Solar energy and Net Metering – ‘No Brainer’ or bright idea?


Please permit me to comment on the opinion piece by Eng. Jayanatha Ranatunga entitled "Net metering -no brainer", in your columns on May 14. Here Mr. Ranatunga has essentially repeated the views he had expressed in a previous article written on the 3rd of April. His main argument is that going in for solar energy is counter-productive because solar panels produce energy during the day time, while the peak demand in Sri Lanka occurs in the night. "Net metering" is feeding the excess electricity from the solar panels back into the "mains" and getting paid for it by the CBE.

Mr. Ranatunga says:

"... solar energy will not help to reduce the CEB’s installed generating capacity, as the latter is determined by the peak demand. Therefore all those solar PV systems are unnecessary duplications of countries' existing generating capacity ...."

This "argument" is also garnished with a dubious attack on "...many powerful groups such as solar PV system vendors (over 50 in number), rich powerful consumers, INGOs, environmentalists..." etc.

Writing to ‘The Island’ of May 4 I explained the implicit assumptions and shortcomings of Eng. Ranatunga's arguments. So here I will not repeat that discussion in full. Instead I want to just re-iterate only one point, namely, the issue of the "peak usage time".

Today, in Sri Lanka the peak usage occurs, indeed, during the the evening when people relax with their TV and other electronic entertainments. However, as an Engineer, Mr. Ranatunga can study how usage patterns have been changing. Increasingly, all buildings in the mercantile sector, in tourism and in health care are being air conditioned. If electricity could be made available cheaply, people will air-condition their own homes. This means, the peak usage will in fact move towards the day time, a trend that we already anticipate form Sri Lanka's developmental trajectory.

Increasing living standards and development are accompanied by daytime use of electricity in industry and the service sector. So, net-metering is far from being a "no-brainer". It will make electricity cheaper during the day time, and cheap electricity will make people install air-conditioning, heat pumps and other devices that will move peak usage times to be in step with solar-energy production. The new developments in infrastructure undertaken by the government will encourage industrial usage, i.e., electricity usage during the day time. Tourism will make increasing day-time demands on energy. Electrified mass transport, expected within a decade, will also demand day-time electricity.

So, the "no-brainer actually fails to look at how the use of power has evolved so far and is to evolve in the near future and does not appreciate that this evolution will be further stimulated positively by solar energy installations using net metering. The consumer, the CEB, the environment, and even consulting technologists (like Mr. Ranatunga !) will benefit from it before long. It is an excellent investment that pays off as the economy evolves.

Chandre Dharmawardana,


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