Solar Power Industry Calls Foul

The Solar Industries Association (SIA) is alleging that there are moves by ‘high- level government officials to reduce the unit cost of electricity offered to rooftop solar power.’

At a media conference held at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute on July 9, the Association’s representatives stated that such a move would negatively impact the government’s plan of having 80%  renewable energy by 2030, destroy the Solar Rooftop industry and also result in large-scale job losses.  The officials are planning to change government policy in a subtle manner so that long- term emergency power could be purchased at a huge cost to the country, the Association further added.

The SIA has also learnt that the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) plans ‘to increase the electricity tariff unit by nearly Rs. 6 per unit to cover current losses,” they said.

Lakmal Fernando, Secretary of the Association stated that currently, 270 MW is supplied to the National Grid through 25,000 solar systems while ground mounted systems contribute another 62MW.  This has been the contribution since 2016.  Though a 150 Tenders have been submitted since 2016, only 30 have been approved so far.  The slow pace not only hinders connecting more solar powered systems to the National Grid it also means depriving consumers the cheaper option.  When the CEB continues to rely on emergency power purchase, it helps private companies who supply this form of power become richer, while the consumer loses out.

The Association claims that there are several obstacles such as delays in approving applications to install rooftop solar power, obstructions faced by consumers who apply for loans to install solar systems, the assessment charge of Rs. 15,000 from applicants who apply for the solar power system loan scheme under the ADB and giving coal and diesel priority, that disrupt the smooth functioning of the solar power industry, and prevent consumers from enjoying the cheaper option.

A kilowatt of electricity powered through diesel and oil costs Rs. 37.12 while generating the same through coal costs Rs. 22.50. However, it costs the CEB only Rs. 19.80 per unit to purchase solar power from those who have installed this system, SIA pointed out.   Purchasing solar power from consumers who produce it, will be beneficial for the economy and also help save valuable foreign exchange. ‘In 2020 alone, there is a cost saving of Rs. 17.62 per every oil-fired energy replaced by Rooftop solar,’ SIA says, adding that it would save the country a total of US$ 34 million (LKR 6.3Bn) in foreign exchange.

The CEB could also purchase a unit of land-based large scale solar power at almost Rs. 10, SIA states, adding that the massive losses incurred by the CEB over the last several years could have been averted if it had gone with the option of developing the solar power industry. However, the CEB continues to rely on the more costly, environmentally unfriendly fossil based fuel generation.

If 200 MW is added annually commencing from 2021 to 2030 the 2 GW energy generation target of the government could be achieved, and if the solar option is pursued, it will require less than 200,000 rooftop solar systems, SIA claimed.

What the country requires is a National Energy Policy, said the Vice President of SIA, Parakrama Jayasinghe, and removing the monopoly that a few sections hold over power generation.  The Rooftop system can be fixed even on a small house and increase the production of solar power.

He explained that by producing electricity through solar power, the consumer today becomes the “Prosumer.’  It is a concept that can be exercised by domestic and as well as industrial and commercial users. The ‘Surya Bala Sangramaya’ initiative introduced two options he said; the Net Accounting System where the CEB compensates the producer for any electricity generated over and above self-consumption and the Net Plus system where all of the power generated through the rooftop system is connected to the national grid and is paid for by the CEB.  It means that every Roof Top can become a power plant, Mr.Jayasinghe said.  With 10,000 rooftops on Net Accounting, it’s an annual profit of nearly 1.5 billion rupees to the CEB, he pointed out.

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