Bio Energy – The Readily Accessible Firm Renewable Energy Resource

By Parakrama Jayasinghe, Eng. | Published: 2:00 AM Jan 19 2021
FT Bio Energy – The Readily Accessible Firm Renewable Energy Resource

By Parakrama Jayasinghe, Eng.

Although, this must be applied in reverse, in the case of our energy needs, the message is that those in charge of the electricity supply do not have the intelligence of even lowly ants. 

There are dire predictions of power shortages in the coming months, in spite of the heavy rain experienced all over the country in the recent months. The totally irrational use of emergency power generation, in spite of continued losses of the CEB is foisted on all of us, as adding some more billions of rupees to the already staggering losses of the CEB appears to be of no concern to the CEB or the Ministry. 

The year 2020, was an exceptionally wet year with floods in many areas and one would have expected whatever measures necessary to ensure that the hydro reservoirs be kept full up to the end of December have been taken. The fact that the next three months are dry is not a secret. One wonders, if any attempt has been made to even de-silt the reservoirs to reach the original storage capacity.

What this phenomenon highlights is the importance of storage to avoid the periodic shortages of energy.  However, the accent has been for the use of imported fossil fuels, which stores solar energy of the pre historic era as its chemical energy. This has been proven to be a disastrous choice with many negative impacts on the national economy, balance of payments and the environmental and health issues, not to mention the impact on the security of supply of energy as seen these days.  

In this context, it is also obvious, all State authorities and politicians in power both present and past, appear to see only Wind and Solar as the alternative sources of energy to reduce the use of fossil fuel and overcome the shortage of hydro power. 

The fact that both these sources are intermittent and hence not dispatchable, provides a ready excuse for those who are responsible for creating the present problem, to say that these are not viable and will not solve the problem and thus deceive, the nontechnical officials and politicians.The fact that necessary technologies to address this situation are already available commercially, is not even mentioned by the engineers at the CEB. 

However, it is unfortunate that the traditional source of firm energy viz: biomass,  has been the main contributor to serve near 50% of the country’s total energy needs as given in the National Energy Balance Statement prepared by the Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority for 2017, shown graphically in the annexed Chart.Thus biomass has the potential to provide the CEB with their desired quantum of firm energy, but it is being completely ignored. 

The many interviews and comments by the Minister in charge of Renewable Energy too, in recent weeks has never cited bio mass as an alternative source of indigenous renewable energy. Even the President’s Saubhagye Dekma Policy Framework does not make any specific reference to Bio-Energy, as it does for Hydro Energy.

Biomass Energy derived from trees and agricultural waste, releases the solar energy absorbed through Photosynthesis and stored as chemical energy. This natural storage is energy from solar radiation absorbed over the last year or two, unlike the millions of years that were required to store the solar energy in the form of fossil fuels, and does not contribute to global warming.   In Sri Lanka the technology is already proven for the sustainable generation of short rotation coppicing trees such as Gliricidia, Ipil Ipil and Bamboo as well as several agricultural wastes as the fuels for bio-energy. These are generated in the very lands under agriculture without the need for any new land being diverted for energy plantations.  

Also, any allegation of destruction of forests for this resource is totally unfounded. Further information on this unique possibility is available on the Website of the Bio Energy Association of Sri Lanka.( 

The Cabinet of Ministers declared Gliricidia as the Fourth National Plantation Crop after tea, rubber and coconut in June 2005, in recognition of its many attributes not limited as a source of renewable energy and approved a number of initiatives for its development. However absolutely nothing has been done by relevant authorities to follow up on these decisions to date.  

The SLSEA and its Mandate 

The establishment of the Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority in 2008 for the development of None Conventional Renewable Energy resources (NCRE) and the adoption of the Technology Specific cost reflective tariff system for the electricity generated from such resources, was a step in the right direction. The current contribution of 880 MW of NCRE up to 2015 was the result of these progressive initiatives.  

However, Bio-Energy was slow to take off due to the fact that unlike Mini Hydro and Wind Power and later Solar PV, Bio-Energy requires a source of fuel, and the reluctance of the lending agencies to accept the viability of the distributed source of bio-mass fuels.  The lack of any proactive intervention by the SLSEA instead of just taking up the role of a regulator is regrettable.  However, in spite of these difficulties some intrepid developers succeeded in contributing 31.5 MW of bio-mass energy to the grid by year 2015.

