Has solar energy come of age in Sri Lanka?
Eng. Parakrama Jayasinghe
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There is much euphoria after opening the tenders for the 150 MW of Solar PV parks on the 22nd July 2020. This tender called for offers for setting up Solar PV parks of capacity in the range 1 -10 MW.
The significantly lower tariff levels claimed by the tenderers may have come as a surprise to many , including the CEB, which had set a ceiling of Rs 15.60 per kWh as the cut off point for acceptance. The range of offers received is reported to be in the range Rs 8.89 –Rs 11.50 varying with the targeted GSS. A range of tariff is to be expected due to the range of capacities and different locations with the variability of the expected annual energy yield at each location and other factors.
Naturally the Chairman of the CEB was ecstatic with the outcome and had expressed his satisfaction in the social media
Today is a remarkable day for Solar Energy Sector in Sri Lanka as well as CEB.
Tender bids of 150MW Solar Energy Generation ( from 1 to 10 MW solar PV plants) were opened today. There were 230 keen participants mostly local investors. Total investment would be around USD 150 million. This projects will generate direct and indirect jobs for 2000 to 3000 people.
We got very competitive bids of average 10 Rs/kWh. In comparison with previous prices and 15 Rs/kWh upper ceiling of the tender this price will be very beneficial to the country as well as CEB. Anyone should understand the significance of this 10 Rs/kWh price when considering CEB’s average generation cost of 23 Rs/kWh and average selling price of 16.50 Rs/kWh.
The credit of this successful tender must go to the new government, CEB staff and the investors.
The citizens of Sri Lanka who whole heartedly approve the President’s and the government’s policy goal of achieving the 80% RE target by 2030 are equally encouraged by the clear signal given by the market to underscore the fact that electricity from Renewable energy sources are indeed the lowest cost option. It is also hoped that the majority of successful tenders would be from local developers, embarking Sri Lanka on the path to ensure that Energy Industry will become a local industry.
However, even the high end of the range of offers received does leave ample room to add the added storage capacities for these plant to overcome both the issue of intermittence and the lament that Sun does not shine in the night.
The Chairman has also spelled out his intentions to ensure the speedy implementation of the offered projects so that the CEB as well as the country would reap early benefits of this opportunity as well as to build on the trend of lowered prices.
There has been two previous tenders called for by the CEB for solar PV parks
The first tender was called for 1 MW x 60 in 2016. Only 35 offers were received. The average tender price was of the order of Rs 17.50 per kWh. The US Dollar parity was only Rs 150. The second tender for 1 MW x 90 was called in 2018 and attracted over 500 offers. The lowest prices for each GSS ranged from about Rs 13.00 upwards. But awards were made only in 2019 and only 30 have singed PPAs and none have been commissioned yet. By the time the awards were made the US $ has moved up from Rs 150 to Rs 185 +. So those who quoted low prices below Rs 15.00 may never sign the PPAs and implement the projects. With the depreciation of the Sri Lanka rupee, many projects may not be implemented.
After nearly four years, from the two tenders for 1 MW x 150 only 15 projected are reported as being completed. The actual status of the 30 projects reported as under construction are not clearly known.
In both cases, due to the long delays by the CEB in making awards and allowing the low prices quoted, to prevent the more serious viable tenderers being selected, the country continues to lose money.
The new tender allows for offers to be made from 1 MW to 10 MW , which is an attraction. Although there has been a down ward trend of prices of the Solar Panels, the US $ has increased significantly, compared the parity prevailing at the time of the 1 MW x 90 tender. There is also the natural increase in cost of labour and other costs. This may be reason for the drop in the number of tenders with only 230 offers, perhaps due to the loss of confidence of serious developers, due both to the delays by the CEB and the possibility of spurious low priced offers which block up the access to the GSS capacity. Much effort and expense is required to make a bid, including the bid bond which gets blocked for a long time.
