Scaling Up Wind Power in Sri Lanka
Published: 10 June 2021
The country’s first large-scale wind farm sets the groundwork for sustainable renewable energy investment and deployment.
Sri Lanka has made significant progress in the electricity sector over the last decades. It boosted national electrification to nearly 100% in 2018 from 29% in 1990.
However, the energy sector struggles to meet the growing demand for affordable and reliable electricity. The share of fossil fuels in the power generation mix is increasing. Efforts to shift to clean energy have been hampered by a lack of capacity, incentives, and investments to develop large-scale renewable energy projects and associated transmission facilities. Increasing renewables in the energy mix are vital to reducing the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions by 20% in support of the country’s climate action targets under the Paris Agreement.
Sri Lanka’s first 100-megawatt (MW) wind park on the south coast of Mannar Island is seen as a game changer in its transition to clean energy. It is estimated to generate 345,600 megawatt-hour per year, which is equivalent to avoiding about 265,700 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.
Supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the wind power project is helping the Ceylon Electricity Board to build its capacity to undertake large-scale wind energy operations and act as a wind park developer that can attract private investors. It is also helping the sector benchmark the cost of renewable energy for large-scale developments and the potential of integrating them to the national grid.
What is also interesting about this project is that it was carried out amid many challenges, including those posed by the natural environment and by the COVID-19 pandemic. Efficient planning and implementation and innovative and holistic approaches enabled the project to meet its deliverables.
A Unique Project
The Mannar Island wind farm is a unique project in many ways. It is the largest wind farm in Sri Lanka and marks the return of Vestas Wind Systems A/S to the country after 19 years.
Vestas, a leading sustainable energy solutions provider from Denmark, installed the wind turbines in Sri Lanka’s first wind farm in Hambantota with a total installed capacity of 3 MW, which helped demonstrate the potential of wind power in the country. The Ceylon Electricity Board contracted the company for Phase 1 of the project on Mannar Island. This involves the delivery, installation, and commissioning of 30 state-of-the-art wind turbines, each rated to 3.45 MW, with a total installed capacity of 103.5 MW. Vestas also assisted the Ceylon Electricity Board in ensuring engineering oversight of wind turbine installation, commissioning and testing activities, and technical certification of contractor's activities throughout the construction period.
The scope of the project however went beyond the regular engineering, procurement, construction, and supply and installation contracts as it involved a range of public works on Mannar Island, a dry and barren peninsula in the Northern Province, the poorest province in the country. The capacity of the Trincomalee Harbor was upgraded so that the seaport can accommodate extra-large cargo that was required in the construction of the wind farm. Public roads were also built leading to the project site. Vestas also developed residential and administrative complexes for the Ceylon Electricity Board at the site.
Overcoming Various Challenges
The last of the 30 wind turbines was commissioned on time in March 2021 despite restrictions on travel and movement because of the pandemic. This was made possible through the combined effort of all parties involved.
Vestas did not stop manufacturing the equipment for the project. Key experts traveled to the site when there were available flights. Trainings and support for project implementation were provided online where possible.
The Ceylon Electricity Board worked with the government in coordination with ADB to obtain permission to work during lockdowns and curfew hours, following local and international health regulations, and import clearance for materials and equipment.
The wind farm is located on a key bird migration path, which is a concern that was raised in the project’s environmental impact assessment study. This issue was addressed by using high-level technology to mitigate biodiversity issues. The wind farm is equipped with a radar-based bird detection system that tracks incoming birds and temporarily shuts down the system until the birds are at a safe distance. Bird diverters were also installed to avoid collisions along the Vankalai Bird Sanctuary (a Ramsar site), where a section (about 10 kilometers long) of the high-voltage transmission line route passes through.
Delivering Clean and Reliable Electricity
The Mannar Island project is helping Ceylon Electricity Board along its efforts to harness the monsoon winds in Sri Lanka as it has hydropower in the last century. Large hydropower facilities make up about a third of total generated power in the country.
Aside from Vestas, consulting group COWI A/S from Denmark supported the Ceylon Electricity Board in conducting a design review. It also strengthened its supervision capacity to implement future wind power projects and its ability to forecast, control, and manage intermittent renewable energy in the power system through dedicated control centers.
A consortium of Siemens Ltd (India) and the Sri Lankan engineering service DIMO supported the installation of shunt reactors, which are used in high-voltage energy transmission systems to control the voltage during load variations and to ensure the reliability of wind park operations.
The government and Ceylon Electricity Board are already working on site assessment and prefeasibility studies for the development of another 100 MW in the second phase of the project. The wind farm also has potential for an additional 100 MW after the second phase.
The way the Mannar Island project was developed and implemented, together with policy dialogues, has motivated the government and energy sector to develop such large-scale renewable energy parks, including the Siyambalanduwa Solar Park and Pooneryn Wind and Solar Hybrid Energy Park.
Asian Development Bank (ADB). Sri Lanka: Wind Power Generation Project.
ADB. 2021. Helping Sri Lanka to Go Green. Project Result/Case Study. 26 May.
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