Sri Lanka’s economic crisis exposes gaps in renewable energy push – Times of India


COLOMBO: It’s hard to say how much Sri Lankan forest has been cut down because fuel shortages force people to use firewood for cooking: inspectors have halted deforestation patrols because they can’t get their vehicles full.
A deep financial crisis has left Sri Lanka struggling to pay for oil and cooking gas imports for fuel and power generation, putting even more pressure on forests, which make up 17% of the country, compared to nearly 40% in three decades. past.
“We are very concerned… A large market is emerging with increasing demand for firewood,” said Jagath Gunawardena, a Colombo environmental lawyer who lamented the gas shortages had disrupted his group’s regular forest patrols.
Fuel and power scarcity has also highlighted patchy progress towards targets to increase renewable energy use to 70% from the current 20% by 2030, which climate activists say could have helped alleviate the current crisis.
Millions of people in the debt-laden Indian Ocean island nation struggle with long queues to buy petrol and cooking gas, and power cuts of up to 13 hours a day that have fueled growing social unrest.
Long before the crisis hit, the sun-kissed country had plans to ramp up its use of clean energy and ramp up production to make it more accessible and affordable.
“Renewable energy is the most cost-effective source as Sri Lanka has ample sunlight and wind,” Duminda Dissanayake, secretary of state for solar, wind and hydropower project development told reporters last month.
He said Sri Lanka aims to become carbon neutral by 2050 and generate 100% of its power through renewable energy.
By the end of 2023, it aims to produce 2,000 megawatts — or about 12 times the energy used in New York’s Times Square a year — from solar, and has already scrapped plans for two coal-fired power plants amid pollution concerns.
CO2-neutral challenge
But a national audit presented in parliament in February found that the state-owned Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) had not prioritized renewable energy, describing it as a violation of national policies and international commitments.
The findings reflect successive governments’ failure to take renewable energy projects seriously because they are time-consuming and offer no political incentive, analysts and industry officials said.
“We’ve seen every energy minister either drag the approval of the project or want the projects to be carried out by their closest allies,” a senior government official said on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions.
“As a result, most of the planned renewable power plants could not be implemented.”
Dissanayake, the secretary of state, denied that favoritism or government dragging were the cause of delays in launching sustainable projects.
He cited contradictions in the 2014 renewable energy legislation that needs to be changed, and said the country could not yet afford to raise the cost of power generation to cover initial clean energy investments.
“We always talk about corruption and embezzlement. But we are not ready for expensive power generation,” he said, when asked what caused projects to lag behind schedule.
But critics of the country’s progress say the government has failed to understand the many challenges of becoming carbon neutral — from technology gaps to lengthy tender processes that delay planned launches.
“It takes at least six to seven years to complete a solar or wind power plant through government-approved procurement processes,” said Tilak Siyambalapitiya, a former CEB engineer and international energy expert.
Some of the renewable projects – which would eventually produce cheaper electricity – cannot be implemented due to gaps in technology and infrastructure, and more investment was needed.
“For example, the country cannot opt ​​for several small-scale rooftop solar panels with a capacity of about 5 kilowatts, because we do not have a compatible distribution network to receive the power,” said Siyambalapitiya.
“We also don’t have large-scale batteries to store the renewable energy.”
Power cuts and coconuts
Gunawardena, the environmental advocate, said he thought the forest loss would be small so far, noting that people would fell trees close to their homes or in plantations before going into forests as a last resort.
But for many of the island’s 22 million residents, the situation is growing desperate.
When Shanthi Kumar’s family ran out of cooking gas, she started using kerosene oil until its supply also dried up, leading her to use an electric stove.
“But then we had power outages,” the 42-year-old told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in the western province, where residents said most people had traded firewood for gas cylinders over the past two decades.
After experimenting with desiccated coconut husks and shells and other organic matter, she said she reluctantly began cutting down trees “wherever” possible.
“We are now trying to collect a lot of firewood so that we can cook,” she said.


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