Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

Wind future pathfinding

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Sri Lanka's first wind plant, a 3 MW pilot at Hambantota on the southern tip of the island, promises to be something of a renewable energy milestone, having cleared a series of obstacles along the way. Commissioning of the five 600 kW NEG Micon turbines, delayed by the monsoon, is now expected in March.

Hydropower currently supplies about 85% of the country's energy needs, with thermal power accounting for the rest. Demand is growing at 9% annually, causing the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) to "look at newer energy sources," says the utility's L.T. Kamlaga Ariyadasa. The SLR 270 million ($3.75 million) project is part funded through a grant from the World Bank's Global Environment Facility, with the CEB contributing 33% of the cost.

Wind energy development generally has been much slower in Sri Lanka than in neighbouring India. Despite good wind speeds throughout the country-mean wind speeds have been measured at 5.6 m/s at ten metres in an American study-a weak grid and frequent power failures have tended to discourage investment. The wind power potential of the southern coast is estimated at 200 MW. The CEB, with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), is measuring speeds in the hilly terrain in western Sri Lanka. Development is unlikely in the north of the island while political problems persist.

At Hambantota, conservationists opposed the SLR 270 million ($3.75 million) development as a threat to surrounding bird sanctuaries. "There was a lot of pressure on the wildlife authority against our proposal for the pilot project. It took over one year to get approval," says Ariyadasa, and then only after the site was changed in order to avoid the flight paths of migrating birds.

Ariyadasa adds, "We are planning to put up a grid station at the pilot project, [which] will improve the lives of people in the district." But Sri Lanka is in no hurry to push its renewables program: "We are starting late and trying to learn from the mistakes of others,." says Ariyadasa. India "has moved too fast," he comments, particularly with its tax benefit scheme. The CEB's view is that India's wind subsidies do not reward high electricity output, but the installation of installed capacity. "We are thinking of introducing a scheme that will compensate production rather than capital," he says.

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