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New government faces a daunting task of tackling power crisis

Sri Lanka’s new government headed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa faces adaunting task of finding and implementing solutions to the country's power crisis taking necessary action against official perpetrators for countrywide blackouts in the past and present.

Sri Lanka’s grid operates in dynamic equilibrium and protection mechanisms are there to save the grid from a total collapse. The investigating team of the Ministry of Power has found a human error as the cause for the recent power outage in the country without giving a proper explanation as to why those systems failed to arrest a grid failure, on Monday the 17th.

This was the fifth countrywide blackout in recent memory. In another such incident, Sri Lanka faced two to two and half hour power cuts on 3rd of February 2020 in many parts of the country but there was no investigation or follow-up action upto now. According to findings of the interim report presented to the Ministry of Power by the expert committee which has probed into the power failure, the breakdown was due to a shortcoming of asuperintendent in charge of the Kerawalapitiya grid substation during a mechanical maintenance procedure.

Sri Lanka’s state-run Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) has been faulted for bad maintenance procedures and significant lapses in not carrying out recommendations in previous investigation reports. Engineers at CEB say the crisis did not just happen, but that it was deliberately instigated to bring to this stage as it had happened several times in the past.

Sri Lanka’s power crisis with blackouts has been brought to a stagewhere the public no longer cares at what price emergency power is purchased and larger plants can also be squeezed in without competitive bidding outside along term plan, they claimed. This trend of purchasing power from private power generators wascontinued for reasons that obviously points towards corruption at the CEB.

A CEB trade union leader said that about 50% of the money paid by electricity consumers of the country is simply being used to pay the sins of the massive corruption that takes place at the CEB. He further said that it is now up to the President to do something, either lead, follow or move out of the way if he can't take action against irresponsible CEB officials who cannot perform their duties properly and provide an uninterrupted power supply to the public.

When power system operational records for the past fifteen year period are examined, it canbe seen that the Sri Lankan power system experiences at least one total failure per year.

The available information further reveals that the reason for many of the blackouts occurring in the past were due to the failure of circuits of 220kV double circuit transmission lines of grid substations. These double circuit transmission lines with twin Zebra conductors on steel lattice towers are mainly bringing the power generated in power plants to the main load centres around Colombo.

As such, the contribution of professionals working at different sectors of power system management such as operation, planning, design, maintenance etc is essential to correctly interpret the simulation results in order to find out the exact root cause of power failures. Otherwise , the responsibility will be transferred on uncontrolled environmental factors, most probably lightning strokes on transmission lines and human errors.

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