2011 Aug. 24: Sri Lanka: (alternative to coal and biomass) Introducing natural gas
If coal is not an acceptable source of electricity, what else are there? Hydro has a few more sites to develop but not adequate enough to meet the future needs. The government is considering nuclear power and has sought the assistance of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to conduct a pre-feasibility study. However, there is no need to spend millions of rupees doing feasibility studies, as common sense dictates that nuclear power is not a suitable option for Sri Lanka, as explained in a recent article written by the author (see “Does Sri Lanka really need nuclear power?” in Nation of 27.03.11). Biomass is a possibility, but it would take time to develop into viable industry.
Source of thermal energy
Natural gas has the other advantage that it could be used as a fuel not only for generating electricity, but also for generating thermal energy and motive power, and as a feed stock for many industries. Thermal energy applications include firing boilers and furnaces, and also meeting the needs of the commercial and domestic sectors as a cooking fuel. Since natural gas is mostly methane which is the simplest hydro-carbon having only one carbon atom and 4 hydrogen atoms in one molecule, it burns efficiently and completely leaving no residual hydrocarbons – in other words producing no pollution, unlike in the case of burning LPG.
A well planned network of pipelines carrying natural gas across the country radiating from Trincomalee would be a cost-effective means of meeting future needs of thermal energy in Sri Lanka. It could replace transporting liquid fuel such as gasoline and diesel and transporting LPG cylinders to all corners of the country. Such a gas pipe line network could feed medium scale combined cycle gas turbine plants located close to load centres thus reducing transmission losses. Such power plants located within industrial estates or hospitality centres could even operate as cogeneration systems producing both electricity and heat which could be used to generate steam required for the industries and hotels. This will increase the thermal efficiency of the system to more than 80%.
The best option the government could do at this stage is to call for proposals from international bidders for the construction of a suitable LNG terminal at Sampur as a BOOT project including the supply of the gas. The government could then decide on the economics of using natural gas versus coal with all external costs added, and judge the best for the country. In the current negotiations with the Indian party, there has been no transparency, which should not have been the case. Once gas is made available in the country, there will be investors who may wish to start various enterprises using gas in such sectors as transport, industries and commercial and domestic supplies. This harbour terminal facility could then be offered to any other party to import LNG for distribution to direct users after re-gasification, be it to feed power plants or to use as feedstock for the manufacture of such products as urea and other chemicals or to serve industrial zones for generating thermal energy. It is desirable, even at this late stage, for the government to renegotiate the Sampur project converting it to operate on LNG and not miss the opportunity to provide people in the country with a clean and a healthy environment. It is the government’s obligation to do so.
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