Climate change and global warming are causing havoc worldwide, and Sri Lanka is no exception. According to the World Bank’s Climate Risk Country profile on Sri Lanka in 2020, “temperatures are expected to rise by 2.9°C – 3.5°C by the 2090s, over the 1986-2005 baselines.” On the other hand, Founding President of the Solar Industries Association of Sri Lanka and Accredited Consultant for the Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority (SLSEA), Dr. Priyantha Wijesooriya said, “We need green intellectuals backed by intelligent political leadership for a just transition.”

Commenting further, he said one of the adaptive steps would be to trade the current fossil-fuel-based energy system for renewable energy. “When people are pressured for a solution when there is a power outage, no gas to cook with, and no fuel for vehicles, the energy shift occurs.” The West, on the other hand, anticipated an energy crisis and prepared for it with a well-defined government framework already in place.

The World Bank report of 2020 report says, “Without adaptive action, the projected increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme precipitation events may put lives, livelihoods, and infrastructure at risk through their link with riverine flooding, flash floods, and landslides”.

Sri Lanka is already experiencing unreliable weather patterns that have impacted the economy. There are several families internally displaced due to adverse weather compounding socio-economic problem.

For governments all over the world, the desire for a just transition in the energy sector, to address climate change impacts, raising awareness of the importance of reducing emissions, adapting to changing climatic conditions, and transitioning to greener, more sustainable economies and communities has become a requirement.

The vulnerability of South Asia (developing countries) to climate change has long been recognised. Rising sea levels and flooding pose a threat to Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka’s coastal belts. Rising temperatures, drought, and glacial melt threaten landlocked Afghanistan, Bhutan, and Nepal as well.

Determining what is climate change

Climate change is caused by a variety of factors that differ by location. There have been a number of big changes in the Earth’s climate, according to geological records. Many natural processes have contributed to this, including changes in the sun, volcanic eruptions, variations in Earth’s orbit, and carbon dioxide (CO2) levels.

The G-24 Discussion Paper Series – Financing the Climate Mitigation and Adaptation Measures in Developing Countries – 2009 written by Frank Ackerman, notes that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change estimates of the potential for emission reduction in developing countries, suggests the need for large amounts of financing. He adds, “At USD 20 per ton of CO2, reductions of 7Gt (Gigatons of Carbon) by 2020 would require investment of USD140 billion, while the larger estimate of 21.7Gt by 2030 would imply over USD 400 billion per year and in 2020, oil combustion was responsible for 45 percent of US energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.”

Also the British Geological survey says, “The global climate change has typically occurred very slowly, over thousands or millions of years. However, research shows that the current climate is changing more rapidly than shown in geological records and mainly caused by human activity.”

The consumption of coal, oil, and gas, deforestation, sand mining, gem mining, the use of chemical fertilisers and a lack of replanting are all elements that have contributed to quick changes in climatic conditions, and these are not unusual scenarios in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is one of the countries in South Asia which has experienced major impacts due to climate change.

The use of coal decreasing while tackling climate change

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has reported that world governments are subsidising fossil fuels at a rate of USD 11 million per minute, or just under USD 6 trillion per year, according to its calculations. When fossil fuels are burned, they release a substantial amount of carbon dioxide. Carbon emissions trap heat in the atmosphere and cause climate change, which is why several international donor institutions, including the IMF, the World Bank, and international non-governmental organisations, have committed to collaborating closely to mitigate climate change globally.

The global pipeline of proposed Coal Power Plants has collapsed by 76 per cent since the Paris Agreement in 2015, bringing the end of new Coal Power construction into sight, says E3G – an independent climate change think tank accelerating the transition to a climate-safe world.

In this background, the Government of Sri Lanka’s 70 per cent renewable energy target by 2030, is paving the way for just transition of energy and SLSEA along with the CEB have been setting up platforms to invite global renewable energy investors to invest in Sri Lanka given Sri Lanka’s mega potential for the transition.It would be beneficial for Sri Lanka to meet some of its energy demand through Cross Border Electricity Trade (CBET) with South Asian countries, to gain the cheaper and greener power. There is a proposed 500-MW high voltage direct current transmission link between India and Sri Lanka. Studies estimate that CBET, enabled by this transmission link, could generate annual production cost savings of USD 180 million and improve power system operations.

In Sri Lanka, a single 900 MW Coal Power Plant was developed with Chinese assistance in Norochcholai, Puttalam, in 2006, to meet around a one third of the country’s electrical needs. There was a Cabinet Paper approved for constructing the third phase of the 300MW Coal Power Plant at the Norochcholai Coal-powered Plant in 2021, however, the Director General, SLSEA, Sulakshana Jayawardena has stated to Sri Lanka Climate Youth Action Network Trust (SLYCAN Trust) that they had cancelled the project.

Also, Japan has called off all coal projects that were in the pipeline and a commitment to close all sub-critical coal plants within the decade according to powermag.com. Last year, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Philippines and Pakistan stopped all future coal plants (except those under construction).

