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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2619

Development of renewable energy sources has become a national priority for energy security in Sri Lanka.

From Sunil C. Perera - Reporting from Colombo

Colombo, 25 July, ( A Sri Lankan academic, Dr. Mrs. Hemanthi Ranasingha says that the Development of renewable energy sources has become a national priority for energy security in Sri Lanka. The Energy Policy of the country clearly states that by 2015 at least 10% of the power generation should be achieved through renewable sources. Dendro thermal energy generation using biomass has been paid much attention lately.

She said that Dendro power plants face many hurdles among which the irregular and sub-optimum supply of feedstock, the high moisture content of the feedstock, constant failures in the grid connection, the cost of production (Rs. 8.00/unit) being higher than the selling price (Rs. 6.50/unit) were significant. However, after many deliberations the Ceylon Electricity Board had agreed to purchase the electricity at Rs. 8.50/unit.

According to a recent study, conducted by Mrs. Ranasingha, that feedstock would be available in amounts 3 times the required level from the surrounding area. Factors which contributed to this deviation were the difficult terrain which posed difficulties for the farmer to bring the feedstock to the road for collection, low price offered for the feedstock, the cumbersome procedure involved in the processing of the wood (including chopping and drying), farmers engaged in occupations with better prospects. Further, due to the noise, fly ash, problems with the disposal of storm water etc. the neighborhood was disappointed with the Project, thus refrained from supplying feedstock.

Therefore, the supply chain had become quite long and since they have to be transported from far, cost of transport has been high. Despite the fact that the Dendro plant pays Rs. 2.70/kg plus 0.25/kg for transport, only a small fraction goes to the farmer (Rs. 1.00/kg on wet basis, Rs. 1.50/kg on dry basis).

There was expectation that energy plantations would be established (managed by communities) to supply wood for the project, presently the supply has been entirely from home gardens/private lands. No energy plantation has been established. However, as Gliricidia has already been planted as a support for pepper and was consequently in abundance in all the areas studied, there was no dearth of wood. The amount of wood produced depends on the extent of the garden and its condition. Large gardens recorded high yields thus high incomes while those with smaller land operated on a subsistence level. Assuming that the Gliricidia has been planted at 2.5 x 2.5m spacing and an average tree will record 6 kg of wood, the expected weight of wood if pruned once a year should be around 6,800 kg. This will record an income of Rs. 6,800/acre (Rs. 1 be paid to 1 kg of wet wood). However, in general gardens produced about little more than 2,500 – 3,500 kg thus registering an income of Rs. 2,500 – 3,500 /acre; which is much lower than expected.

The majority of the farmers who participated in the programme did so as an additional income. However, due to the difficult terrain and the labor days spent on processing (cutting, chopping and drying) there was less willingness to participate in the project. There was a general request to increase the price paid to feed stock at the rate Rs. 3.00 for a kg of dried wood (moisture content less than 35%) and Rs. 2.00 for a kg of wet wood. The principal participants were men in majority of instances although women and children participated in the chopping, drying etc. However, the young men/women did not consider this as a lucrative livelihood option. The collectors were benefiting well from the project, their average income being around Rs. 30,000.

From the farmer’s side, the lower price paid for the feedstock and the difficulties encountered in drying due to lack of space in their gardens were mentioned. The collectors too experienced difficulties during the rainy period and the festival months in procuring stable feedstock.

Selection of a suitable site is paramount for the success of such a project. Availability of ample feedstock, easy terrain for transporting and processing the material, location in the area where competitive employments are not widespread are all important factors. Further, it would be most appropriate if the plant is located on flat terrain in dry zone/dry intermediate zone so that the climatic factors will also aid in the fast drying of the feedstock.

While depending on the small holders for supply of feedstock, it is likely to be important to have a separate dedicated energy plantation to supply at least 1/3 of the feedstock on a regular basis. This will aid in the uninterrupted feed stock supply all year round. It is thus important for the plant to be located in a place where sufficient land is available to establish an energy plantation. The management of this area can be done by the dendro plant itself or contracted out. A full environmental assessment should be undertaken prior to the establishment of the dendro plant. The adverse impacts thus identified should be suitably mitigated prior to the establishment. The site should be located at least 500m away from a residential area.

It would be ideal to purchase the feedstock in raw and uncut conditions from the farmers and process it in the factory. The long sticks can be chopped using an industrial chipper or a chipper could be a component of the collection truck so that more material can be taken in one trip. The chipped wood stock can then be dried on land belonging to the factory. The extent of this land should be such that at least one month’s stock can be stored.

The supply chain should be kept as short as possible and the transportation distances should be also minimized. This will help to accrue more benefits to the farmer who are located at the end of the chain. If agents are also included in the chain, they should be monitored so that the feedstock is bought at standardized rates.

The price paid for the feedstock should be increased, at least Rs. 3.00 for dried stock and Rs. 2 for wet stock. This will enable the effective participation of the farmers in the project.

When selecting the type of feedstock, Gliricidia sepium or Calliandra calothyrsus can be used for all island and upcountry respectively. However, in the case of energy plantations, a species which has less moisture content ie Leucaena leucocephala, Cassia siamea, Trema orientalis, Eucalyptus camaldulensis, Acacia auriculiformis, can be used in the dry zone while Calliandra calothyrsus, Grevilea robusa can be used in the wet highlands. The widely available Prosopis juliflora (Kalapu andara) available in the Hambantota area can be used for a dendro project located at close proximity.

Finally, the dendro plant should be established in an area where the grid connection is optimal and functioning without any interruptions. It is important to recommend that the government should facilitate the creation of a demand for dendro energy to be used in the industrial sector so that there would be more demand for this type of clean energy in the country. Further, as this is an energy which is more sustainable in the long term, the purchase price should be further increased, thus on par with that of diesel.

- Asian Tribune -

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