Thus the very low prices quoted in the current tender is suspect and at such low prices projects may not ever be built. But unless the CEB acts speedily and reject them and make awards to the higher but more viable bidders soon, the access to the particular GSS will be blocked.
The CEB declared a ceiling tariff of Rs 15.60 for the current tender. It is therefore expected that they have done their homework and should have a clear idea of the viable price levels. Thus offer of 50% below this ceiling price are highly suspect. The possibility of using this opportunity for laundering black money is also a distinct possibility as described in an article by the Senior Asst. Director of Central Bank in the Island newspaper.
The acceptability of the quality standards guaranteed, is an important criterion to be checked.
One cannot help but wonder if this is an attempt to further delay the widespread the introduction of Solar PV parks by portraying an unviable low prices, but not proceeding with the projects. Thereby the CEB may be inclined to offer much lower caps which will not attract any serious developers for the future tenders. Such things are known to happen and the risk of losing only the Bid Bond of Rs 1,000,000 may be considered acceptable to ensure the continuation of the highly lucrative oil based power generation.
An interesting test would be to see how many of those offering such patently unviable tenders, have already received awards during the last two occasions, and how many of such projects have even commenced implementation. Shouldn’t such companies be black listed from participating in any future tenders?
A goal of making all the awards and signing the PPAs and obtaining performance bonds before end of the year is the only means by which the Chairman’s expectation noted as “Hope we will be able to achieve above targets with the firm commitment of all relevant parties to mark 2020 is the highest solar PPA signing year”
If not, the bid bond should be enchased and the tenderer and the directors should be blacklisted for trying to block the development of the Solar Energy by serious developers at viable levels of tariff.
While whole heartedly approving and sharing his ambition, we would like to point out some issues worthy of consideration before the next tender proposed by the Chairman is launched.
There were some improved conditions stipulated in the last tender in comparison with the previous tenders, particularly the increased capacity up to 10 MW. There are few more improvements that could be considered for the next tender.
1. There is a great disparity in the cost to the different developers, by the length of the transmission line, which is governed by the availability of suitable lands. While this may be considered an inherent risk to be accepted by the developers, it is suggested that the CEB should seek to locate suitable lands coupled with respective GSS and seek offers targeting such lands. This would optimize the tender process by allowing the developers to compete on a level playing field.
2. A further improvement may be to seek the assistance of the CEA and the local authorities to ensure such lands are pre-approved for the development of Solar PV Parks. This would remove the greatest obstacle faced by the genuine developers and is the cause of most delays in implementation of the projects.
3. CEB will need to have a clear idea about the commercially viable lowest tariff possible under the conditions prevailing at the time of the tender, such as the parity rate, cost of solar panels and inverters which contributes the major portion of the overall cost structure and cost of finance. This will enable early detection of any attempts to destroy the stable and sustainable development of the Solar Energy resource by whatever means.
4. The objective should be broader than the mere addition of energy to the grid. The Solar Energy opens up the potential for making the energy sector an indigenous industry. This would contribute to the national economy much more than what is given by the amount of electricity generated, by way of high level employment , development of local entrepreneurs and possibility if upstream and downstream integration not to mention the savings in foreign exchange.
We also look forward to an early publication of tenders for the 100 MW Solar projects at Siyambalanduwa and Pooneryn , which received the cabinet approval three years ago. The scale of such projects hold out the tantalizing prospect of even lower unit prices for the Solar Electricity which would indeed place Solar Power as a significant renewable energy contributor to the national energy supply.
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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development
There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.
The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.
To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.
Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.
It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.
All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.
Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.
If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.
In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.
However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.
It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.
The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.
It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.
A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.
Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.
Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka
By Sanjeewa Jayaweera
It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.
The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.
We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.
This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.
Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!
At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.
One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.
It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!
ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!
The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.
When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!
I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.
I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.
I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.
Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!
I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.
Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.
We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.
Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?
Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!
To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.
Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.
The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..
How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!
If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.
And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!
Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.
Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.
With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.
I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.
Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.
He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.
Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.
He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!
I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:
“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.
“There is no science to beat common sense.”
But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!