The “rural energy crisis” is receiving increasing attention from development policy makers as it affects the very survival of the vast majority of the world’s population, who live in rural areas of countries. developing, and is also deeply linked to the overall concept of sustainable development. The links between rural energy and sustainable development, however, need to be understood in the overall context of the energy situation in developing countries. It also fits extremely well with SDG 7 of the 2030 Agenda as an essential and vital strategy to achieve it.
The key message for policy makers is: Give wood energy a fair chance in your country’s energy mix to make the world a more sustainable and environmentally friendly place.
Departing from the conventional classification of energy as a fuel source that hides many development issues, Sri Lanka’s energy demand can be identified as broadly made up of two major energy groups (1) Centralized commercial energy composed of electricity, fossil fuels and commercial renewable energy sources (2) Non-commercial decentralized energy consisting mainly of biomass and other indigenous energy resources.
According to data from the Sustainable Energy Authority (SEA), the largest component of energy demand in Sri Lanka in 2018 is biomass energy amounting to 46.2, followed by 41% oil and 12.3% electricity (energy balance 2018). Biomass is also the main source of energy in households and industry comprising 64..9% and 74..7% respectively, which underlines its importance as the lifeblood of the rural sector comprising 81% of the population. total and industrial sector.
It is evident that the burden of meeting the energy needs of group 1 has been taken up not by the government but by the rural populations themselves led by women to ensure the subsistence and means of subsistence of the rural populations for whom the government showed no appreciation. or any interest. The trivial fact is that 191.4 PJ of energy representing 46.2% of the energy mix has never been the concern of energy sector planning. What matters should not be the type of energy source or fuel but the energy service provided which are thermal, light, mechanical and digital energy needs.
While the energy sector is to be commended for achieving 100% electrification in Sri Lanka, which is a remarkable achievement, the current portfolios of energy sector ministries focus only on the development of energy sector projects. production of oil, electricity and renewable solar, wind and hydroelectric power. The main source of non-commercial biomass is neglected. It is also observed that the term energy has been violated by identifying petroleum under the Ministry of Energy, which is a misnomer which may create contradictions in policy as the term energy is used to encompass all energy resources. .
The energy sector incurred 699 billion rupees in foreign exchange, nearly 32% of export earnings, and huge expenditure to maintain a strong organizational infrastructure to meet commercial energy needs while neglecting the non-commercial energy needs of consumers. rural poor and real estate.
This trend to rely on biomass has prevailed over the past four decades and given the current inequality in income distribution, it is likely to continue as the affordability of modern fuels for the poor will not be a reality. in a close future. This is clear from the fact that the poorest 30% get 9%, the middle 40% get 29%, and the richest 30% get 62% of government revenue (2017 Central Bank data). A World Bank study indicates, at current prices than global LPG prices, regular LPG users would likely need a monthly household income of over $ 350 and at least $ 15 / month.
The role of liquefied petroleum gas in energy reduction https://openknowledge.worldbank.org ›)
Nevertheless, there is currently a lack of attention on biomass energy by the government especially due to the need to focus strongly on modern fuels for the development of the country.On the other hand, the important role played by the Biomass energy for subsistence and economic development in the rural sector is not visible due to the decentralized and non-commercial nature of uncoordinated informal activities composed of a large number of non-energy sector actors with a multitude of objectives not directly related to energy per se. Biomass energy is not really produced by the energy sector but a by-product of the activities carried out by the forestry, agriculture and plantation sectors, which is not their goal. main, thus making the biomass a baby.
It is observed that this complication of uncoordinated informal relationships and the lack of insensitivity of the government which contributed to the lack of governance in the energy sector in Sri Lanka further isolated the low income rural sector to find their own solutions. survival. Lack of awareness of improved and low-cost biomass solutions has led to a scenario in which biomass energy is viewed negatively with adverse effects on sustainable development. It is totally unpleasant to see that there is no proper mechanism devoted to the management of the indigenous energy resources which still serve as the energy backbone of Sri Lanka.
The negative image of biomass tends to be associated with deforestation, climate change underdevelopment, poverty and negative health effects. This image guides policy makers towards replacing biomass with other fuels, instead of improving the sustainability of the sector with integrated and holistic approaches.
Despite the emphasis on alternatives, biomass use is unlikely to decline in absolute terms over the next decades. There is no evidence to show that the use of firewood is a contributing factor in deforestation. The four main reasons for deforestation in Sri Lanka are encroachments due to agriculture, gemstone mining and settlements, infrastructure development projects, commercial agricultural enterprises and several localized factors such as cattle grazing. , cardamom cultivation and forest fires. (Kariyawasam, Ravindra and Chinthka Rajapakse).
However, despite the fact that firewood is underestimated and ridiculed as a primitive fuel, the use of firewood by a majority of the people of Sri Lanka has not deprived but contributed to the well-being of the country. Sri Lanka by achieving many development indicators in moderation compared to many middle-income countries. For example, according to global rankings, Sri Lanka’s rankings are Human Development Index 71, Health 48, Social Capital 33, Prosperity 84, and Education 62. In addition, a woman born in Sri Lanka can expect to live 80.1 years (despite using firewood for cooking) as opposed to 79 years in America). The number of infant deaths / 1000 in Sri Lanka is six, it is six in America and 27 in India.
In the name of good governance and justice, it is high time for the Sustainable Energy Authority to take action to prevent impending disaster in the near future due to the informal nature of the supply of biomass and the use of biomass is permitted. continue without government inputs that not only create social instability also hamper efforts to achieve sustainable development goals.
The scope for the government is to facilitate the availability of supply, provide low cost technological support for efficient use by improving access to ventilation and efficient use through improved stoves and mitigate negative impacts on health and climate, as claimed by the international community. Almost eight million tonnes of firewood are needed each year for cooking and livelihoods and four million tonnes of firewood for the industrial sector. Each house would require nearly two tons / year. Achieving this goal would require the coordination and integration of the various activities of stakeholders already providing informal facilitation in an unofficial manner.
Although negative perceptions of biomass energy are widespread, biomass is not necessarily an unsustainable or backward fuel. Sustainability depends on the practices applied in the value chain; for example forest management techniques and efficiency of conversion and use. These widespread misconceptions tend to associate biofuels with deforestation, indoor air pollution and underdevelopment. (European Union Energy Initiative and GIZ, Germany). http://www.euei-pdf.org/fr/node/3880.
On behalf of governance in the energy sector in Sri Lanka, the aim of this article is to ask the Sustainable Energy Authority which has been given the mandate to promote renewable energies (not just commercial energy) to take leadership and initiative to invite relevant stakeholders, donors, NGOs for a consultative meeting to identify stakeholders and cross-cutting activities, linkages and capacities and to raise awareness of the importance of sustainable energy interventions in rural areas which require the formation of a network of organizations to be established under the local government ministry facilitated by the sustainable energy authority comprising staff specially dedicated to the development of energy from the biomass.
Executive Director, Association for Integral Development (IDEA)
Energy advisor to the former Minister of Local Government, Admiral Sarath Weerasekara
Project Manager, National Firewood Conservation Program
Electrical Engineer (Alternative Energies Development Unit, CEB)
Retired Director, Sustainable Energy Authority
Short-term consultant to UNDP (Sudan), World Bank and FAO
Recipient of Sri Lanka’s First ever Energy Efficiency Award (2015), awarded by HE the President
to bring sustainable energy solutions to people
Recipient of the Mohan Munasingha Award (1985) for energy conservation efforts
Nominated for the World Clean Energy Award (2007)