Electrifying With Coal: SL Energy Crisis Simmering

February 15, 2014

With nearly 91% of the country electrified (CBSL 2012 Annual Report), Sri Lanka definitely has one of the most reliable power supplies and is definitely steps ahead of its South Asian neighbours. Predictions state that the whole country is to be electrified by the end of this year.


However, Energy Forum Director, Ministry of Technology and Research Adviser and Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA) Member of the Board of Directors Asoka Abeygunawardana believes that unless there is a shift towards alternative energy sources or Renewable Energy (RE) the country would not be able meet both oil exports and demand. Abeygunawardana voiced his comments at a workshop organised for journalists by CANSA in collaboration with the Sri Lanka Press Institute titled “Climate Change and Development Journalism” that took place on Monday February 10, 2014.
Here’s a quick look at Sri Lanka’s energy mix from 2015-2032.

  • 2015: Coal 34%, oil 32%, large hydros 14% and non-conventional energy 20%
  • 2020: Coal 62%, oil 6%, large hydrosconsumption to be reduced and non-conventional energy will expand
  • 2032: Dependency of coal approximately 80%

Moreover, Sri Lanka’s present energy consumption, of which 50% is consumed by the transport sector, 20% by power, 14% by households and 8% by industries will continue increase at a 7% annual growth rate. This all continues to happen well knowing the fact that the world will completely run out of fossil fuel reserves by 2060.

The Developing World and the Right to Emit

The debate pertaining to increasing CO2 emissions suddenly entails Asia’s biggest culprits: China and India. An argument reiterated by Abeygunawardana who highlighted that theoretically speaking, the developing world was ‘allowed’ to emit as much as or more than the developed world in its excitement towards attaining ‘development’. For example, American emissions amount to 18.9 MT whereas Sri Lanka emits 0.6 MT of Carbon Dioxide annually.
However, the Right to Emit though theoretically correct, cannot be conducted due to the fast decreasing fossil fuel deposits. Instead, Abeygunawardana and many other experts on the matter encourage the developing world to seek compensation from those who have polluted before. It comes down to moral stories we’ve heard during our younger days, good wins and bad pays, in this case the ‘bad’ literally does pay in millions of dollars.

The Local Story

In a mission to bring down the ‘immediate’ cost of power, Sri Lanka has now embarked on a mission to electrify the country with coal power plants and Norochcholaileads, torch in hand with 900 MW. It is only understandable that we run after the available coal as oil is predicted to run out by 2040 and coal to last twenty years longer. However, this also translates to the mounting price of coal we would be paying for in the near future.

In his presentation, Abeygunawardanaspoke on the ‘Roadmap for Energy Security’, formulated towards the latter part of 2012. He threw light on few of the key discussions that entailed establishing adequate energy infrastructure in order to mitigate oil imports and to increase export of primary agriculture crops to meet the price of fossil fuel imports. However, the Roadmap stumbled upon an unfamiliar route as discussions drew to a close with the abundance of rain that kept the reservoirs in tact.  

Towards Sustainability

One of the long-term solutions driving the local energy crisis is the adoption of Sustainable Energy. This includes increasing non-conventional RE dependency to 20% by 2020 and the achievement of carbon neutral goals (replacing existing fossil fuel plants with renewable energy plants).

Abeygunawardana is an advocate for capitalising on RE sources and pointed out that it hasn’t been taken on just as yet due to the convenience caused by oil / coal power plants. He went on to say that true cost of energy though greater for new RE infrastructure, is more economical than the continued importation of fossil fuels.

In capturing and storing RE (as it is ‘seasonal’ or dependent on uncontrollable factors such as weather) pump water storage plants become important. While batteries too are efficient, the environmental hazards caused by battery disposal are another cause for concern. Other solutions towards a sustainable nation include developing and strengthening of policy frameworks; removal of fossil fuel subsidies; long-term lending schemes for potential RE investors; accessing carbon credits; assisting and providing concessions to indirect industries to tap in to RE; compensation from high-end users and developing stronger research and development facilities for renewable energy.