This is the time the CEB decided to block any further development of all renewable energy projects, particularly Bio Energy and Mini Hydro, citing a doubtful legal opinion on a clause in the Electricity Act No. 31 of 2013. Since then, all projects including those where approval processes were well advanced were willfully blocked by the CEB.  Thus over 88 MW of bio-energy projects are pending approval at various stages over the past five years. 

The irony is that the Electricity (Amended) Act No. 31 of 2013, in its Article 13 says, the “requirement to submit a tender on the publication of a notice under this subsection shall not be applicable in respect of any new generation plant on a permit issued by the Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority for the generation of electricity through renewable energy sources and required to be operated at the standardised tariff and is governed by a Standardised Power Purchase Agreement approved by the Cabinet of Ministers.” So, there is no barrier in the Act against CEB accepting RE projects approved by SLSEA. 

Total lack of interest by different Ministers and the Secretary to the Ministry of Power and Energy over the past five years to resolve this unreasonable and anti-national attitude of the CEB, has resulted with a loss of over US $ 200 Million annually by the import of the equivalent amount of oil since year 2015. A saving of US$ 217 Million annually has already been possible with the projects implemented prior to this blockage in 2015.

The number of projects excluding Solar and Wind which have been blocked as per the SLSEA records are as follows Source : SLSEA  dated 27th March  2019 

The input of even 50% the contribution of these projects amounting to over 300 MW of firm power, that the CEB is craving for, from the projects awaiting approval, would have relieved the present power crisis and avoided the need for highly expensive emergency power.

The direct loss to the economy

It is indeed ironical that the CEB blocked this development by claiming that such projects should be subject to open tendering without attempting to even understand the underlying circumstances. The NCRE process adopted by the SLSEA was expressly designed recognising these circumstances and targeting anational resources which has already paid rich dividends to the country, until the CEB chose to block any further development. 

With the multitude of benefits which can be derived from bio mass resources such as Gliricidia listed below, and the ADB’s estimation of 2400 MW potential, it is indeed unfathomable why this valuable resource is being ignored.

Firm power with Plant factor exceeding 80%

Entirely indigenous fuel supply

Massive cash inflows to the rural economy @ Rs 50 Million per MW annually

Multiple Social, environmental and economic benefits 

Path opened for organic fertiliser and milk production

Totally firm and dispatchable electricity 

The typical overall benefits to the rural economy.

 The numbers have been validated by actual performance at the Coconut Research Institute


The most urgent need is to remove the blockage created by the engineers of the CEB. This is easily done by the Minister by seeking the Cabinet approval for same as was done in case of the roof top Solar PV development under the SooryaBalaSangraamaya.  This enabled over 260 MW of Solar PVC had been added to the national grid. 

The ADB has declared that Sri Lanka has a potential to generate over 2,400 MW of bio energy without any additional land using the already proven methodologies. Even reaching a target of 1,000 MW would accrue the following benefits:

Generation of 1,000 MW of firm dendro power plants operating at 80% plant factor supplying reliable uninterrupted power to the national grid.

Generate adequate cattle feed to increase our milk production from 20% to 100%. 

Increase the production of organic fertiliser in the country.

Flow of over Rs 50 Billion annually to the rural economy

Saving of US$ 525 Million annually by replacing the equivalent amount of imported fossil fuels 

Under these circumstances the true intention of the CEB engineers in blocking these projects is highly questionable. They claim it is their commitment to adhere strictly to the rule of law as per the provisions of the Electricity Act. It appears that this laudable commitment is applied selectively to this issue of approval of the renewable energy projects only, whereas the Electricity Act is violated blatantly as publicly documented in the PUCSL web page.On the other hand, the lack of interest by the very Ministry which had the sobriquet of Power and Renewable Energy is also lamentable, in spite of  the President in many public fora, declaring his goal that Sri Lanka would reach 80% penetration of Renewable Energy by year 2030. He has in fact said in his throne speech that “We will remove all impediments and incentivize the private sector and entrepreneurs interested in setting up renewable energy projects i.e. solar and wind, and to this end, the government will provide assistance”. It is hoped that CEB Engineers will take note of this President’s aspiration at least in the future and clear the backlog. 

Eng. Parakrama Jayasinghe is the Immediate Past President of the Bio Energy Association of Sri Lanka (BEASL)[email protected]

By Parakrama Jayasinghe, Eng. | Published: 2:00 AM Jan 19 2021

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