The Lanka Electricity Company (LECO) together with the University of Moratuwa (UoM) on Thursday launched a pilot project consisting of a commercial microgrid and a research and development facility that will study renewable energy and smart grids.
The launch of the project took place at The Kingsbury and was attended by representatives from various organisations as well as industry leaders. A technical session gave the attendees a better idea of the project and the contributions of key stakeholders like LECO and the Moratuwa University as well as DIMO and DHYBRID, which will be supplying a comprehensive renewable energy microgrid consisting of power generation and storage.
The LECO Smartgrid Laboratory will be maintained by LECO for the first 20 years and the initial investment has been made through the Asian Development Bank’s Clean Energy Financing Partnership Facility. The microgrid project is being carried out with a $ 1.8 million and will reach completion in nine months.
Addressing the audience at the event, ADB Country Director for Sri Lanka Dr. Chen Chen said the Government of Sri Lanka, the Moratuwa University, LECO, and ADB worked closely to conceptualise the project. “Finally, Sri Lanka’s first microgrid type renewable energy project can start implementation in spite of the challenges brought by the global COVID-19 pandemic,” he added.
The project was a turning point in the country’s power sector, Power Minister Dullas Alahapperuma said, explaining that the event was important in two ways. “Firstly, we all bear witness to the modernisation of the country’s technology. This is an extremely important factor. Secondly, multiple parties have set aside differences and come together in accepting the national challenges of our power sector,” he said. The key target of increasing renewable power generation to 70% of the country’s capacity by 2030 and accompanying sub-targets pose several challenges to the country, from fair pricing and supply to protecting the environment.
However, Alahapperuma added that the Power Ministry was open to working with various parties to face these challenges and reach the target set by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Secretary to the Power Ministry Wasantha Perera also shared her thoughts at the event, explaining how a minor accident in the power system which resulted in the withdrawal of 6% of power generation led to the total collapse of the system.
“The slight abrasion led to the withdrawal of approximately 40% of the generation and, unfortunately, cascaded to a complete collapse of the power system of the country. I am yet to understand how a minor disturbance of a magnitude of 6% initially led to a total collapse of our system,” she added.
Perera went on to state that the incident made her take a closer look at the power system and understand that, unlike other systems, the power sector works in synchronism. The microgrid concept could add stability and reliability to this system.
While officials of the Power Ministry understandably discussed the importance of the project to the country’s power sector, officials of the Education Ministry focused on the opportunities for innovation provided by the project.
Secretary to the Education Ministry Prof. Kapila C.K. Perera said, “Without innovation, we will not be able to have sustainable development.” He explained that innovation was required in all industries, from the service sector to manufacturing and that innovation and education drive economies.
Nurturing human capital and providing them with the right platforms are thus key requirements, as are trust and investment in education. While he also spoke about reliability and sustainability playing a key role in this aspect, Education Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris went into greater detail about these two points.
“What this country has lacked for a long time is central planning. We have had a situation of drastic changes of policy between changes of government, but in a matter such as the generation of power, there has to be continuity, a long term plan, and consistency of application,” he said, adding that this was a way to instil confidence in investors and accomplish objectives.
Prof. Peiris explained the need for innovative thinking, not only in the power sector but in terms of local production as a whole, as strict restrictions on imports have led to a dire need for local production.
He added that the three key sectors affected by the COVID-19 pandemic were tourism, remittances from the Middle East, and export income. The latter, however, was bouncing back largely due to the innovative steps taken by local companies.
However, local production relies heavily on electricity and the availability of power. Projects of this nature were vital for this reason.
“What we are trying to do is to anticipate the contribution that can be made by other, lesser sources of power or micro sources of power like solar power and wind power,” the Education Minister added.
The speakers went on to highlight how the partnership between LECO, UoM, and ADB, along with DIMO and DHYBRID will help Sri Lanka’s strong drive for clean energy development, while reaching its goal of 70% renewable energy by 2030.