Sri Lanka struggles to attain energy security, and this is to the detriment of various sectors of society, with particular impact to small-scale farmers. Developing countries do not have access to the type of resources that industrialized countries take for granted. Although it is important to establish cost-efficient energy generators, there is also the additional requirement to consider long-term environmental impacts. It is a good thing to know that for poor farmers all over Sri Lanka, the innovative use of wind power as an alternative energy source is a practical solution in augmenting meagre energy capabilities in rural areas.
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Energy Needs versus Environmental Impacts
Developing countries are in desperate need for a stable energy source. It is imperative to establish a power-producing facility that ensures a reliable supply of electricity. It is not enough to just build a power plant, government officials must also guarantee a robust infrastructure that is not prone to blackouts or fluctuations in supply. A massive undertaking usually calls for conventional power-generating platforms. /at present, there are only three conventional energy-generating platforms: nuclear power, fossil-fuel burning power plants, and renewable energy. In most cases, there are only two options, nuclear and fossil-fuel based power plants. On one hand, government leaders of a developing nation contemplate the use of nuclear-based power plants. On the other hand, the same officials are thinking about the value of using traditional fuel sources, such as, coal, oil, and natural gas.
Nuclear power is an intriguing proposition due to its ability to provide a consistent and effective power source (Pearce 2012). Adherents of nuclear power technology are familiar with the efficiency feature of nuclear power plants. In other words, it requires fewer facilities to produce a similar energy output (Pearce 2012). The same thing cannot be said of facilities that require the use of coal and oil.
Nuclear power is always a viable option even for a developing nation like Sri Lanka. However, it is not easy to overcome the limitations and challenges inevitably associated with this type of technology. In the case of Sri Lanka, a nuclear option necessitates loans from international financial institutions. Aside from the cost of constructing the required facility, additional expenditures are expected to pile up in terms of the need to acquire the appropriate knowledge base and skill set needed to maintain and operate a complicated system.
Government officials pushing for a nuclear-powered platform may overcome the cost requirements, however, they are going to face an uphill battle when it comes to the environmental and safety issues. Nuclear power plants produce radioactive waste as byproducts (Pearce 2012). These are toxic substances that cause cancer, mutations, and other degenerative diseases. Thus, developing countries prefer the use of conventional energy-producing platforms powered by fossil-fuels.
The popularity of power plants that burn coal, oil, and natural gas speaks volumes with regards to the practical features of the said technology. Nevertheless, it is wrong to think that fossil-fuels are less deadly in comparison to radioactive waste. Exposure to radioactive materials produces easy to measure consequences. When it comes to the inhalation of toxic fumes, the effect may not be as dramatic, but no less fatal. Affected parties are going to suffer from respiratory ailments and related medical conditions.
Mitigating the Impact of Global Warming
Emissions from power plants sustained by the burning of fossil-fuels pose tremendous health risks to the people exposed to the said hazards (Usikalu 2009). There is no way to belittle medical conditions linked to pollutants that conventional power plants are releasing to the environment. However, the long-term consequences of Global Warming as a direct result of Greenhouse Gases or GHG are far more serious (Usikalu 2009). The World Health Organization reported high mortality rates as a part of the negative consequences of Global Warming. As climate change disrupts weather patterns characterized by seasonal extremes, vulnerable areas are not equipped to handle the impact of crop failures, malnutrition, malaria, and flooding (Usikalu 2009). It is therefore important to look for alternative solutions to the country’s energy problem. It is also imperative to develop energy-producers that are not releasing harmful byproducts into the earth’s atmosphere. Energy producing platforms that are going to satisfy the aforementioned requirements are labeled as renewable or alternative energy sources. Examples are hydroelectric power plants, geothermal power plants, solar power plants, and wind power plants. Due to the utilization of renewable energy, the byproducts of the alternative system is usually heat and water vapour. There are no traces of carcinogenic or toxic substances in the emission aspect of the power-generating process.
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Wind Power in Small Farms
In the context of small farms located in a developing country like Sri Lanka, policymakers are not only thinking about the need to reduce the volume of GHG’s released to the earth’s atmosphere. They also have to figure out how to establish an affordable platform that poor farmers can adopt with minimal cost and relatively simple requirements. Using this particular criteria reveals the high cost of investing in conventional power plants even those based on renewable energy sources. The high cost is due in large part to the need for transmission lines and the need to supply electrical energy to hundreds or thousands of households (Young & Vilhauer 2003).
An important issue when it comes to small-scale farming is the energy requirement in places that are located hundreds of miles or kilometres from a government-sponsored power plants. In these far-flung areas, even power plants that run on fossil-fuel are considered irrelevant.
