for solar energy and coal-

hydro compatibility

By K.C. Somaratna-Wednesday, 22 February 2017


I was very happy to see that two-page

advertisement in Daily FT on the first ever PV Solar park at
Hambantota commissioned to develop 10 MW and I could imagine
how happy the Minister and State Minister would have been. Why
I was so happy was that according to the graph given below taken
from Long Term Generation Plan of the CEB for 2015-2034, this
10MW unit at Hambantota would give us at least 45000GW hrs of
energy in one year three times our annual electricity

I am sure Dr. Anura Wijepala, Chairman of CEB will vouch for the
accuracy of my interpretation of this graph. Did all those
politicians, advisers, technocrats, consultants who make
pronouncements on various platforms about what percentage of
Sri Lankas energy should be derived from Renewable Energy
even care about what percentage of pages in the Long Term
Generation Plan of CEB was devoted to their pet subject
Renewable Energy or about the accuracy of the figures provided
in the report?

Counting the number of the pages is the simplest thing one could
do and the more technically savvy ones could check the accuracy
and if you havent even done that, your high level statements are
worth nothing for the simple folk of this country and is only an
unbearable cost for the country, leading to the droughts we face
today and will be facing in the future.

Then there was this news item in the Lanka Pages that the State
Minister had mentioned that we are heading for some power cuts
and hydro reserves are much less this year. This was followed by
a statement from the Minister of Disaster Management indicating
how the drought has influenced agricultural production, need to
import rice (food security), drought, unavailability of water
(environment security) loss of hydropower (energy security) and
all this contributing to an economic downturn. And I was
thoroughly confused.

When the intelligentsia of this country including academia and

corporation heads appear to be extremely relaxed and negligent
in respect of these critical issues, what is the country we are
going to be leaving behind for our grandchildren? If you dont
have them, it is ok.

Better plan for solar energy

This led to a series of thought processes in my mind
starting with what happened on 3 December 2015. State Minister
of Power and Energy had convened a session at the Parliamentary
Complex to discuss the Long-term Generation Plan of the CEB,
from which I had extracted the graph given above. The Secretary
of Power and Energy and Dr. Thilak Siyambalapitiya joined the
discussion later.

I believe, I was invited because when the Public Utilities

Commission of Sri Lanka had a public discussion on 25 September
2015 on this Plan at the BMICH, I showed them the slide given
below and said that Coal and Hydro power are not compatible
partners in the generation of electricity in Sri Lanka and the
actual cost of a unit of coal power would be about Rs. 30 per
kWhr. I dont think anybody took any notice of it. This cost was Rs.
86 per kWhr in 2014 and today that cost may have gone beyond
Rs. 100 per kWhr.

During this public discussion I explained how Highway Solarisation

could provide the electricity we need without any ill effects and
how it could benefit both the economy and the environment as
well. So at this 3 December discussion also, I told the State
Minister what Highway Solarisation could do in way of generating
PV Solar energy, how it could save millions of rupees as foreign
exchange, how it would eliminate cracking of roadways, etc. and I
believe he was convinced to a reasonable degree about this
approach to power generation. Of course, only he could tell how
far he had been convinced that day.
Then another renewable energy promoter walked into the room
and after listening for a few minutes, he said, Sir, I have a better
plan and explained how Roof top solar panels would bring in
greater benefits. One year has elapsed since then, and I dont
know how much of roof top solar power had been brought into
stream. Although I had already done the comparisons between
different solar energy options available at that time, I had not put
it on paper and I thought I would prepare this table given as
Figure 3.

It depicts a comparison of three possible approaches to obtaining

PV solar energy to the electric grid. The comparison is in respect
of 17 parameters and in respect of each parameter the rating of
the particular option is given as 1 to 3 stars 3 stars the best fit
and 1 star the least. One could see that while Highway
Solarisation has got 51 stars, Roof Top Solar gets 13 stars and
Solar Park gets 11 stars only.

This diminished rating of Solar Park is primarily due to the

deforestation involved in the process and contribution it makes
towards droughts. How would deforestation contribute to
droughts? As I mentioned in my previous articles additional
concentration of CO2 increases the temperature and increased
atmospheric temperature makes the atmosphere retain more
water vapour without allowing it to fall. So to reduce droughts you
need to have a mechanism to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere and
probably the only natural way of doing it is through absorption by
forestry to aid plant growth.

Plant growth through photosynthesis involves using about 8%

solar radiation to make plants absorb CO2 and this absorption
rate depends on the type of trees. Even the smaller plants and
shrubs help in this process. Then this vegetation will reflect solar
energy as ultra violet radiation and this could be as high as 25%
for green grass. Furthermore these trees also lead to trans-
evaporation to keep the atmosphere cool. When we eliminate
vegetation, the water that will evaporate to reduce atmospheric
temperature will be surface water leading to dry and cracked soil.