Impact of use of coal

The Norochcholai Coal Power Plant which has been one of the main sources of nation’s power supply, would have to be replaced by renewable energy, noted Jayawardena. “It has been given 25 years of lifespan from the year it was implemented, which is 2006,” he added.

Ceylon Today quoted an independent energy expert
Dr. Vidhura Ralapanawe who stated that CEB spends annually Rs 24 billion to run the Norochcholai Power Plant with the estimated cost of Rs 60 billion for 2021 to provide 5, 000 GW hours per annum. There were allegations that, which such a mega power supply, not attending to emissions is alarming because even while the filters are functioning, over 5 tons of very fine particle dust (PM 2.5) is released into the atmosphere every day.

He highlighted other issues: Permanent stations for ambient air quality measurements were to be built but CEB has yet to do this even after operating the plant for over a decade. There is no track record of how many days/hours the surrounding community had air quality levels violated – a basic requirement for a coal power plant. 2018 EPL required CEB to do 40+ studies/reports on different environmental aspects and it appears that bulk of these studies has been done. No regulatory action for non-compliance was also taken. Several instances of‘coal purchases’have violated the maximum ash content approved in the EIA (15 per cent) and the minimum moisture level of coal – leading to more pollution in the community.

Also, in June 2017, Engineers of the Norochcholai Plant wrote to CEB’s GM stating, “It is a well-known fact that burning of coal produces ash as a by-product. In our case, about 14-16 per cent of total coal combustion is retained as ash. It was determined that the daily fly ash production is over 1,000 MT and bottom ash production is close to 100 MT when all three units are running at full load.”

While these allegations were debated and Senior Lecturer University of Moratuwa,
Dr. Thusitha Sugathapala who was a member of the Environmental Monitoring Committee of the Norochcholai Plant (until 2020) refuted many of the claims, to Ceylon Today, the use of fossil fuel and coal power will see a gradual decrease as the energy transition is taking place in Sri Lanka.

The renewables in the energy sector

The Director General SLSEA further told SLYCAN Trust that the government has mapped out all the potential areas for renewable energy projects. There are resources for solar, wind, biomass and hydro and have already commercially developed he added. Also, the potential, land use, distance to roads, slope, distance to grid substations (GSS), urban centres and exclusionary conservation areashave been identified, he added.

Developable project site maps were released to the website of the SLSEA, under the theme Renewable Energy Resource Development Plan 2021-2026. Jayawardena further said, they have invited interested parties to join the renewable energy development process by obtaining Energy Permits issued by SLSEA. It is a pre-requisite for entering into a Power Purchase Agreement with the CEB, pertinent to renewable energy projects, he added.

“We want to add 300-400MW to the national grid and by 2026 we are hoping to meet that target.” From last year Identification of Potential Land-use for renewable energy projects has been mapped out,” he said.

Meanwhile, there areseveral mega renewable energy projects earmarked by the government and one such potential investor was India’s Adani Group. The government recently said the Cabinet Subcommittee had approved a project of Adani Group to invest USD 500 million to develop renewable energy projects in Sri Lanka.

Renewable energy would reduce global warming and Sri Lanka needs more funds to mitigate climate change too. Lack of education and awareness on global warming can also play a crucial role in the energy transition mission.

“Even the way we use a refrigerator, or an air conditioner matters for sustainable green energy added solar energy expert Dr. Wijesooriya. A green mindset and a green decision-maker will know how to use the solar battery generated power, he pointed out.

Policy framework for renewables

Dr. Ralapanawe said, the energy transition is a global movement towards 100 per cent renewable energy driven by climate emergency, rapidly falling prices of renewable energy and technological advancements.”
Sri Lanka unfortunately decided to sit this out, which has led to the current energy and Forex crises,” he added.

Sri Lanka has only one path; to embrace the transition rapidly and wholeheartedly or continue to pay the price manyfold as is the case now.

The Norwegian Embassy in Colombo, along with the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences (HVL) and the University of Jaffna, organised a seminar on 4 April, titled,‘Towards a clean and sustainable energy era: Opportunities to meet the energy demand in Sri Lanka.’

At that seminar, Norwegian Ambassador Trine Jøranli Eskedal spoke about the renewable energy and the importance of creating an appropriate policy environment. She said, “Sri Lanka has agreed to ambitious renewable electricity generation targets by 2050. As the country moves towards this goal, she said it will be important to create an appropriate policy environment, develop innovative financial models and initiate new practices to attract more investment into the sector, especially from the private sector.

“There will also need to be more space and opportunities created for research, piloting of new inventions and most importantly – consultation and collaboration between all stakeholders. It is essential that government, academia and the private sector work together to achieve this goal.” She added that Norway is a country with a very high share of renewable energy and is committed to support
Sri Lanka achieve its renewable energy goals.”

Sri Lanka can supply its total present and projected energy demand by 2050, according to a joint assessment undertaken by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). According to the paper, “Assessment of Sri Lanka’s Power Sector: 100 percent Electricity Generation from Renewable Energy by 2050,” the country’s installed electricity generation capacity requirement will rise from 3,700 MW to almost 34,000 MW by 2050.

([email protected])

Text and pix by Sulochana Ramiah Mohan