In small-scale farms located far from a national power grid, the solution for the farmer’s electricity needs require innovative thinking. It requires the development of an energy-producing platform that is both cost-efficient and powered by renewable energy sources. Based on these prerequisites and constraints, the most practical solution is to utilization of wind energy. The use of wind turbines to generate electricity is an innovative solution, because farmers in far-flung areas were able to satisfy electricity needs using diesel-powered generators (Dabiri 2015). In other words, the introduction of wind-electric turbines is going to provide a less expensive, sustainable, and less harmful energy producing mechanism.
The introduction of this type of technology is not without precedent, because researchers were able to document a similar type of project in remote Alaskan villages (Dabiri 2015). Before the introduction of the said innovative technological solution, farmers were compelled to purchase diesel fuel a long distance from their respective homes. The thought of farmers transporting fuel from distant supply depots not only underscored the cost of farming, but also the limitations created by impediments to the ready access to reliable sources of electrical energy. Thus, just like the problems encountered in remote Alaskan villages, the children of poor Sri Lankan farmers are also dealing with low literacy rates on top of low production levels. It is important to improve the region’s literacy rates, because educated farmers are more effective stewards and caretakers of natural resources. In other words, the dire circumstances described earlier increase the urgency for the immediate implementation of the said innovative technology.
Defining the Technology
Scientists and engineers harnessing wind energy are going to explain the science behind the said technology by asking people to imagine wind as a type of fluid. Although wind is manifested in gas form, it is easier to imagine some of its properties and features if one can think of it behaving like fluid. Just like a fluid substance moving in particular direction, there are particle that is flowing through space at a specific time period. Scientists describe this movement as kinetic energy. Thus, engineers design wind turbines knowing very well that these turbines can harness the said kinetic energy.
A typical wind-electric turbine’s blades are moving in a circular motion in accordance to the kinetic energy supplied by wind energy. These turbine blades are attached to a shat that is also moving in a circular motion as propelled by the turbine’s movement. At the end of the shaft is a generator that utilizes electromagnetic technology to convert the shaft’s rotational energy into electrical energy (Layton 2017). Thus, the critical components of a wind-electric turbine are comprised of rotor blades, a shaft, and a generator (Layton 2017). In a nutshell, the generator component is a device made up of magnets and a conductor. The generator creates electric current using the principle of electromagnetic induction (Layton 2017).
Wind Turbines Enhancing Horticultural Activities
A few years ago, a US-based group called the National Renewable Energy or Laboratory or NREL was able to study Sri Lanka’s wind energy potential (Windpower.lk 2017). The NREL left with a report stating that Sri Lanka has the potential to produce at least 20,500 MW of electric power (Windpower.lk 2017). This capability is made possible by Sri Lanka’s two Asian Monsoons (Windpower.lk 2017). These are the South West and the North East Monsoons. Due to the said weather patterns, winds are felt in mountainous regions, as well as those that are located in coastal areas. Windy areas are also located within interior areas, and over flat landscapes. Thus, it is practical to choose sites that experience relatively strong winds and are far from power grids, because these are ideal locations for the establishment of wind-electric turbines.
The viability of using wind-electric turbines in Sri Lanka was placed beyond doubt when a wind energy power plant was erected and was able to produce 3 MW of electric power in 1999 (Windpower.lk 2017). However, it is imperative to look at other models. It is important to learn from small-scale farmers using cost-efficient designs unlike the government sponsored wind energy power plants. As mentioned earlier, a precedent was identified in the application of a similar technology in remote Alaskan villages. Other researchers documented the use of the same technology in small-scale farms located in Iran (Fami & Gashemi 2010). These researchers were able to identify the different type of horticultural activities that were made more efficient due to the availability of a cheap and reliable energy source. In the case of the Iranian farmers, they were able to leverage the power of using wind-electric turbines to dry walnuts and almonds, drying leafy vegetables, drying animal manure, separating beans from chaff, separating seeds from chaff, and separate grains like barley and wheat from chaff (Fami & Gashemi 2010). This list helps expand idea that is going to lift the lives of small-scale farmers.
One can just imagine how poor farmers are struggling due to inefficient yield. In tropical areas wherein it is difficult to predict the probability of rain, the failure to dry harvested products in due time cause spoilage and other types of storage-related issues. However, due to the availability of electrical equipment that enables farmers to dry up seeds or grains, poor farmers are assured of a higher rate of return.
