Solar Panels should be considered essential item – SIA President

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Solar panels should be considered as an essential item like fuel, medicine, gas and electricity, to solve long term energy crises in Sri Lanka stated Solar Industries Association (SIA) President Kushan Jayasuriya.

“Minister of Power and Energy Kanchana Wijesekera has said that an aggressive plan would be implemented from June to increase power through renewable sources, which is a welcome step. Minister suggested roof top solar panels to be installed where ever possible. The issue is we are finding it extremely hard to import solar panels due to shortage of foreign exchange, mainly US dollars.” stated Jayasuriya, speaking to Ceylon Today.

We request the Government to allocate sufficient amount of US dollars to import solar panels, considering it as an essential item with the looming energy crises, noted Jayasuriya.

“We may spend foreign exchange in importing solar panels, but we would save far more in multiple times by reducing our coal and fuel imports.”

He added that the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) is due of around ten months’ of payments amounting over Rs 22 billion to private sector renewable energy industries.

“This is an alarming situation, if the renewable energy industry collapses, government would have to depend more on coal and diesel power plants, or on emergency power purchases. Already, at times of emergency, power is bought from certain private sector diesel power plants at Rs 100 per unit. In this scenario, it would be difficult to attract investors to renewable energy sector. We request the CEB to release at least 50 per cent of payment immediately for our business to operate.” 

Even customers who have installed solar panels on their roofs with bank loans aren’t getting payments from the CEB. In that case, the customers don’t benefit from installing solar energy systems, claimed Jayasuriya.

Currently the private sector renewable energy contribution is around 12 per cent of the national grid. Out of that, solar energy contributes around three per cent to the national grid. It could be increased to 15 per cent and 70 per cent renewable energy target by 2030 is also achievable, if implemented according to a proper plan.

“When the coal power plant was commissioned, the cost to produce power was Rs 9 per KWH, now it costs Rs 40 per KWH, which is excluding environmental costs. Earlier, average CEB cost to produce electricity was Rs 19, which has now increased to Rs 50 with increasing fuel cost and rupee depreciation. When energy costs are high, it affects all industries, and economy as a whole suffers. Only solution is to increase renewable energy power production.”

When questioned on tender process, Jayasuriya replied, “I am not interested in arguing whether projects should be awarded on ‘first come first served basis’ or  on the basis of open bidding process. Government can go with both processes, as long as everything is transparent. Last thing we don’t want to see is people buying licences and selling it to others. We want genuine investors with experience in the industry to be handed over the projects in the fairest possible way and of course the utility will want energy at the cheapest cost.

Speaking on solar panel production, Jayasuriya stated “Raw material for solar panel production is silicon. Germany introduced the solar panel. Sri Lanka has silicon, but solar panels have to be produced in mass level.  Now, China leads the solar panel production. China is almost enjoying a monopoly status. As a result, European countries bought in anti-competitive law, but it was too late to stop China. To protect domestic solar panel industry, USA imposes heavy tariffs on imported solar panels from China.”

By Rajiesh Seetharam