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The real truth behind the power crisis


It is true that a power crisis has emerged. This information is given to the general public by the people with knowledge, people without knowledge as well as the people who wish to distort the truth. People get confused and worried with the wrong understanding of the facts. As usual the Minister of Power & Energy is pointed by the media, cartoonists and also the politicians. Therefore, I decided to relate my story.

It is true that there were some unscheduled power cuts in different places of the country. Usually power is interrupted in two ways. The first one is the pre-informed scheduled interruptions for urgent maintenance work and the second one is the power intrruptions and failures which take places from time to time due to accidents. There are over 1000 like these incidents island wide in a day. The majority of them is in the medium sized incidents.

However, this time there was a power interruption of the third category. Unscheduled power interruptions, this was due to the non - functioning of five power plants in the country including the two main thermal power plants (Lakvijaya- Puttalam and Yugadhanavi-Kerawalapitiya). If these five power plants are duly operated, we can cover 40%-50% from our electricity requirements. We severely felt the weakening of the power plants due to the limitation of electricity generation caused by the shortage of hydro power. The capacities of water levels in the reservoirs were reduced to 20%. The water levels of Castlereagh (7%) and Maussakele (14%) are coming down to unusable limits for electricity generation. Due to this reason, hydro power which could provide up to 35%-45% from the electricity consumption was restricted. The eventual result is the breakdown of the electricity system failing to meet the demand. Therefore the CEB was compelled to curtail electricity in different areas to prevent this situation. Finally, with the gradual restoration of Kerawalapitiya and Puttalam thermal power plants, the system returned back to its normalcy. The unscheduled power cuts in different parts of the country were controlled. This was not a long term issue as some people predicted, but just a temporary problem; an emergency situation from 1st June to 9th June. If this happened in the past, there would be continuous power cuts until the rains are received. This time we were able to provide electricity using thermal power. If thermal power plants work properly we are able to provide electricity continuously at this level. The CEB endeavours to perform its responsibility. In order to realise this crisis, we should understand the electricity consumption in the country along with its consumption pattern.

Usually, the total electricity consumption in the country is around 25-35 GWhs per day. On a sunny hot day as the use of air conditioners and water is high this is increased up to 34 GWh. The electricity consumption on holidays, cold and rainy days it comes down to 25 GWh. accordingly. The first challenge is to maintain the energy supply of 25-35 GWh throughout the day. The demand occurred in a moment (power) is also important. This is low as 800 MW from 10.00 pm to 04.00 am. In the day time office and factory times (08.30 am- 04.30 pm), this fluctuates up to 1500 MW. Between 06.30 pm and 09.30 pm this is increased up to a maximum level of 1900 MW. Therefore, the second important point is to supply this maximum power demand.

This pattern changes within the year too. In the festival times (January- April) and in the hot weather (February – May) the electricity demand goes up and in the cold times it comes down.

If the power supply is not organized with a proper understanding on the daily and annually pattern, it is inevitable that problems arise.

Generally, the main hydro power stations (Laxapana – Mahaweli complex) of the CEB has a capacity of 1200 MW, if the water level is satisfactory 45% from the electricity demand and if in a year with droughts 30% could be provided with them.

In the context of thermal power stations, CEB owns five main power stations with a 750MW of capacity and out of them the Lakvijaya power station has a 285 MW of capacity and if it functions properly they could provide 20% from the annual demand of the country. There are nine power stations owned by the private sector and they have a capacity of 710 MW. Out of them three power stations (Yugadhanavi, Lakdhanavi, Heladhanavi - 392 MW) belong to various Companies including a CEB owned Company called Lanka Transformers Ltd. Kerawalapitiya Yugadhanavi power plant is operated with special liquid fuel and when it generates electricity properly, it could provide 20% from the electricity requirement of the country.

In addition, there are 94 mini hydro power stations (170MW) and 03 wind power plants (30 MW). Accordingly, the total capacity of the country (except for Jaffna) is around 2860MW. As the maximum capacity required by the country is 1900 MW, this is a very good situation. In this scenario, we cannot see a possibility of power crisis.


What really happened?

In the first half of this year (2011) heavy rains were recorded. Until June last year, 2146 GWh has flowed to our reservoirs. (In 2010 only 1767 GWh flowed). Further, the year too began with a successful initial storage of 1100 GWh. As a result, our reservoirs were able to produce 2900 GWh in the first half of the year. Generally, from April to the end of July rain comes with the South-West monsoons but this time the rain was less. For instance, when the month of June is considered generally for a 30 year average Castlereagh receives 631mm of rains, but this time it was limited to 230mm. Though Maussakale should usually receive 530mm of rains but it received only 170mm. The Meteorology Department is also of the opinion that generally South - west monsoon rain is reduced by around 70%.

