The Northern Province of Sri Lanka and its infrastructure were severely affected by the domestic conflict which lasted more than 30 years. Effects of this conflict can be still seen today, economically as well: The contribution of the province to Sri Lanka’s Gross Domestic Product is still the lowest among all nine provinces. One part of this province, Mannar Island, a dry and barren peninsula of about 125 km2 in the district of Mannar, is classified under Sri Lanka’s arid zone. Considering the unique character of climate and wind, it has great potential for renewable energy such as wind power and solar energy.

While Sri Lanka has made significant progress in the electricity sector over the last decades - it boosted national electrification from 29% in 1990 to more than 99.58% in 2018 - the sector struggles to meet the growing demand for an affordable and reliable electricity supply, while being heavily dependent on imported energy supplies. In particular, the renewable energy sector is yet to scale up to support Sri Lanka’s Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% in the energy sector.

Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), the main utility company of Sri Lanka, has received an ADB loan of $200 million, approved in October 2017, to finance the Wind Power Generation Project in Mannar Island. CEB provided an additional $56.7 million. The loan was designed to increase access to clean and reliable power supply by 2025 through the development of the island’s first 100-megawatt (MW) wind park on the south coast of Mannar Island.

“Despite the need to strengthen renewable energy in Sri Lanka, there hasn’t been any experience with large-scale operations, such as the Mannar Island wind farm. The Mannar Island wind farm is indeed a game-changer and will drive Sri Lanka’s energy transition”, says Jaimes Kolantharaj, Senior Energy Specialist, ADB.

From the Baltic Sea to the Indian Ocean

CEB awarded a contract valued at $128 million to Vestas Wind Systems A/S, a global player for sustainable energy solutions from Denmark. Denmark’s competence in wind energy dates to the late 19th century, when a science teacher, Poul la Cour, began inventing turbine technology. It wasn’t until the oil crisis of the 1970s though that Denmark began to diversify its energy production. Today, the Nordic country is world leading: In 2019, 47% of its energy was generated from wind power alone; on some days, wind power generated up to 140% of Denmark’s electricity needs, enabling the country to export surplus to its neighbors. The government’s plan is to increase the share of electricity production from wind to 84% by 2035.

Vestas provided the Mannar Wind Power Project Phase 1 with delivery, installation and commissioning of 30 state-of-the-art wind turbines, each rated to 3.45 MW with a total installed capacity of 103.5 MW as well as civil and electrical work. COWI A/S, a leading consulting group from Denmark, supported CEB’s capacity to act as a wind park developer to attract the private sector in future wind power generation through competitive bidding. Additionally, COWI strengthened CEB’s capacity to forecast, control and manage intermittent renewable energy in the power system through dedicated control centers. Vestas also assisted CEB in ensuring engineering oversight of wind turbine installation, commissioning and testing activities, and technical certification of contractor's activities throughout the construction period. A consortium of Siemens Ltd (India) and the Sri Lankan engineering service DIMO provided additional goods such as variable shunt reactors, which are used in high voltage energy transmission systems to control the voltage during load variations.

The Mannar island wind farm is a unique project in many ways. It is the largest wind farm in Sri Lanka and marks the return of Vestas to the country after 19 years. The scope for this project went beyond the regular engineering, procurement, and construction and Supply & Installation contracts and involved a range of civil activities. These included tasks like capacity upgradation of the Trincomalee harbor seaport in order to process extra-large cargo that was required in the constructions of the wind farm. The scope also included development of public roads leading up to Mannar Island to ensure connectivity to the site. Apart from this, Vestas also developed residential and administrative complexes for CEB at the site itself. The last of the thirty wind turbines was commissioned on time, in March 2021, despite multiple restrictions on travel and movement due to the Covid-19 pandemic. All thirty wind turbines have been equipped with a radar-based bird detection system which allows them to track any incoming movement of birds and temporarily shut down operations till it is safe to start functioning again. This responds to concerns raised in the Environmental Impact Assessment study.

“Vestas has a strong global track record in providing efficient wind energy solutions, and we are thrilled to be back in Sri Lanka with this project. With this tender, ADB and CEB have shown clear intentions of promoting sustainable energy solutions in Sri Lanka and Vestas is very excited to be working with ADB and the local authorities towards achieving this common goal,” says Purvin Patel, Vestas Asia Pacific President.

The wind farm was officially opened by Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on 8 December 2020.

ADB, Sri Lanka and Europe

ADB has been a major development partner to Sri Lanka since 1966 and is today the country’s largest source of multilateral development assistance. Since 1966, ADB has committed loans, grants, and technical assistance totaling $10.15 billion for Sri Lanka. ADB’s operations in Sri Lanka are guided by the Country Partnership Strategy (2018-2022), endorsed in July 2017. ADB continues to actively engage in strengthening the drivers of growth by promoting diversification of economic activities, driving productivity enhancements, and improving the quality of growth by fostering inclusiveness in hard and soft infrastructure and expanding access to SME finance.

ADB’s European Representative Office (ERO), based in Frankfurt, Germany works with companies and governments across ADB’s 17 European member countries to facilitate the application of European expertise in ADB projects in its developing member countries.