The water for trans-evaporation is basically brought up from the

roots and put into the atmosphere through stomata in the leaves.
Thus the outcome of deforestation will be that we eliminate the
only avenue of reducing CO2 and create a much warmer
environment, exactly what we experience today. All these aspects
could be quantitatively expressed supported by references.

We have already commissioned two units of 10MW plants and two

more such plants are in the construction phase. When
environmental impacts of these units were carried out, it was
spelt out that so many new acres of land has to be reforested as a
mitigation action. Now that these two units are commissioned, we
need to prescribe a period say one year within which the
reforestation is to be completed and any new lands under
construction should also be governed by the same regulation. But
we should not pursue the construction of any more solar parks in
the future.

Why Sri Lanka is unique

One may wonder why we cant do it in Sri Lanka while there are
sizeable Solar Parks and Coal Power Plants in other parts of the
world. The reason for this stems from the atmospheric circulation
models given in figures 4 and 5. These two are taken from
Frontiers of Climate Modeling by Professors T. Kiehl and V.
Ramanathan, published by the Cambridge University Press. It was
only last month Massachusetts Institute of Technologys Joint
Programme on the Science and

Policy of Global Change published a note in Journal of Climate on

how an MIT Team of Researchers has found out that predictions
based on these large scale atmospheric circulation models yield
much more accurate predictions on extreme weather conditions
than more sophisticated climate models published recently. If one
looks at these two sketches indicating the latitudinal circulation
around 70N and longitudinal circulation around 80oE (Sri Lankas
coordinates), one could see that this combination is a unique
configuration. The latitudinal circulation around 70N goes up and
towards 300N and comes down and back to 70N. This air going N
will drop the moisture, but collect some CO2 from up to the
surroundings of New Delhi and will come back.

As we eliminate forest cover in both countries around this route

this enhancement of CO2 in the atmosphere will continue and this
may explain the recent, continuing droughts and floods in Tamil
Nadu. This rate of circulation is 120-150x109 kg/sec. If one looks
at the Walker Circulation, one would see that the longitudinal
circulation at our 800E location is about 0-10 x 109 kg/sec and
thus there will be no circulation in that direction. This would
prompt one to understand that Sri Lanka cannot be adopting
those many possible alternative technologies to generate
electricity being practiced elsewhere. So Sri Lanka is unique in
this respect.

Sri Lanka can neither use anymore coal power plants nor anymore
solar parks and the best option for Sri Lanka will be to use
Highway Solarisation as much as possible. Its advantages are
easily visible in the above given table. In fact I wrote to the
President in March, 2015 and suggested that we establish
Highway Solarisation projects to generate electricity and indicated
the numerous advantages of the same. I was requested to make a
presentation to a team of engineers from the Central Engineering
Consultancy Bureau and Mahaweli Ministry and this was done.

But I understand that the Ministry of Mahaweli has decided to

install Solar Parks on Mahaweli Land and establish Floating Solar
units on the reservoirs. Recently it was mentioned in the media
that the Government is interested in establishing a 100 MW Solar
Park at Siyanbalanduwa which will probably deforest 450 acres for
the purpose. The Government is also reported to be working
towards a target of 32% forest cover for Sri Lanka. If deforestation
is planned for this, the explanations given above would be
adequate to indicate repercussions of such an effort as it would
lead to more droughts, etc. All these explanations will indicate
that given the unique position of Sri Lanka, Highway Solarisation
is the Best Plan for using solar energy.

The President and Minister of Mahaweli as well as Environment

and former Member of Parliament, representing Polonnaruwa
district obviously would not like to see Mahaweli reservoirs
running dry or his own voters and their grandchildren
remembering him as having contributed to these future droughts.
And then there may not be enough water to send to the north as
expected from his pet project Moragahakanda multi-purpose

Coal-hydro compatibility
Now we can look at the Coal-Hydropower compatibility. We had
been prompting about this since September, 2015 and it is sad
that nobody took any notice of it. I have already mentioned how it
happens and we, in this unique island called Sri Lanka could not
be using any more coal power. It is the economic implication of
Coal-Hydro incompatibility that I intend to address currently.

In the year 2016, we have produced 3462GWhrs of hydro energy

with 1377 MW hydro capacity, whereas we have made 3632
Gwhrs and 4904 GWhrs in 2014 and 2015 respectively with the
same capacity. On the other hand we have made 3202 GWhrs,
4443 GWhrs and 4977 GWhrs of electricity from coal during 2014,
2015 and 2016 respectively. Somebody might say that we have
not been getting the same level of rainfall and therefore same
level of hydro power even in the absence of coal power. Our hydro
energy generation over the years in the past has been variable
due to the two factors of (a) changing hydropower capacity and
(b) the amount of rainfall received.
In order to adjust for hydropower capacity variations we have
calculated the number of hours of hydropower generated by
dividing the total hydro energy generated by the hydropower
capacity available during the year and to adjust for year to year
variability we have calculated the five-year moving average
number of hours of hydro power generated calculated earlier. This
five-year moving average has been decreasing for the last four
years and crossed 3000 hour mark in 2016. Furthermore we have
lost a significant portion of agri-production and the overall
economic cost of this coal power to the nation is enormous. This is
a cost we ignored either by design or default when we wrote
those pages and pages of articles to justify the first coal power

