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Sri Lanka: In The Mid Of Water-Energy Nexus

By Darshana Ashoka Kumara

03 March, 2014

It is our common sense that water and the human life are inextricably linked. Water is part and parcel of all the aspects of human life: health, food production, economic vitality, etc. In a country like Sri Lanka, still we are rich with a good number of water sources. But Sri Lanka has been facing hardships in recent years due to changes of rain patterns, a result of the climate change.

The focus, here, is drawn on the connection between the country’s energy sector and water sources. By and large, fresh water is essential in energy generation. Recently launched World Water Development Report finds that 90 percent of power generation, worldwide needs fresh water for different purposes chiefly for hydropower generation and cooling systems in the thermal and nuclear power plants.

Coal and gas power plants is mushrooming in the developing countries, more water consumption is obvious in the business of power generation in the coming decades.

The World Water Development Report (2014 ) projects that global energy demand would increase by more than one-third by 2035. Electricity demand in the globe is also expected to get raised by 70 percent over the same period.

Globe’s water resources are threatened hugely due to the climate change, resulting extreme weather conditions: long droughts and disastrous rains. For instance, such extreme weather conditions have implication on the energy sector too; hindering the hydro power generation in countries like Sri Lanka.

Electricity generation of the island nation is basically relied on hydro power and thermal heat -- alternative energy sources like photovoltaics and wind power are at the early stage of the development. Also, geothermal, nuclear, peat, solar thermal and wave power are in a promising stage in the country. It is a well known fact that the thermal power electricity generation depends on fossil fuel, biomass and coal.
Country’s power mix made a huge turn over the decades since the commissioning of the inaugural hydropower plant, Laxapana in 1950. The country’s electricity demand was fully met by the hydropower generation till the decade of 1990. At present, it occupies around 30 percent of the power mix.

Hydropower generation was severely hit by the chaotic patterns of the rains with climate change. The climate system of the island nation is a result of the meteorological patterns in the Indian sub continent generated by the tropical circulation.

Sri Lanka is experiencing two wind regimes, the Asian Monsoons: southwest monsoon – prevailing from May to October – and the northeast monsoon – prevailing from December to February. Seasonal rains – which have deep implications over the economy and the life of the island nation for centuries—are a result of the aforementioned monsoons. As per the opinion of the climatologists, annual mean temperature is increasing from 1871-1990, according to the gathered data.

Asian Monsoons have changed their seasonal patterns and a large extent of the country’s hydroelectric resource was badly hit. As hydroelectricity has been dealt with a severe blow owing to the change in the climate, the authorities had to resort to more thermal power sources from 1990’s.

In parallel to the reduction of hydropower generation, thermal power generation secured the lion’s share of the Sri Lanka’s power mix, gradually. But the move has a wide array of political economic consequences over the Sri Lankan society.

At present, 94 percent of households in the country enjoy electricity with the recent booming in infrastructure. Also, making sure of uninterrupted power supply has already become a part and parcel of political agenda in the country during last two decades. 80 percent of the households receive electricity from the national grid and the others from the off grid systems, for instance solar power.

A report issued by the Asian Development Bank in 2013 explicated that Sri Lanka will need to 20.3 million tons of oil equivalent (Mtoe) in 2035. While relying on fossil fuel sources of energy in the future is possible to be a burning issue for Sri Lanka which does not produce fossil fuel in the country; the total amount has to be imported and ultimately it makes the country vulnerable to international oil price fluctuations and pushes up the country’s power generation costs.

Fossil fuel energy would not only hamper the country’s economy but also the environment, at large. Subsidizing fossil fuel by vast majority of governments in the developing world is obvious. The fuel subsidies would serve for engrossing climate change and finally creates vicious circle of downsizing the amount of hydropower energy generation.
It is time opportune to look for alternative sources of energy based on clean renewable sources to quell the country’s energy demand.

“Global fossil fuel consumption subsidies were US$523 billion in 2011, compared to $88 billion financial support for renewable energy.” said Engin Koncagul, Programme Officer of World Water Assessment Programme, UNESCO.

Eliminating subsidies on fossil fuels would surely pave away for possible green technology upsurge; gap of production cost for green energy and the fossil fuel would deplete, too. More investments in the clean energy sources would result renewable energy more cheap.

Oil conglomerates should definitely be reluctant to discourage fossil fuel habit; the sum of money they have altogether invested into the top 200 fossil fuel ventures is around US$ 5.5 trillion. The figure also indicates that each person on the earth has invested about US$ 800 fossil fuel industry, if you divide the investment by the population. Hence, fossil fuel is a huge global business. The nation states will have to exert much toil to get rid from the nasty habit of fossil fuels and turn into clean energy sources.

Darshana Ashoka Kumara is a radio journalist working for the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. He is a fellow of the South Asia Climate Change Award (SACCA) and Asia Journalism Fellowship, Singapore. His reporting interests are Climate Change, Environment, Energy and Disaster Management.




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