Sri Lanka commissions first solar power plant

Will provide electricity to 3,000 rural families

By Malaka Rodrigo
Published: Thursday 15 September 2011

Marking a milestone in renewable energy, Sri Lanka, has commissioned its first solar power plant. It will add 500 kilowatt to the National Grid and generate 2,300 units of electricity daily. The power plant located in Hambantota in southern Sri Lanka will cater to electricity needs of over 3,000 rural families. The annual power generation is expected to be 839,500 kilowatt hours.


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Sri Lanka is largely dependent on thermal energy and hydropower for its electricity needs. It is estimated that the power generated by the plant will save 200,000 litres of diesel annually and hence emission of 300 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the environment.

“The time has come for the country to focus on alternative energy resources since the power generated using fossil fuel is expensive,” said Patali Champika Ranawaka, the country's power and energy minister while inaugurating the plant on August 8.

The plant was built in collaboration with the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) and will be operated by Sri Lanka’s Sustainable Energy Authority (SEA), the apex institution driving Sri Lanka towards energy sustainability. The Authority is also planning to set up another solar power plant with Japanese aid. The power and energy ministry has also lined up several large-scale solar power projects in the northern, eastern and north-central provinces of the country.

At present, renewable energy contributes only seven per cent of the national power generation, excluding electricity generated by conventional hydropower projects. SEA targets to increase the power generation from non-conventional sources to 10 per cent by the end of 2015 (see table). Experts say this is not a hard target as Sri Lanka is located in the equatorial belt. The country receives year-round supply of solar energy. The island nation's location in the ocean also gives it distinct wind regimes.

Generation mix proposed by Sri Lanka's national energy policies and strategies
Year Conventional Hydrolytic (%) Maximum from oil (%) Coal (%) Minimum from non-conventional renewable energy (%)
1995 94 6 - -
2000 45 54 - 1
2005 36 61 - 3
2010 42 31 20 7
2015 28 8 54 10
Source: Sustainable Energy Authority of Sri Lanka

Several wind power plants are already in operation and the government plans to set up wind energy parks to allow investors to build wind farms. The first such park will be developed at Mannar in north western part of Sri Lanka. SEA is also promoting the use of dendro power biomass as a fuel option for electricity generation. The Gliricedia sepium commonly known as Gliricedia grows wild in the country and takes about one and a half years to mature. It provides fuel wood which can then be used to generate dendro power.

Former vice chairman of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Mohan Munasinghe points out that monetary benefits alone should not be the sole criterion when promoting renewable energy. “Small scale renewable energy projects are best suited for areas located far from the national grid. When cost of connecting these areas to national grids add up, the initial capital cost of setting up of renewable energy plants will be justified,” he says. He adds that such plants are easy to operate. Hence, the surrounding rural community can be trained to operate these plants. “This would technically empower Sri Lanka's rural community, especially the youth,” he says.

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