Below is what I planned to say when introducing a panel on foreign policy for national development at the Lakshman Kadiragamar Institute on the 29th of June. Given time constraints, I did not say it all, but it reflects what I did say. Sri Lanka is like Greater Mumbai. Our small size as well as our location define our position in the world and determine our foreign policy. As we become wealthier as a country and as individuals, much of our consumption is of foreign made goods.
We have been of the opinion that electricity is an important as ICTs in putting money in people’s pockets and hope in their hearts. We have worked on how to improve electricity service and continue to work on different aspects of what is a multi-faceted problem. We would love to work on electricity in Myanmar. They sure need help. Unfortunately, Phyo Min Thein’s party, the National League for Democracy, has failed to deliver.
In our formal submission to the PUCSL in 2013, we highlighted the urgency of connecting the two grids. The case was made in public and private. Obviously we welcome the statement below, despite the fact that “plans are underway” is a favorite weasel phrase of the Sri Lankan bureaucracy: Plans are underway to connect Sri Lanka’s power grid with the Indian power grid to boost power generation within the next five years. “The Sri Lankan government is already having talks with the Indian government on this project,” according to Chairman of the Electricity Board (CEB) Anura Wijayapala. Full report.
We have been writing about Myanmar’s electricity problems since we started working there. I had not realized that even at this early stage, the energy nihilists are active. They know what they don’t want, but cannot tell what should be done that is practical. In a rational world such people would not be taken seriously, but in our world they are: The reasons for the delays include strong domestic opposition, including protests by people in the affected areas. This is a lesson in how local communities must be supported, and where inconvenienced, given appropriate help to reskill or resettle.
That was the title of the two-hour TV talk show at ITN that I participated in yesterday. One does not expect new knowledge to emerge from a talk show, but this one was an exception. Illuminating information was disclosed by the Additional General Manager of the Ceylon Electricity Board in response to some statements I made. The disclosures can be seen in the Daily FT and Ravaya in a few days. Here below is my conclusion.
It is not only in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka that there are moves to consolidate mobile markets. Afghanistan has joined the conversation. But the reasons are different and saddening. It seems that high-value customers are leaving the country. And the part about people not being able to charge their smartphones because the Taliban blew up a pylon .
In our teaching-focused comparative work on electricity, we found there was a fundamental difference in the way the problem of costs was approached in Sri Lanka and on the sub-continent. In Sri Lanka, the focus was on the costs of NOT having power. In India, the focus was still on the costs of inputs, per se. That is, they cared about the costs of switching on another power source to meet peak demand. On that basis, they got along with load shedding and low prices, around half that charged from Sri Lankan subscribers.
I had been invited to moderate a panel discussion on consumer rights in electricity, in the context of a recently issued charter of consumer rights and obligations. This was set to be a ho-hum affair, until the country experienced its third nationwide blackout within the last six months. This resulted in the shutdown of the 900 MW coal-powered plant, which means that the system will be in distress for 4-5 days until they get it fired up again. Since 2002, Sri Lankans have got used to uninterrupted power which they pay a lot. There is a lot of anger.
We’ve been promoting time-sensitive tariffs to the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka since 2013. They were available to commercial customers, but we wanted them made available to residential customers as well. Three years down the road, it looks like the dam has broken. CEB is offering a low-user tariff effective from 2230 to 0530. This will help address CEB’s baseload problem but of course it will also help those who run electric cars.
India used to be the center of gravity of everything we did at LIRNEasia. In terms of expenditure and effort, perhaps the center is shifting. But intellectually, the challenge of managing the asymmetrical relationship between Sri Lanka and India continues to engage. I was asked to write something for the visit of Prime Minister Modi. Unbeknownst, the piece had also been published in the government-owned newspaper: One subject that is likely to come up in the Modi-Sirisena discussion is the long delayed coal power station.
All the plans for advancing the lives of people in South Asian countries, including Internet access, are not likely to achieve fruition unless the electricity problems are solved. For this, one essential action is the the tapping of the abundant potential of the southern slopes of the Himalayas. Another is interconnection of the national grids of the South Asian countries. The Economist wrote about this, focusing on sub-continent, and leaving out Sri Lanka. A second reason, says Raghuveer Sharma of the International Finance Corporation (part of the World Bank), was radical change that opened India’s domestic power market a decade ago.
During its workshop for the electricity sector stakeholders in Sri Lanka, back in February 2014, LIRNEasia spoke about the possibility of using SMS for communicating with its customers. At the time we spoke about informing consumers about planned and unplanned power outages. This is currently being deployed by LECO and selected CEB distribution licencees. It appears the CEB has gone a step further and now intends to inform its consumers of impending disconnections to their electricity supply. The publicity for this service was seen in the weekend newspapers.
In a short piece reassessing the Sri Lanka government’s economic strategies centered on hubs, this is what I had to say on progress toward a knowledge hub. The controversial stuff on electricity, ports and aviation. Most progress has been achieved on this thrust, measured by the export revenues and numbers of jobs created by the IT and BPM [Business Process Management] sectors. But progress is needed on the foundational resource: a knowledgeable work force. Significant improvements have been achieved in tertiary and higher education.
Cummins is a big name, but not in ICTs. So this story caught my eye. Cummins Power Generation has secured a contract to supply hybrid power solutions to Irrawaddy Green Towers (IGT) in Myanmar. Under this contract, Cummins will supply solar hybrid, battery hybrid and diesel generator solutions to over 750 cell-tower sites that IGT will roll out in Myanmar during the next twelve months. .
There is a good article the mobile revolution by Nalaka Gunawardene in Sri Lanka’s best business magazine, Echelon. No surprise, he draws extensively on LIRNEasia research ranging from teleuse at the bottom of the pyramid through the work on the budget telecom network business model to our estimates of how many Internet users there are. This is where you would look for the excerpt and the link to the article. But Echelon is a young publication and they need to get their revenue model working. There is a lag between the ad revenue generating print version (out this week) and the possibly cost-causing online version.
A World Bank Report describes the problems faced by India as it seeks to power its economy to higher performance. What can be done? “Power is a very sensitive issue and it is tough to build consensus around reforms,” Pargal said. “We therefore lay out a menu of options for the government to consider.” Welcoming the study for highlighting the numerous complexities of the challenge within one report, Jyoti Arora, Joint Secretary in the power ministry, said a lot of thinking is going on regarding power issues in the government.