Sri Lanka utility moots railway electrification to use excess energy

Dec 12 (EconomyNext) – Sri Lanka’s state-run electricity utility is looking at railway electrification and pump storage to make use of excess energy generated with the recent commissioning of new coal power plants.

"We have three coal plants now with 900MW of capacity, giving 40 percent of our energy," said Shavindranath Fernando, General Manager of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB).

"Sometimes peak daily demand is only a little above 1,000MW so sometimes we cannot run all 900MW to meet off peak demand

With a total generation capacity of 3,928MW, this means shutting off coal power plants or running them below optimum capacity which is not usually done.

"There are a whole host of options to make use of coal power which we’re not doing now," Fernando said.

Transport was an obvious option with the grid now having enough capacity to support railway electrification and a new metro rail.

"Is transport outside our purview?" he asked at a recent energy forum. "There’s a very good case for us to do it."

Railway electrification has been talked about since the 1980s and recent studies have shown that rail transport costs are much cheaper than road, Fernando said.

"Studies show that the cost of diesel is 20 cents per passenger kilometer compared with only seven cents on electrified railways.

"So what are we doing? Having our coal power plants sitting there and burning more diesel. Would any prudent person do that? From 2002 we’ve been trying to electrify rail. The CEB itself has done studies but to no avail."

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Other options to absorb the newly generated CEB excess energy were to promote use of electric cars and encouraging the industrial sector to switch to electric boilers from biomass boilers to which they had shifted because of prolonged high grid electricity costs on the island.

Electricity tariffs were recently reduced with new coal plants coming on stream.

Fernando said the Ceylon Electricity Board was looking at ‘pump storage’ where water from a lower elevation reservoir is pumped to one higher up using excess energy during times of low electricity demand to recharge the former’s storage capacity.

"We have so much of coal power, to make the best use of coal we could go for pump storage."
 

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