Net metering with solar panels Contd…

Under the new tariff structure, a consumer is required to pay the relevant tariff corresponding to the particular unit range for the entire monthly consumption, rather than calculate it on a slab by slab basis. Under this situation, the net metering system offers an opportunity for both the mid- and high-consuming householders to benefit by getting an appropriate size solar panel installed in his premises enabling him to reduce the number of units billed from a higher slab to a lower slab, while keeping the consumption the same. For example, a householder consuming 300 units a month could bring down his billed consumption to 120 units by installing a 1.5 kW panel generating about 180 units monthly. It will bring down the billing from a slab charged at Rs. 26 a unit to a lower slab charged at Rs. 15 per unit. He can then save Rs. 8,400 a month or Rs. 108,000 annually. The cost of such a system which is about Rs. 700,000 can be recovered in less than 7 years.

In a second case, if a householder currently consuming about 200 units a month could get a smaller panel say a 1 kW installed, it will reduce his consumption by about 110 units a month which will enable him to come to the 61-90 unit slab, charging only Rs. 8.50 a unit. He can then have a saving of Rs. 5,874 a month or about Rs. 70,500 annually. A cost of such a panel is about Rs. 450,000 and this could be recovered within about 6.4 years. In both cases, for the rest of the life time of the panels which is expected to be more than 25 years, the householder will get a bonus every month. When the electricity tariff goes up in the future, which will invariably happen, his bonus will correspondingly get enhanced.

Considering the cost of individual PV panels sold in the market and those of the net-metering inverter systems, there is a wide price difference and the vendors seem to be fleecing the customers. I wonder whether any local R&D institute involved in electronics such as the NERD Centre, Ja-Ela or the ACCMT, Katubedda made any effort to develop locally inverter circuitry necessary for connecting the solar panels to the grid. It would have been then possible to set up an industry here to manufacture inverter systems which could be offered to consumers at a more affordable price. The potential high demand for these systems would justify setting up a local industry even now.

There is a positive role that the policy makers could play to make the net-metering system popular. As done in many other countries, consumers investing on solar panels need to be granted certain concessions such as rebates and tax deductions on the capital, reduced import duty and low-interest loans. Every kilowatt installed will add up to megawatts and could off-set the megawatts required to be installed by the government at enormous costs. Assuming one watt of installed capacity costs US$ 1.5 as in the case of Puttalam coal plant, installing a 1000 W panel will relieve the government from installing a similar capacity thermal plant and thus save US$ 1,500 or about Rs. 180,000. Hence, a consumer investing Rs. 450,000 on a 1 kW solar system deserves a rebate of Rs. 180,000 or 2/5 of the capital.  Anyone doubting the benefits of solar systems should do an internet search to see for himself the extent to which these are used in other countries.