Some questions why the CEB couldn’t save water. When considering Laksapana and Mahaweli Complex, the consumption of water is carried out in three ways. First is the drinking water requirement (major source is the Kelani river). The second is agricultural requirement (major source is Mahaweli river). The water is released for hydro power generation only after fulfilling the above requirements. Further, in the first week of June the South - West monsoons became active and reservoirs were too prepared for that. What has happened now is that the condition of the monsoon is totally changed. Now it rains in the dry season (January - March) and it is dry in the rainy season (April - July). Similarly, the forest cover which is the natural coverage to protect the water potential is also destroyed. This is the major factor for water shortage. This irregular nature of rains and drought will be severe in the future. If the country doesn’t plan a long term programme to conserve water and climate change related water stresses. We will have to face a severe shortage of water for drinking, agricultural and power generation purposes and also to disasters caused by floods.

With the shortage of water, mini hydro power too is limited. The only alternative left is the thermal power. The CEB and the private sector had a capacity of around 1460 MW and it was sufficient to generate electricity during the whole 20 hours except 6 p.m. to10 p.m. Similarly, those power stations could provide 28 - 30 GWh per day.

If that was the case, the whole energy could be obtained by thermal power plants by limiting the hydro electricity for 4 hours at night peak.

Why it did not happen that way?

It is because that five thermal power plants became idle. Puttalam Lakvijaya (285 MW), Kerawapitiya Yugadhanavi (270 MW), Kelanitissa JBIC combined Cycle (165 MW), Kelanitissa GT7 open cycle Gas turbine (115 MW) and Embilipitiya ACE Power (100 Mw) were those five Power Stations.

Under these circumstances, it is not possible for the power system to provide its maximum capacity (1900 MW) or daily electricity requirement (35 GWh). There is a risk of the whole system collapsing owing to this pressure on the other machines (an incident similar to this took place on the New Year festival day on 13th of April 2007). Owing to this requirement, the CEB Control room had to disconnect the electricity in different areas from time to time randomly.

However, after the Yugadhanavi Power plant –Kerawalapitiya and the Lakvijaya Power Plant- Puttalam came to their normal operations on June 6 and June 9 respectively, the unstable situation that prevailed for June 01 to June 9 ended. As the government has constructed new power stations after the year 2005, we have been able to avert possible power cuts even during the dry seasons unlike in the past. If Yugadanavi (2010) Lakwijaya (2011) are not there at least 8-10 hour permanent power cuts should be scheduled and imposed like in 1995-2005.

The UNP – PA governments delayed the constructions of coal power plants or huge hydro power projects to satisfy various political groups and the International Monetary Establishments from 1990. The eventual result was the power crisis emerged in 1996. Thereafter, the purchase of thermal power from the private sector began. It paved the way to the CEB financial crisis. There is no joke like this as the people who destroyed the electricity sector technically and financially now talk about a power crisis.

Even if the electricity could be generated with thermal power (diesel and furnace oil), it is very expensive. We obtain the lowest cost thermal power from Horana ACE Power and it costs Rs. 14.86 per unit when it reaches the consumer. The highest cost of thermal power we receive from Aggreco Ltd Jaffna and it costs us Rs. 31.61. In general the thermal power unit from the private sector costs us Rs. 18.96 in 2010. The cost of electricity unit in the Kelanitissa GT 7 Power station is Rs. 48.98. In return, we sell unit of this electricity at Rs. 13.00

In that manner with every thermal power unit, the CEB incurs a loss of Rs.6.00. So, if 6000 million of thermal power units are annually generated (the whole of demand will be around 10000 million units.) Annual loss is 36 billion rupees.

Eventually this becomes a burden on the public. In the other way round, respectively it would be Rs.3.57 and Rs.4.29 from hydro-electric units such as Laksapana and Mahaweli. Generally a unit of hydro-electricity is Rs.4.84 (when considered the power plants including Samanala). Accordingly, from every hydro-electric unit a saving of Rs.8.00 is gained it should be noted that now daily loss incurred to CEB is around rupees 120 million. In future, the price of fuel would be higher; therefore generating electricity using fuel would also be a very expensive task.

The price of coal which is considered as low is also going up. In 1990, unit of electricity produced with coal (only energy cost – except for capital expense) was 18 cents. In 2000, it became 90 cents. In 2010 it was Rs.6.00. Now in 2011 it has become Rs.10.71. Accordingly, by 2020 it will be around Rs.35 – 45. As a result even if everyone is supplied by electricity in time, all of us should keep in mind that the era of cheap electricity is over.

In this endeavour, the contribution by public is also necessary.. That is the saving of electricity. Especially, during 6.00 – 10.00 p.m. avoid the use of water pumps, washing machines, Irons and use them at different times. As refrigerator is the main consumer of electricity, switching it off if for 2 – 3 hours will not affect the food items at all. As Air conditioners consume a huge amount of electricity, their economical use is really essential. In addition, you all can contribute to this effort by limiting the street lamps of municipal councils, and Pradesiya Sabhas from 7.00 p.m. – 5.00 a.m. and also by limiting the use of electricity to light up advertisements etc.

Floods and droughts and the shortage of oil, coal and gas and the climatic changes would be the burning issues of the world in the future. If Sri Lanka is not well prepared for this situation, the future of the country would be bleak even if it has many power stations.

~ ~ By Patali Champika Ranawaka
Minister of Power & Energy


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