Debilitating power cuts that extended beyond 12 hours per day at one point have been a prominent feature of the current economic crisis in Sri Lanka. This has caused immense hardship for people and businesses alike. Power shortages have impacted production, manufacturing and other allied activities, which have further impaired an already ailing economy.
The current power shortages in the country have mainly resulted from years of “monopolistic and short-sighted decisions”, especially by the state-owned Ceylon Electricity Board which has resisted all attempts at reform.
Sources have mentioned that the current peak demand in Sri Lanka hovers around 2,600 MW. However, the country is able to produce only about 2,300 MW despite having an installed generation capacity of more than 4,000 MW.
Sri Lanka’s largest coal powered Lakvijaya plant at Norochcholai built by China keeps breaking down frequently and adding to the power sector’s woes. Even now, Lakvijaya is producing only about 500 MW, which is well below its claimed capacity of more than 900 MW. Therefore, the island nation is currently facing a deficit of almost about 700 MW.
The country’s failure to add any new generation capacity over the past many years has further aggravated the challenge. It has been alleged that vested interests including within the CEB have benefitted from continuing shortages through the sale of power from independent power producers at high prices.
Most of this power is generated by liquid fuel powered units and is extremely expensive, especially with the current energy prices. Therefore, there has been persistent resistance from these elements towards any new power projects specially those in clean energy (LNG) or renewable energy.
It is high time that our leaders and experts realize that this status quo cannot continue. The current crisis, despite its difficulties is an excellent opportunity to address these mistakes and prevent their repetition in future. Uninterrupted and affordable power supply is a prerequisite for any kind of social and economic development in a modern society. There is a strong desire in Sri Lanka now to move towards solutions that are forward looking, technically feasible and affordable.
One such solution which is easily implementable and can go a long way in easing power related issues in Sri Lanka is the proposal for establishment of an interconnection between electricity grids in India and Sri Lanka to permit trade in power. It is understood that this has been under discussion for more than a decade.
Feasibility studies have indicated the viability of this project and it is also understood that the Indian government would be willing not only to implement the project but also fund it.
Apart from addressing temporary power shortages in Sri Lanka, the major beneficiary of this project would be Sri Lanka itself as it will allow Sri Lanka to export its surplus renewable energy to India and earn valuable foreign exchange.
It must be remembered that renewable energy potential, especially in Sri Lanka’s northern offshore basins will be well beyond the country’s requirements once fully developed. Therefore, India would be the most natural export destination for this power given its large energy requirements. This idea has already been proven be effective with India’s other neighbours such as Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh which have established power grid connections with India.
Sri Lanka has already suffered enough and it is time that it acts to harness the natural synergy that exists between the two countries. Investment interconnection of electricity grids would eventually turn out to be more beneficial for the country in the long-run compared to loans or credit-based development. It is hoped that the authorities will take concrete action to expeditiously implement this proposal.