Thursday, 28 May 2015

Case Study

Creating Consumer Interest on Sustainable Energy

Karin Fernando
Senior Research Professional, Centre for Poverty Analysis, Sri Lanka

Access to stable, affordable and reliable energy is the basic requirement for the improvement of wellbeing and the reduction of poverty. While this is a given fact, the main sources of energy used around the globe today are derived from fossil fuels. So much so, that humanity has reinvented life based upon this liquid gold. This dependence on fossil fuel for energy is largely taken for granted, and few of us reflect or question how that energy is produced, how we use it and its ricochet on our planet.

While Sri Lanka can boast an impressive 96% coverage of electricity to households, a study done by
the Public Utilities Commission – Sri Lanka (PUC-SL) shows that consumption distribution is skewed. About 80% of the population consumes only about 50% of energy. This means that much of the energy generated is used by a small percentage of the people. This pattern of usage has implications on decisions for tariffs , energy distribution and types of energy sources being used – that can disadvantage some users over others. For example, current electricity tariff structures allow for all users to gain from the subsidised lower unit rates that ultimately become a cost to the government. Tariffs structures also disadvantage Small and Medium scale industries. Such industries also face challenges related to energy efficiency such as lack of awareness, absence of incentives to follow energy efficient techniques and relatively expensive advisory services (i.e. energy auditing). It begs to question if the access to energy is fair and equitable and if it is being used in a responsible manner.

Fuel demand in the transport sector has grown phenomenally and in 2010, accounted for approximately 60% of total domestic petroleum consumption. Deteriorating and poorly planned public transport services, the promotion and increasing reliance on private vehicles –an indicator of social mobility -  and the  lack of development of the railway system has serious consequences on the efficient use of energy. Hence the transport sector too presents disparities in who has access to good quality transport services and a related disproportionate use of energy. Worryingly, it is also a sector without an active consumer lobby.

As households become wealthier they move from using less efficient solid fuels (dung, wood) to more efficient liquids and finally on to electricity for cooking.  In Sri Lanka, biomass remains the cheapest and most widely used (78% of the households). However, technology for better stoves and  better use of firewood is not given adequate attention, while the effect of indoor air pollution – especially for women and children - an obvious inequality - remains hidden and devoid of any regulatory protection or consumer concern.

Looking at this background, the Centre for Poverty Analysis (CEPA) and Energy Forum of Sri Lanka initiated a process to raise the awareness of civil society and consumers, increase their knowledge of responsible energy use and build “people’s voices” to develop a sustainable and equitable energy policy for Sri Lanka. As part of this initiative a participatory process has been set in motion to put forth an energy consumer charter that demands better energy services and also encourages responsible energy use. The charter covers energy use for electricity, transport, households and small and medium industries. A two day national workshop was held to draft the charter and was the first attempt in Sri Lanka to handle multiple energy issues in a participatory process with the active involvement of civil society organisations, consumer societies and energy consumers. The participating organisations had the opportunity of interacting and working in small groups with representatives from the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL), the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA), Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority (SLSEA), and Lanka Electricity Company (Private) Limited (LECO).  This allowed for a free exchange of ideas and for each group to get a better understanding of issues related to energy supply and use. It also helped to orient the civil society to consider energy issues and how they relate to their work and personal circumstances, as consumers.

The next steps of the project, will see the drafted energy consumer charter finalised after verification by regional civil society groups, consumer societies and other stakeholders. The charter will then be shared publicly with the intention of creating awareness about the energy issues across the island.  It is also the hoped that it will facilitate a consultation mechanism for CSOs to provide inputs into the sustainable energy policy at national level.

No comments:

Post a Comment