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How the Use of Coal is Impacting Sri Lanka

2018 May 30

Sri Lanka is party to the Paris Agreement on climate change, and is bound to support the global front on building long term climate frameworks. In this atmosphere, due to a collection of quite recent events, public spotlight has been shone on the management of coal in power stations and the future of the electricity and power within the country.

This is the current situation we are in, in terms of power management.

How is our country powered?

• Sri Lanka generates a majority (40%) of its electricity through coal. The rest is provided through structured means of hydro, wind, independent power producers, and thermal oil.

• The state policy on energy acquisition is generally put forward by the Central Electricity Board, and is regulated by the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka.

• Currently the Least Cost Long Term Development Plan has been put forth by the CEB, and a debate has been built on whether or not Sri Lanka should maximize the use of non-renewable forms of energy. The plan was established overlooking the years from 2018 to 2037.

What is coal?

Two major forms of coal that are used for industrial processes are thermal coal (used for power production), and metallurgical coal (used for steal production).Thermal coal poses combustible properties which increases its utility to humans. Coal is used for a variety of other reasons as well, of course.

Coal power plants currently produce 37% of the global electricity.

The primary danger in igniting coal is that it releases toxic by products such as oxides of nitrogen and sulfur. Apart from this coal produces a variety of waste products. Waste products include ash (fly ash and bottom ash), Boiler slag, and flue gas desulfurization material. They are collectively known as coal combustion residuals.

Moving away from all this, what should be understood is that coal is clearly not a renewable source of energy and it contains a lot of by products, both of which are not very favourable to the environment.

Let us take a look at our country’s coal usage for a moment. It is important to know that the UNDP and the Asian Development Bank had put together a report, published in 2017, where they concluded that if Sri Lanka does start generating electricity 100% through renewable energy sources, we would be able to save close to 18 to 19 billion annually once reaching the year 2050.

The environmental impact coal has in Sri Lanka is incredibly high.

The Norochcholai power plant does not have an environment protection license. This situation has existed since June last year. This leads to us to question the factors that may have resulted in this situation. Firstly, there exists an issue with the recycling of ash which is a resultant of the used coal. Discussions with the people living within close range have taken place with no sustainable solution. Apart from this, concerns about poisonous fumes release as by products has been raised. Dr. Ranil Senanayake, a renowned ecologist, has raised concerns alongside the Executive Director of the Center for Human Rights and Research on such toxic fumes reaching and potentially harming the Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura.

On a global perspective, the UNEP releases an annual report with regards to the developments on the uses of fossil fuels and global management of green house gases, which is known as the Emissions Gap Report. The 2017 report sheds some light with regards to the movement that is necessary to bridge the gaps in phasing out coal. It should be noted that nearly 40% of global carbon emission by fossil fuels are resultants of coal. Though Sri Lanka is not the biggest user of coal, the commitments it has made through the Paris agreement and the capacity it poses in moving to a more renewable source provides enough and more room for public outcry for continued developments in the power sector that doesn’t focus on non- dispatchable forms of energy.

The annual growth in energy demand fluctuates around a range of about 6%-8%. This calls for an immediate action plan required by the government in order to build an infrastructure plan that serves the future instead of the present. This argument is built around where we lack in the technology and logistics of building a domestic framework.

A number of NGOs point out that an action plan to improve the technical expertise and education on a ground level is required to make drastic changes in the energy industry. It is up to our officials to decide if this change should begin today.