Ray Wijewardene’s vision for energy security of Sri Lanka – and of other developing countries in the tropics – was derived from his reflections on the meaning of "independence". To him, it meant "non-dependence" on outside sources for basic needs such as food, nutrition, health and, of course, energy.
As he said in 2007: “We in Sri Lanka have come very close to dependence upon the outside world for such basic rights as food and health. Quite apart from energy!”
Ray was deeply concerned that Sri Lanka was importing ever-increasing quantities of petroleum for transport and electricity generation. The country was paying its hard-earned foreign exchange to not only buy oil but also the air pollution that came with it. Starting coal-fired electricity generation plants would increase our addiction to another fossil fuel, he cautioned.
In his view, this was both short-sighted and avoidable. He argued that there was no need to rely on ancient, fossilised biomass -- which is what oil and coal really are -- when such biomass could be grown and harvested here and now!
Sri Lanka is uniquely located within the humid and tropical regions of the world, and blessed through year-round sunshine, with year-round photosynthesis to derive year-round (plant) growth, for the sustained production of energy and of fertility.
- Ray Wijewardene
Starting in 1985, he advocated generating a share of Sri Lanka’s future electrical energy needs by cultivating biomass. This concept of Dendro Power was initially ridiculed and dismissed as unviable; Ray’s meticulous research, advocacy and persistence eventually paid off.
He built a small dendro power plant to show how dependence on imported oil could be reduced by literally ‘growing our energy’. The national dendro plan that he drew up with P G Joseph would not affect food production (it uses only marginal land), can generate many rural jobs, and is carbon neutral.
For details, see Ray Wijewardene: Bio energy promoter by P G Joseph
Ray also studied and experimented with other types of renewable energy: solar, wind and mini/micro hydro. He worked with both the Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority, a state agency, and the Energy Forum of Sri Lanka, a non-profit organisation promoting renewable and distributed forms of energy.
He urged planners, researchers and activists to aim for a mix of energy sources and solutions: “Let us not drown ourselves in the myth of dependence on just one or two (possibly-sustainable) energies: neither just hydro, nor just solar, nor just wind, nor just biomass. The developed world around has provided ample evidence of the futility of such blinkered, or one-tracked, vision.”
He also wanted them to address issues of storage – “the ability to store our energies from season to season from periods of glut to periods of scarcity.”
For further discussions, see:
Ray Wijewardene: The Visionary
By Asoka Abeygunawardana, Executive Director, Energy Forum of Sri Lanka
Daily Mirror, 20 August 2010