In fact, on 20 January 2015, Dr. Thilak Siyambalapitiya wrote that

a bold decision was taken by the countrys leadership to
establish the coal power plant in 2005. When one is taking a
decision for ones own organisation, Boldness may be an
adequate aspect for the decision making. For example, in 2008 I
made the Bold decision of compromising my consultancy work for
doing research (desk-desearch) on climate change, energy
security, etc. Our own President was concerned at that time when
there were signs to the effect that even powerful countries would
be compromising food security for the sake of energy security and
the President boldly stressed that Sri Lanka would not
compromise food security for the sake of energy security.

I could not see much positive signs of any solutions been

developed for climate change. So I took that bold decision; but
only I suffered as a result. But as a result of that Bold decision
made in 2005, in a sincere effort to ensure energy security
without compromising food security, the totality of all the
fundamental securities of Sri Lanka energy (lower hydro), food
(rice to be imported), economic (rice import, oil import, etc.) had
been compromised. The reason was that the decision was not
well informed. It is left to the technocrats in different related
establishments and the relevant consultants to provide that
information to the decision makers.

At a time when the whole world was talking about greenhouse gas
emissions the technocrats and consultants should have studied
and provided a well-informed solution and not a solution
completely rejected by almost all environment conscious
countries in the world. This is more relevant for a small country
like Sri Lanka experiencing the Hadley, Walker Circulations
indicated above. The only other attraction that would have been
there in the coal power plant may have been the possibility of
starting a new trading company to handle the coal imports. This
year 2005 is a very interesting, significant, change-over year for
hydropower in Sri Lanka as during the six years ending in 2005,
the average number of hours of generation of hydropower
capacity has been varying consistently between 2277 and 2773
and never reached even 3,000 hours.

Only solution left

So we have seen (a) the incompatibility between Coal & Hydro,
(b) Sri Lanka due to its location at this specific 70N, 810E location,
cannot add more CO2 to the atmosphere without suffering more
disastrous consequences. It is our intention to look at the options
available. If we take all these pronouncements about percentages
of renewable energy by 2030 and reduction of Greenhouse Gases
as required per Paris Accord seriously, what we have done up to
now seems to be counter-productive. So what we propose is a
consolidated programme which will yield anticipated amounts of
renewable energy as well as reduce the Greenhouse Gas
Emissions as well.

What we need to remember is that if we keep on doing the things

which we are doing now keep on burning coal and emit more
and more CO2 to get electricity, clearing vegetation in the name
of renewable energy and thereby eliminate the only avenue of
removing CO2 from the environment and increase oil driven
transportation and emit more CO2 we will not be able to achieve
any of the above mentioned prudent and sacred objectives. It is
for this reason that we need to look at alternative solutions to
achieve both these objectives and what we propose Highway
Solarisation has the potential towards achieving both the above
mentioned objectives.

It could enhance the percentage of renewable energy in our

energy mix while maintaining the CO2 levels at reasonable levels
and ensuring that hydropower availability does not get depleted.
This addresses the three most important issues to-day namely
(a) how would you generate energy without increasing CO2 level
in the atmosphere in a set up where CO2 generated by a coal
power plant has resulted in a drought of catastrophic dimensions
(damage is considered to be beyond $ 1.5 billion),(b) significantly
reduced hydro power and (c) thermal transportation forms the
corner stone of a tourism industry which touched two million
tourists in 2016 and gearing up to reach four million tourists in
the near future.

Only way forward is Highway Solarisation implemented as fast as

possible so that you are ready for end 2017 tourist season with a
reasonable percentage of electricity for both the grid as well as
battery electric vehicles which would form the backbone of tourist
transportation. Obviously, can there be a more compatible
partner for hydro than solar power or can there be a better place
to lay those solar panels than the highways absorbing about 90%
of solar energy falling on the same only to be reemitted as infra-
red, long wave radiation to be absorbed by the greenhouse gases
in the atmosphere and reemitted leading to global warming and
droughts and accompanying misery.

If this is not done, Sri Lanka could get into an extremely

dangerous vicious circle, where coal energy and thermal
transportation to meet the demands of enhanced tourism could
drive hydro power to still lower levels and ultimately to a situation
like in Chile to face wild fires. As I mentioned in my article to Daily
FT on 12 August 2016, Chile is one of two countries where coal
and hydro provide near 30% levels of electricity in the main grid.
In Sri Lanka coal has already over taken hydro. Unfortunately in
todays context, the options available are limited to one which is
Highway Solarisation.
(The writer is Managing Director of Somaratna Consultants).
Posted by Thavam