Sri Lanka’s power and energy sector has been in hot waters ever since the islandwide power outage which lasted for hours on March 13 and announcements of frequent power cuts by the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) subsequent to the incident. So far, the people continue to be in the dark with regard to the actual reasons behind the power outage, and the various investigations conducted by the government on the issue.
However, the power outage served as an eye-opener to the authorities and for the people in terms of energy production and conservation. The Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority (SLSEA) last week commenced discussions on measures that could be taken to control energy usage.
One of the suggestions was to adopt a power saving mechanism by
advancing the time by one hour. Even though this move was hinted and reported in several media outlets last week, Chairman, SLSEA, Keerthi Wickramaratne told Nation that no decision had been finalized by the authority. “Shifting the time was only one suggestion out of many that were put across the discussion table. We need to look at how practical the solution would be in the current context,” he said.
This is not the first time Sri Lanka is considering this system. The country opted for a time change two decades back when scheduled power interruptions were implemented daily. The time was initially advanced by one hour and then moved back half an hour before going back to the normal time.
“This method is quite effective if we are to reduce the peak demand, which is generally at night,” said Dr. Asanka Rodrigo, Senior Lecturer, Department of Electrical Engineering at the Faculty of Engineering University of Moratuwa.
Speaking to Nation on the issue, Dr. Rodrigo pointed out that this would however be a shortterm or interim solution for the bigger problem. “The demand reaches its peak at night. Therefore, advancing the time actually helps in reducing that demand,” he said.
Apart from the time shift, Dr. Rodrigo said the country could opt for two alternate measures, one, load shading, which literally means power cuts, or opt for independent power producers.
“The issue here is that we do not have enough hydropower to cater to the demand,” he added.
“As far as load shading is concerned, the Government could implement this by interrupting power supply for certain strategic places during certain time periods, in a way that it would not affect day-to-day lives of the people,” Dr. Rodrigo opined.
Energy loss is a crucial part of power supply where a certain percentage of energy is lost during generation or transmission. This is mainly due to the resistance by the transmission line itself. According to Dr. Rodrigo, Sri Lanka currently faces an energy loss of approximately 12 percent of the total power generation, in transmission. “This is much lesser than the loss we experienced 10 to 15 years ago where we recorded at least 20 percent of energy loss,” he said.
However, energy losses are considerably high in rural areas where the transmission lines are very long due to the vast gap between homes and buildings.
“The resistance increases when the length of the conductor also increases. Therefore, the energy losses are comparatively high in rural areas,” he opined. “We can reduce the losses by taking suitable measures, but we can never make it ‘zero’,” he added.
According to the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL), the peak demand for power is 2300 MW. All power plants combined could generate power up to 3700 MW. Accordingly, the thermal power plants alone can generate 2400 MW power, which is more than the demand. Officials at the PUCSL pointed out that the issue was with the network and transmission process.
COPE questions officials
On March 24, the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) summoned officials of the CEB and the Ministry of Power and Renewable Energy Ministry. It was revealed that the CEB was yet to make progress on drawing an action plan to avert future power outages and to address the current power crisis.
Chairman, COPE, Sunil Handunnetti said the officials were given two months to draw an action plan. In addition, the officials have also been asked to conduct a thorough audit on power purchases. He alleged that the CEB had purchased power amounting to over Rs. 200 billion from independent power suppliers, but added that these procurements had not been audited.
CEB in a soup
Amidst these developments, the CEB was once again in a bit of a soup last week after it published a set of timings for scheduled power cuts that were to be implemented islandwide. The schedule which was put up on the CEB website on March 28, was taken off soon afterwards.
However, the PUCSL on the following day sent a letter demanding explanations from the CEB for publishing the timings without obtaining approval from the PUCSL. Chairman, PUCSL, Saliya Mathew in the letter had alleged the CEB had violated the Transmission and Bulk Supply Licence by publishing scheduled interruption timings without the approval of the commission.
According to Condition 30 (Item 10) of the Licence, the Transmission Licencee is required to obtain prior approval from the commission for scheduled interruptions. The PUCSL demanded an explanation from the CEB on the issue within a week.
However, none of the officials at the CEB were available for a comment.