Dr Janaka Ratnasiri


Polipto” and its Fourth Anniversary

To me, the tenth of February was a significant date. It marked the passage of four years from February 10, 2009. The “Sunday Times” of that date carried astonishing news of a local breakthrough in (economically) converting waste polythene and rubber scrap into bio fuel (diesel). It is probable that the work began even some years earlier.
To refresh our memories, it is necessary to recall the main claims then made.(1) The inventor was a retired Police Officer with 10 years service who chanced on his invention when he melted plastic scrap with sawdust. He filled empty bottles with the fuel (2) The material was analysed by the Petroleum Corporation (CPC) who confirmed that it was a “relatively sulphur free” fuel.
 (3) Moratuwa University (UOM) offered assistance to develop the technology. Meanwhile, companies from India, China, Canada and UK are said to have offered sponsorship deals which were promptly rejected. An Indian Company donated a million rupees to continue development. (4) With existing equipment, the inventor could produce 1000 Litres of fuel per day at a cost of about Rs 30 per litre. (5) With an import of 300,000 tons of plastic annually to Sri Lanka, around 300 million Litres of fuel can be produced. (6) The CPC has already placed orders for 15,000 Litres per day. Vehicle performance has been improved by 7 km/litre (?). The nation could save Rs 2,000,000 (2 billion) per annum, if given “facilities”.
 Two years later,the Central Environment Authority (CEA) took it up and quickly set up the “Polipto” Project in which the inventor holds a 30% share CEA 60% and UOM 10%. It was expected that this technology can transform the country’s finances by substantially cutting the fuel import bill. Another claim that defies belief is that a kilogram of waste produces a Litre of “fuel”. This is astonishing production efficiency.The product is  said to be 86.5% “petroleum”.
Meanwhile, inventor Mr Vithanage was made a Consultant at the CEA at a rumoured monthly allowance of Rs 75,000/= (?) Some years previously,the present writer (Dr UP) was also a Consultant (cum Board Member) drawing an allowance (I recollect) less than one-fifth that! How was authority for this fancy payment obtained?
For several reasons, I have from the time of the initial claim, been very sceptical. Subsequent happenings have greatly deepened this scepticism.
Four years have passed. Undisclosed millions of State Funds have been spent. A complete silence has been observed in respect of all requests for information on progress and costs. No promised fuel has been seen (an exception follows). The whole affair stinks for many reasons, some of which I enumerate below.
Many sophisticated laboratories and the labour of thousands of talented scientists have been devoted to seek an economical and practical process for this vital conversion Success has proved elusive until the astonishing claim from little Sri Lanka.
Scientifically, the claim seems to defy a fundamental law of nature – The Law of Conservation of Energy. Briefly, the conversion of petroleum to polythene is an energyconsuming process. To claim that this could be reversed to a process yielding utilizable  energy flies in the face of the Law of Conservation of Energy (and of commonsense). The additional claim that a kilogram of waste polythene can yield a Litre of fuel is miraculously efficient or plainly untrue. This looks like bad Science and therefore, my prime concern.The new process, we are told, is a matter of a miracle catalyst (which again would defy all known properties of catalysis).
 Only two persons – the inventor Mr Vithanage of Yatiyantota and Professor W.Abeywickreme (lastly Chairman CEB. preceding which Chairman AEA and previously Chairman CEA and I understand, Treasurer JHU throughout!)   have knowledge of the closely guarded secret catalyst. This we are told is safely stored in a flask in an official safe of OUM in the personal custody of the VC. I shudder to think that it may have deteriorated to such an extent in storage that it will no longer be effective when tested again! One hopes not!
When this process (strangely not patented – an obvious insurance against intellectual theft) sees the light of day, Sri Lanka can confidently look forward to its first Nobel Prize for Chemistry – of such World-shattering importance would this obviously be.
I must first express my serious disappointment with our Scientific Community. With very few exceptions, they have chosen to be silent. There are many scientists far more competent than I am, dozens with Chemistry Ph.D’s from top flight Universities the World over and they have remained silent and unconcerned!. Shame on us!  Are we sheep, cowards or so comfortably cocooned that we no longer care or dare? If this is what State Education and Scholarship can produce, what is the case for enhanced (6% GDP) funding? When such a fundamental issue of scientific integrity arises and a revolutionary achievement is  claimed, have the hundreds of us nothing to say? I am absolutely astonished at the apathy and indifference. Even now, would some scientists speak up at least to avoid intra-cranial shrinkage? Or, should they be referred to the timeless lament of Pastor Niemoller against the insidious growth of  Nazism?
My concerns are twofold. Is this claim based on good science.? I do not think so. With a lifetime devoted to science, any compromise on this issue is firmly impossible. The second is that as a citizen and taxpayer, I have a right to know how public monies are spent. Not one person has disclosed this. This is either callous arrogance or a suspicious cover-up
After four long years of tantalizing waiting, I must now name names. I have so far written at least seven (07) letters to the Island (9/11, 22/11 and 29/11/2010: 18/01,23/3 and 3/12/2011: 6/01/2012)  Maybe a few more that could have strayed or been misplaced. Interested readers could refer to the article “Polipto – the Fancy Fuel that Fails to Fire” in the Island of 23 March 2011. This tells the whole sordid story.
By his replies of 20/01/2010 and 25/11/2010 in the Island, Prof Abeywickreme has sought to address some of my concerns. Unfortunately his letters are rich in invective, insult, innuendo and untruths but slim on any facts or technical explanations!
Meanwhile, I have directed my concerns by way of three letters each to then Environment Minister (Mr Champika Ranawake) and then Science Minister (Prof Tissa Vitarana). Despite the lavish backup resources that are available to both, I await the courtesy of even an acknowledgment from either! Remember that the former was pictured, just before some election, pumping litres of Polipto diesel into three-wheelers and mobikes through a commercial fuel pump! Had an unsuspecting Minister been the victim of a cruel hoax? If so, would he even now deal with the pranksters?
On the suggestion of Prof Abeywickreme that ” If Dr UP wants, I am sure he will be able to get information on the money spent on the pilot plant from the CEA without going by rumours”, I wrote two letters to Dr Charitha Herath, then Chairman CEA and now Secretary Media. Contrary to Prof WA’s expectation. here too, the courtesy of acknowledgment or reply is still awaited! Meanwhile Mr Udaya Gammanpila, Chairman CEA when Polipto was launched and I believe a signatory to the relevant Agreement and now a Provincial Minister should know much about this project.
Subsequently, I understand, many millions have been spent on a “Production Plant” for a process which at best is dubious and has yet to establish its commercial and operational feasibility. Further,from where will we get the polythene for sustaining a Plant? Imports or “Silly – Silly” bags?
May I stress that episode is not a joke. Public money seems to have been recklessly, surreptitiously and unconscionably squandered and all responsible should be called to account. Several who have aided and abetted  in this apparently sordid affair should not be allowed to as usual, go scot free. Will the voice of conscience at least speak now?
As for me, I have begun to wonder what options are yet open. Since agencies spending my tax money show no intent to answer my legitimate requests for information, I question whether I owe a moral or ethical responsibilty to disclose to the State how much I earn. The Department of Inland Revenue, please note!
I repeat an oft-expressed challenge. If anyone can convincingly explain that I am wrong in my scientific deductions, I am still prepared to withdraw my reservations. However compromise on this issue is out of the question. I also demand a full and truthful disclosure of costs so far incurred, if I am to have any faith in State fiscal propriety.
Dr  U.Pethiyagoda

