Solar power brightens Vanni villages

[TamilNet, Sunday, 09 November 2003, 01:24 GMT]
Privately owned small scale diesel generators produce the only electric power available in key towns in the Vanni region. While a new 20MW thermal power plant in Jaffna was recently reactivated by the Sri Lanka Government officials, it is doubtful that Vanni towns and villages will enjoy grid supplied electric power for many years to come. With the region enjoying copious supply of solar energy and buoyed by success of early experiments, planners in Kilinochchi are exploring the use of photo-voltaic systems for domestic applications.

Solar energy for Vanni power
(L-R) Anbarasan, Head of Village Upliftment project and Sunderamoorthy Technology Director at TECH
Using US expatriate funding through the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) a pilot project to fit community centers in fifty selected villages in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu with Solar Home Systems (SHS) under the Village Upliftment Project was completed in August of this year.

Anbarasan, Head of the Project, said, "Children in these villages assemble in designated community centers from 6-9pm to obtain help with their school work from local teachers. Our decision to fit the SHSs to community centers has created excitement among the villagers and children as they can study in well-lit areas without worrying about the cost of keeping kerosine based lanterns."

Solar energy for Vanni power
Jeyakumar and Tharmakulasingham, TRO Officers overseeing Solar system installation and maintenance
Mr.Sunderamoorthy, Technical Director at The Economic Consultancy House (TECH - a local NGO), who is providing the technical assistance in introducing alternative energy systems to Vanni, told TamilNet, "Typically these installations need anywhere from 35W to 65W systems to power 3 to 5 compact fluorescent bulbs (CFB) each with 10-12W power. Our intention is to monitor the progress of this pilot effort and move to the next step where we can manufacture the solar panels and build the electronic component that controls the system in our local manufacturing facility."

"We are collecting data from the first phase installations of the 28 villages. Based on the results we will define configurations for the next stage in our effort. We have to decide what type of photovoltaic cells to use in building our panels. A low cost charge-controller with off-the-shelf integrated circuits (ICs) needs to be designed and built. We estimate we can build 40-60W SHS systems at nearly half current cost (ie. $200 instead of the shelf price of $400)," said Sunderamoorthy.

Solar energy for Vanni power
Mullaitivu villages where Solar systems were fitted to village community centers as part of the Village Upliftment Project (click on the map for a larger version)

Village Upliftment Project
Villages in Kilinochchi district where solar lighting systems were fitted to community centers as part of Village Upliftment Project (click on the map for a larger version)

"Although the 28 villages of the first group were mostly in Karaichi district, closer to Kilinochchi, the other 22 villages in the first phase are more evenly distributed," said Jeyakumar who is involved in the installations and responsible for the day to day maintenance of the installed units.

12V, 40W solar panel
A 12V Solar panel capable of producing 40W waits installation at the Kilinochchi storage
Vinayagapuram community center
Anbarasan talking to children at Vinayagapuram community center

Children at Vinayagapuram
Vinayagapuram community center where children await their evening study sessions under solar powered lights
40W solar panel
Solar panel mounted on thatched roof of Vinayagapuram community center

A more ambitious investigation is also in progress in the Kilinochchi agricultural research farm where a 10KW electricity generation system using photo-voltaic cells and wind generator feeds a grid that supplies electric power to the offices and resident housing units within the farm.

Solar energy for Vanni power
Varathan, technician who maintains the 10kW solar-windgenerator facility
A 2KW wind-generator and 8kW solar generated electrical energy are fed through a charge-controller device to charge a 48V dc battery arrangement. This configuration is suitable for a community or village setting that includes a small number of houses in close proximity to each other. This experimental unit is expected to provide the planning group in Vanni information on scale, cost and maintenance issues and also technical knowledge on building a low cost grid to supply a local community.

"This system also allows a backup diesel generator to charge the batteries. During days when there is heavy power consumption and the stored battery charge runs low, we use the diesel generator to keep the local consumers satisfied," said Varathan who maintains the 'power plant.'

Solar energy for Vanni power
Board in front of the 10KW experimental solar-windgenerator facility at Kilinochchi farm
Solar energy for Vanni power
Solar panels that feed a set of 48V-DC batteries. Total capacity of 6KW

48V battery configuration
A 48V DC configuration of lead acid batteries (6 parallel connected set of 4-12V batteries in series)
Inverter-Charge controller units
Charge controller and Inverter arrangement. The unit feeds 230V AC local grid.

Sri Lanka is domestically dependent on fuel, wood and hydro-power. The current installed capacity of 1,779 MW, of which the CEB (Ceylon Electricity Board) owns a total of 1,593 MW, comprises 1,137 MW of hydropower, 453 MW of thermal power and 3 MW of wind power. The private sector owns 186 MW of thermal power.

The demand for electricity in Sri Lanka has been growing at an average annual rate of 8%. Dependence on costly thermal power was increased from 21% in 1990 to 35% in 2000. Power generation will need to be increased from 6,800 GWh in 2000 to about 15,000 GWh in 2013. The share of hydropower is expected to decrease to 32%. The balance will be met by thermal power generation.

With the above statistics, and the debilitating power-cuts experienced even in Colombo, it is prudent for planners in NorthEast to focus on efforts to harness the abundant solar and wind energy available in order to become self-sufficent in power.


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