Diesels bridge Sri Lanka`s temporary hydro gap

By Gillian Wales


No new power plants have been built in Sri Lanka during the past six years, despite an annual 10 percent increase in electricity demand. The island`s capacity crunch has been compounded by two consecutive years of drought conditions and a continued reliance on hydroelectric power, which provides more than 80 percent of the nation`s total electricity requirements.

Sri Lanka`s electricity generating system remains predominantly hydroelectric. Total installed capacity of the national grid is 1,440 MW with hydropower stations comprising 1,115 of the total. Thermal capacity owned by the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) is about 250 MW, of which about 150 MW is currently operating. According to the CEB`s recent long-term generation forecasts, Sri Lanka needs to add about 2,000 MW of new capacity between 1999 and 2010.

The inability to quickly add capacity, growing demand forecasts and reliance on hydropower continue to create the possibility of power shortages. Currently, about 65 percent of the country`s daily power demand is met by hydropower generating stations. Due to the failure of northeast monsoon rains supplied from December to March, hydropower reservoirs were reported to be only 34 percent full over the summer, with less than 45 days of generating capacity available.

During March to August 1996, the country experienced power cuts lasting as long as eight hours a day.

In order to help head off Sri Lanka`s energy crisis, government officials began searching for vendors of emergency baseload power. The search led to Aggreko, supplier of power rental equipment and temporary generation packages on a turnkey basis.

To provide an immediate solution to Sri Lanka`s power problems, Aggreko initially signed a contract with CEB for a 20 MW, temporary power station running at 11 kV. The government arranged rapid customs clearance to facilitate delivery and the CEB waited with a prepared project site and assistance.

Twenty-seven diesel generators were shipped to Sri Lanka from Singapore, the Caribbean and the Netherlands. The package allowed basic infrastructure services to be restored and helped power hospitals, industry and homes around Colombo.

Additional capacity was still desperately needed. In June 1996, the diesel supply for Sri Lanka was increased to 43 MW–adding 16 MW for Pellyagoda and 7 MW for Ambathale. By January 1997, power was still not sufficient for Sri Lanka`s industry to run at normal production levels. To boost the sagging economy, another 20 MW diesel contract was signed. This additional 20 MW was spread around the outskirts of Columbo. A further and final contract for another 30 MW was awarded in March 1997.

While prime mover rental has been a workable solution in solving Sri Lanka`s short-to-medium term power crisis, more permanent solutions representing a variety of power generation technologies are being reviewed by the government.