Domestic application of solar energy in Sri Lanka
Recent Development Related to Solar Energy
Solar electricity has gained much interest and appreciation from the Sri Lankans in the past few years. In 2021, rooftop solar electricity contributed to a generation of 390 GWh, amounting to 2.37% of the total energy generation. This is the cumulative effect from 34,219 rooftop systems islandwide adding up to 422 MW capacity. In addition, 61 ground-mounted solar power plants of 104.36 MW are connected to the national grid. Service provider companies have increased to 431, while special programs have been conducted to increase the human resources of the sector. Around 1,250 Engineers, 3,200 technical personnel and 3,600 non technical personnel are recruited in the solar service companies. Over 1,500 technicians were given accreditation with NVQ 3 certificates, from the interventions of Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority (SEA) and Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka. Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) schemes were also developed with tertiary education system enabling the company staff to get due recognition. Training of Trainer programs were conducted with the NAITA provincial centres to enable this work. Twenty two Sri Lanka Standards were introduced with the intervention from the Sri Lanka Standards Institute. The most recent additions include the standard for hybrid inverters, which supports installing battery storage systems to the rooftop solar projects. Currently, the government is focusing to develop large scale projects of ground mounted solar and floating solar.
As a very general perception, if your monthly electricity consumption is above 220 units, you can think of a solar electricity system on your roof. If your consumption is more than that, you could check with the market and realize that solar is a good investment opportunity. However, there are few things that you should be always aware of, to make the most out of your money and to have a high-performing hassle-free system for quite a long time.
Why the system quality matters?
- When a solar electricity system is connected to the national grid, the solar electricity system itself becomes a part of the whole system. National grid is a multibillion rupee investment of public money. It is highly necessary that the conformance standards are met to ensure public safety and reliable power supply. Thus the conformance to the national standards and regulations is very important to ensure overall power quality, performance and safety.
- A solar electricity system has a DC electricity component; there are specific precautions that have to be taken than designing typical AC electricity systems. Thus the installer should be well versed with technology and safety.
- A few salesperson might provide misleading information, such as over-statement of returns, quoting far below the industry average cost (sacrificing quality), misinforming on the inverters’/panels’ country of origin, etc. In such instances that you sacrifice quality over price, you might end up having a system with low returns in the long run or ending up in courts suing an irresponsible service provider.
- System performance and its long term durability are highly dependent on various factors. For example, shading on panels would reduce an ample amount of solar electricity generation. A proper site assessment is necessary prior to design a solar electricity system and all possible measures should be taken to avoid shading and other obstacles. Find an installer that considers such aspects prior to installing a solar electricity system.
- When the system is not designed and installed properly, the costs for maintenance would be higher and more frequent than expected.
What are the steps in implementing a solar electricity system?
- Quest for information
The basic quest for information is to seek answers for
- which system would work best for me?
- what is the proposed investment plan?
- which is more beneficial among net metering, net accounting and net plus schemes?
When you have multiple options to compare, the choice would be much more economic.
- Obtaining approvals from the CEB/LECO Regional Centres
Meet the Area Engineer of the CEB/LECO, to find out the possibility of implementing a solar electricity system and its limitations prior to all work. The Grid Codes published by CEB and LECO needs to be followed at all instances and the applications should be properly filled.
- Selecting a suitable solar electricity supplier
Registrations and regulations related to solar electricity service companies are under the purview of SEA. The connection of solar electricity systems to the national grid is only possible through registered companies under SEA.
The system warranty is beneficial when it is more than three years. Claiming the warrantees are easy only if the vendor company is still in the business in the future. You should always search for a reliable supplier with a proven track record having credible references and a satisfied customer base.
It is highly recommended that you select solar energy service providers with following characteristics.