Discussion on Mitigating Effects and the Impact of Innovative Technology
In the beginning of the research process designed to shed light on the possibility of using wind-electric turbines as one of the solutions for improving the livelihood of small-scale farmers, expectations were low due to the non-conventional nature of the adopted technology. The mere introduction of a low-cost alternative energy source to produce electric power was considered a good measure of success. This assertion was made based on the discussion that poor farmers are wasting precious resources because of the need to buy diesel fuel distant supply depots. The importance of a cheap but reliable energy-generating platform was made more urgent after the realization that electric power is not only beneficial in terms of horticultural applications but also other aspects of farming life. For example, access to electrical energy may help improve the region’s literacy rates. The value of the said innovative technology was made clear after considering its ability to enhance processes related to horticultural activities.
After conducting comparative studies, one can make the argument that it is in the area of post-harvest requirements wherein farmers can feel the positive impact of using the said innovative technology. For example, improvements were made when it came to the drying process of certain agricultural products. One can make an identical comment about the use of electrical equipment designed to separate grains from its chaff. In other words, small-scale farmers are going to experience enhanced productivity if allowed to use a cost-efficient and renewable energy generating system.
Three things have to take place to increase the success rate of this new endeavour, and these are: site selection; knowledge transfer and government assistance. Although Sri Lanka benefits from the effects of the South West and North East Monsoons, windy areas are limited to certain locations. With regards to the knowledge transfer component, the change agent tasked to educate small farmers must also possess the ability to persuade farmers with regards to the need to embrace a new way of doing things. Finally, government assistance must come in the form of low-interest loans and the construction of affordable wind-electric turbines through a payment structure that enable poor farmers to acquire the said system.
Project failure is imminent in the absence of the application of due diligence when it comes to site selection and knowledge transfer. It is not enough to teach farmers about the wonders of an innovative technology they must appreciate the specific benefits of a new way of tackling farming work. Finally, the proposed intervention strategy designed to alleviate the struggles of poor Sri Lankan farmers is doomed to fail in the absence of a direct and deliberate government assistance. It is imperative to figure out a way to access funds to support the said project. At this point, small-scale farmers in Sri Lanka can’t shift to a new technology without appropriate levels of government-sponsored aid.
Wind-electric turbines installed as an alternative way of generating electrical energy for small-scale farmers is an example of an innovative solution to a pressing socio-economic problem in remote Sri Lankan villages. Just like in other territories that are located far away from a government-sponsored power grids, poor farmers are being compelled to travel or walk long distances to purchase expensive diesel fuel. As a result, farmers are wasting precious resources to acquire something that promises less significant outputs. On the other hand, the consumption of diesel fuel initiates a combustion process that allows farmers to release GHG’s into the earth’s atmosphere. As a result, poor farmers with insignificant agricultural yields are now part of an environmental onslaught that speeds up the destruction of the environment via Global Warming. GHG’s are responsible for climate change. The use of fossil fuels strengthens the grip of poverty in the lives of small-scale farmers while at the same time reducing the people’s quality of life due to the health problems associated with pollutants and harmful byproducts.
The use of wind-electric turbines addresses the said economic and environmental issues plaguing small-scale Sri Lankan farmers. Wind energy is a renewable source of energy, thus, there is no need to worry about expensive fuel costs and the pollutants that are associated with conventional energy generating mechanisms. Farmers are no longer required to travel long distances, thus, creating savings in time and other critical resources. As a result, they can use electrical equipment that speeds up farm work, such as, the drying of grains and the separation of seeds from its chaff. This ability to ensure efficient and well-coordinated drying capabilities ensures higher yield and prevents storage problems. It is also important to point out that aside from the benefits manifested through enhanced horticultural activities, there are also indirect positive outcomes that usually occurs when communities have access to a cheap and reliable energy source. For instance, poor families are now able to use electricity to light up their homes. However, it is also imperative to focus on critical components of the project implementation requirements, such as, site selection, knowledge transfer, and government assistance. One of the most important areas to consider is in the need to educate farmers regarding the advantages of using wind-electric turbines. It is not only crucial for them to understand the core concepts of the said technology, they also need to embrace it at the end of the learning process. More importantly, government assistance determines the success or failure of the said undertaking. Relevant and appropriate government assistance is characterized by low-interest loans and technical support. The Sri Lankan government must consider wind energy as a top priority for the new directive to take effect.
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Dabiri, J 2015, ‘A new approach to wind energy: opportunities and challenges’, Physics of Sustainable Energy, vol. 1652 no. 1, pp. 51-57.
Fami, H & Gashemi, J 2010, ‘Renewable energy use in smallholder farming systems: a case study in Tafresh Township of Iran’, Sustainability, vol. 2 no. 1, pp. 702-716.
Layton, J 2017, How wind power works, Web.
Pearce, J 2012, ‘Limitations of nuclear power as a sustainable energy source’, Sustainability, vol. 4 no. 1, pp. 1173-1187.
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