Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Sri Lanka PM promises to fix power outages; more information uncovered

ECONOMYNEXT - Sri Lanka's power minister will make a statement to parliament on recent power outages and take long term measures to fix it after a probe, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said as engineers scramble to pinpoint the cause.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said following a meeting convened on March 14, a decision has been taken to seek domestic and international consultants to help solve the problem.

"It is the responsibility of the government to make sure that sustainable septs are taken to avoid such situations in the future," the statement said.

"The reasons for the current situation has to be examined and permanent solutions found."

Sri Lanka's power grid failed three times this year and twice in a single day, which was unprecedented. 

Senior CEB officials as well as members of the state-run utility's powerful engineers union have publicly apologized for the failure. 

There have been allegations of sabotage and the military deployed to protect key installations.

But most employees and engineers in particular have been fiercely protective of their agency in the past and have even managed to resist some of the political interference that damaged other state agencies, long term watchers of the power sector say.

The latest outage is believed to be a failure in a large receiving transformer complex where power from Mahaweli complex and others arrive to the capital, sources familiar with the matter told EconomyNext.

A key component in one of the receiving transformers called a 'tap changer' had failed this week.

The complex was mostly built in the 1980s and has old equipment, though they have been regularly maintained. One of the transformers was shut down for regular maintenance when the fault occurred in a second transformer.

In the last decade island-wide outages, or cascading failures, were triggered mostly when a large power station went out of the system or tripped. Countermeasures involving automatic load shedding to compensate for the loss of generation have been devised to take care of the problem.

But this time, a weak point in the transmission network seemed to have triggered the outage. 

It is also believed that the second outage soon after power was restored was triggered to a second fault that had occurred in a circuit breaker which had got stuck, but was not discovered in time.

A key part of the puzzle appears to the way the controls of a large coal power complex reacts to an instability in the system, sources say. 

This will have to be rectified. 

The coal power complex supplies about a third of the total load or higher at any given time.

When the coal plant shuts down it take about three days to get it back on stream. 

The Ceylon Electricity Board is running all their non-coal thermal plants flat out and is trying to conserve hydro storage. CEB asked customers to use power sparingly over the next three days until the coal plant is up and running.

Though no official power cuts have been announced 'unofficial load shedding' is expected to continue, if there is a shortfall in power generation from time to time. 

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