- Refrain from the unnecessary competition and exaggerated returns
- Conduct a site assessment to see the practical conditions of the site and household energy consumption, prior to providing quotations for a system
- Use technically competent staff, equipped with hands-on experience, knowledge and training having high moral standards
- Elicit information about their past customers
- Stay up to date with the technology, regulations and standards
- Provide you with energy generation estimates with the underlying assumptions, and calculate a reasonable timeframe for payback and evaluate the Return on Investment (RoI)
- Provide installers with an insurance cover by the company
- Involve in ethical marketing practices only
- Offer a system warranty of more than three years and offer free maintenance agreement for at least two years
- Spends time with you to explain the essential technical components, warranty certificates, terms & conditions, etc. and listens to your queries and concerns.
Do not forget, that many solar electricity service providers are out there. Inquire from at least five companies before you jump into a conclusion. Bear in mind that it is not the lowest quotation per kW that you should go for. It is the return you get for your money and the quality of the service they provide.
- Designing the system
Once you select a suitable service provider, they would facilitate with CEB/LECO and do the design and installation for you. The amount you are able to invest, the details of the current electricity use (bill), and the available rooftop without shading are the basic criterion the design depends upon. Few extra criterions could also exist based on the consumer preference, site/roof conditions and utility requirements.
All systems shall conform to the Sri Lanka Standards, i.e. the SLS 1522:2016 Sri Lanka Standard Code of Practice for Grid Connected Photovoltaic Power Systems and its supporting standards. All designs should be certified by a Chartered Engineer and the installation should be done by a competent person later according to the approved design only. The design should always put ‘safety’ as the first concern.
- Signing Agreements
Before signing into an agreement make sure that you have read and understood the terms and conditions in it. If anything differs from the original agreements, always get it signed by an authorized officer of the service provider. Usually, the payments are done with the physical progress of the installation. Cash payments shouldn’t be made to any person, without company receipts. Cheques and other instruments of Banks are much helpful for payment matters.
- Installation and Verification
Solar installations involve fragile objects, dangerous electricity and other hazards. Installation should always consider the safety of people and property. It is a responsible practice that an Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Policy is adapted by each solar energy service provider company. During installation, the requirements stipulated by the equipment manufacturers should be met at all instances, like the Ingress Protection (IP) standards and the installer workmanship.
The consumer can capture some photographs of the site conditions, installation, verification and grid connection for his future reference. He also should be alert whether things take off as mentioned in the agreements. After the installation process, the systems are verified for its performance and safety by the service company professionals prior to the testing of CEB/LECO.
- Grid Connection
Prior to grid connection, the technical staff of CEB/LECO would come to the site and conduct a procedure called compliance inspection and harmonic testing. If the system document is properly filled and duly signed, the payments for meter changes, etc. are paid and the system is satisfactory based on the safety and performance, they would allow the system in the national grid. Now you are a proud owner of a solar electricity system.
Prior to final payments ensure that everything is agreeable to you. Make an understanding of you future electricity bill because some customers get confused over meter and bill readings. Ensure that your system is properly labeled. Get training on shutdown and emergency procedures and basic technology. Get well acquainted with the things that you can do and cannot do with the system. Display the important contact numbers. Keep all the agreements and documents in one safe place.
Make sure the online monitoring system is activated and accessible. It is smart and fun to look at it everyday, like a nourishing baby. Regular inspection of the system would imply any problems and downtimes, enabling you to rectify it as soon as possible.
Even though solar electricity systems require very little maintenance, obviously they are not the ‘fix and forget’ kind of stuff. Thus it is safe and economical that you enter into maintenance agreements to perform the scheduled and unscheduled maintenance tasks. It is much better than having an unauthorized person tampering with an inverter or panels that void the warranty conditions stipulated by the manufacturer.
I hope the article was helpful to understand the features of a safe and quality solar electricity system with maximum performance, giving the best out of your hard-earned money. Your valuable feedback is welcome via the emails of firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Assistant Director (Engineering)
Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority
The article was re-done to maintain the publication’s word count