Norochcholai coal power plant

Power Failure

(Pic. courtesy

The Island editorial of 25.07.2012 says in its last paragraph “Why the Norochcholai power plant described as an ultra modern power generation facility fails so often defies comprehension”. I am afraid Mr. Editor, you are making a mistake here. Who has described this power plant as an “ultra modern power generation facility”? Even in CEB literature, it has not been described that way. According to the plant’s EIA report, it is a conventional plant burning pulverized coal under sub-critical conditions with efficiency of about 35%. On the other hand, the technology adopted in most countries for coal power plants today is supercritical combustion with efficiency more than 40%. In more advanced countries including China, ultra-supercritical technology with efficiency more than 45% is used. Does the Norochcholai plant belong to any of these two categories for it to be described as an ultra modern facility?

The CEB engineers have a different view. According to a news item in the Island of 27.04.2012, CEB Engineers have protested on many occasions claiming that the Chinese contractor was delivering a substandard plant. In another news item appearing inSRILANKABRIEF website dated 30.04.2012, senior CEB engineers, associated with the troubled Norochcholai coal power plant, have complained that even after more than a year of commercial operation the Chinese contractor is yet to provide vital documents such as the Operation and Maintenance manuals and ‘as-built’ drawings of the facility.

It had also been reported in the media that Minister Patali Champaka Ranawaka has appointed a high-powered four member committee last February to probe the recurrent breakdowns of the coal power plant and the report would be expected in two months. Now, two months have long past and the report would have been submitted. For the general public who are now called upon to stay in dark for hours with the power cuts introduced, it would be some consolation if they are told what was wrong with the coal plant.

One important aspect the committee should have looked into was whether the plant is a brand new one or one that has been de-commissioned recently. It is customary for any manufacturer supplying products for overseas markets to have all instruction manuals prepared in English to be given along with the product. Apparently, it has been not so with the plant delivered here, according to CEB engineers. One could only infer from this that the plant is not a new one.

According to China Daily of 02.07.2007, more than 100 such (supercritical and ultra-supercritical) power generation units are now being built by Chinese power generator suppliers and international manufacturers for a new generation of larger power plants to replace in three to five years, the inefficient, small thermal power stations built during the hectic business expansion of the 1980s and ’90s. China is not going to scrap the decommissioned plants. Could the plant sold to Sri Lanka be one of those decommissioned plants?

Dr Janaka Ratnasiri