The story of a severe drought in the year is much in news these days. Ours is a country too dependent on hydropower and the next immediate possible problem is a shortage of electricity. Some of the coal power projects that had been planned had to be shelved in the face of mounting opposition from environmentalists and other interested groups. These are practical problems that any country will face, but then, what is the solution to our energy problem?
In case the drought continues and the weather gods are not in our favour, food shortages will be the first thing to hit us followed by the energy shortage. Where the power issue is concerned we have been talking too long about inadvisability of continuing to depend on hydropower and the need for going into other sources of energy.
Many researchers have, with scientific data and statistics pointed out clearly and well in time, the country’s future requirements of energy as the economy grows and how to meet that. All calculations on the right mix of various energy sources such as hydro, thermal, coal and renewable energy had been done several years ago, but the question remains whether proper attention has been given to these suggestions and proposals.
Hydro electricity is weather-dependent while both thermal and coal power are expensive and also not environmental-friendly. And in this situation, the virtues of renewable energy are many and especially in a country where sunshine and wind are abundant, it is one of the most viable forms of energy. However, why no concerted effort has been made to use renewable energy, more specifically solar power despite sunshine throughout the year, is a question that begs an answer.
Even in countries like the US there have been arguments to say that there is a national conspiracy to prevent renewable energy from becoming the primary source of energy. In the US the conspirators are said to be the fossil fuel industry which continues to rake in exorbitant profits on oil and gas while it refuses to make any significant investment in renewable energy.
Mainstream news media too has been accused of being subservient to the corporate interests and abstaining from doing any serious coverage on the viability of renewable energy. The members of the Congress have been accused of being addicted to the big buck they receive from big oil and other traditional oil sources to make any worthwhile renewable energy legislation for the good of the country.
According to the US Department of energy, the amount of solar energy that hits the surface of the earth every hour is greater than the total amount of energy that the entire human population requires in a year. While the facts remain so, if we know that it works why don’t we use renewable energy in place of heavily polluting oil, gas or coal?
The primary reason is that the cost of renewable energy is still relatively high compared to fossil fuels although the gap is closing as the cost of natural gas and oil continue to rise. The price to install photovoltaic panels on the average home is quite high and affordable only for those who are well off.
But the common experience is when some product is mass-produced its price per unit should plummet. The one million dollar question is why solar power and wind power products are not promoted in a serious manner with appropriate duty concessions and mass produced.
With diesel mafia and connected interest groups being powerful in the energy sector the situation in Sri Lanka cannot be much different from the US and it’s time for us to have a fresh look at this energy issue and formulate a stronger national policy on renewable energy and promote specifically solar and wind power. With impending drought and energy issues at the door step there cannot be a better time to do so.