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Indian offer – renewable energy – The Island

It was reported that the visiting Foreign Minister of India, Shri S. Jaishankar, has pledged India’s support for developing our Renewable Energy sector. This is very good and positive news. I am sure that this generous offer would be welcomed by our authorities. It has been reported, from time to time, that large scale Solar Energy generation (Solar Panel farm installations) have already been commenced, and the possibility of Wind Energy, in Mannar, is being actively explored.

There are many rooftop solar panels in use. The likely hike in the price of electricity, will increase demand for such assemblies. It is a mystery why successive governments have not actively encouraged this resource. I have seen, in the city of Mersin, in Southern Iran, that nearly every house had roof top panels. It seems that in issuing building permissions, it is compulsory that solar panels must be included in the plan. The target was to ensure that domestic power needs for warming, cooling and cooking would be met, as far as possible, by ‘in situ’ generation. It should be noted that winter involve substantial heating, and in summer – cooling.

The already available ‘Nett Metering’ systems, is a huge asset in promoting domestic solar generation. This should warrant a subsidy for rooftop panels. In fact, it may even justify a 100% defrayment of installation costs.

It has been reported that firewood use in cooking some time ago, accounted for some 80 % of national energy consumption. This would be slightly less now, because many have moved to kerosene or electric cookers. This applies for tea factories, too, which have moved from wood towards diesel as fuel. A few decades ago, estates had their own “Wood Lots” for supplying their needs.

Unregulated biomass use could lead to depletion of forest cover. A former resource was rubber wood, from areas being replanted. Much attention has been drawn to developing biomass energy generation, from plantings of quick-growing crops (principally Glyricidia). I remember that the late Dr Ray. Wijewardene computed that 150 hectares of well-managed Glyricidia could meet the entire energy needs of a town, the size of Kalutara. One of the great advantages of such small units, would be to provide relief from present day transmission costs. This is true “Devolution of Power”

Biogas generation, from domestic waste, is also an option, but the high initial cost in building the Generation Chamber, and piping, is a deterrent. If biomass is from new forest plantings, a positive would be the qualification for benefit from the internationally operated “Carbon Credit” arrangement,

There is much controversy, surrounding the relative costs of electricity. An important factor, to be included in such calculations of “unit cost,” should take into consideration the savings in transmission costs. It would be astonishing if this has not already been factored into comparison of costs.

It would be obligatory that such comparisons should be revised, or updated, for the hoped for India’s help. Ideally, such computations should be by persons outside the energy sector, to ensure the absence of bias in an already incendiary situation.

Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda

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