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How female change-makers are driving Sri Lanka’s energy saving platform

8 March 2024 01:53 am - 2     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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For centuries women have been at the forefront in managing energy in households. Here in the picture some women are seen installing a solar power system on the roof of a home 

 

  • With rising energy costs, there has been a growing interest in implementing energy saving measures
  • Efforts have been made to develop a large waste material supply channel also known as RDF (Refuse Derived Fuel)
  • It has been suggested to implement loan schemes and incentive schemes for renewable energy installations such as solar power
  • Educating school teachers on energy conservation can lead to a brighter future with energy conservation

 

Saving energy has become more of a responsibility than a habit in today’s context. For centuries, women have been at the forefront in managing energy in households. Perhaps with this inspiration or otherwise, more women are now engaged in driving the energy saving platform in Sri Lanka.  In a progressive move, experts from the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) - with the financial support of the European Union - have already begun training professionals from a wide range of industries across Sri Lanka to help them decrease the amount of energy they use to manufacture their products and slash pollution. Defeating social gender norms and many other barriers, several female Energy Savers have already contributed significantly to Sri Lanka’s industrial de-carbonization and energy security.


Speaking to the Daily Mirror four aspiring women spearheading Sri Lanka’s energy saving platform shared insights into their careers, innovations they have introduced in respective sectors, their insights as to how Sri Lankan industries should increase energy efficiency and challenges they have faced while being employed in a largely male dominant sector. The interviewees are as follows:

 

  • Sashika Kaluwahewa, Sustainability Manager – Jetwing Hotels. Sashika guides the implementation of sustainability practices across all the properties in the Jetwing family, with a predominant emphasis on environmental sustainability, including energy management.
  • Shirangi Samararatne, Chief Executive Officer of Super Shine Business Consultancies, a homegrown entrepreneurial venture helping guide Sri Lankan industries toward a greener future. 
  • Asanka Kodithuwakku, Senior Executive on Sustainability at Convenience Foods Lanka (CFL). 
  • Arosha Hemali, Business Development Manager at InseeEcocycle

Excerpts:


 Where does Sri Lanka stand today in terms of energy conservation?

Asanka: Sri Lanka has been making efforts to improve energy conservation in recent years, including initiatives like promoting renewable energy sources, implementing energy-efficient technologies, and raising awareness about energy conservation among the populace. However, the progress may vary across different sectors and regions of the country.

Sashika: The country is heavily reliant on imported energy sources; and energy efficiency/conservation measures are not mandated for industries; rather, they are voluntary efforts by individual companies. However, with rising energy costs, there has been a growing interest in implementing such measures. There’s potential for significant improvement through increased awareness, policy reforms, and collaborative efforts to promote sustainable energy practices.

 

 Can you mention a few innovations you have introduced in respective industries to bring down energy costs?

Asanka: We were able to implement an energy management system at CBL Food Cluster and PFL is already recommended to the Energy Management system Certification. During this process we were able to improve and implement energy saving initiatives such as outdoor solar light systems, capacitor bank installations etc…
Shirangi: Using waste fabrics from the garment industry and saw dust, a waste from wood work industry to run the biomass boiler, reducing the huge energy cost incurred from diesel boilers of the pharmaceutical industry. We also use solar power in most companies to reduce electricity cost.


Sashika: In my role, I have advocated for a data-driven approach in energy management– through the establishment of a comprehensive framework for capturing operational energy use and benchmarking energy-related indices across the portfolio of hotels. We have also been tracking the performance of energy-saving measures implemented while ensuring the effectiveness in achieving our energy reduction goals.


Arosha: Some of my contributions over the past 15 years in the industry include introducing alternative fuels for thermal energy substitution mostly come from waste materials through research and practical experience. We have also developed a large waste material supply channel also known as RDF (Refuse Derived Fuel) across the country. Due to the above innovations and initiatives conventional energy requirements could be reduced eminently while saving money and reducing overall energy costs.

 

 What more should Sri Lankan industries be doing to increase energy efficiency? 

Asanka: Sri Lankan industries can further increase energy efficiency by investing in research and development for innovative technologies, adopting best practices in energy management, enhancing workforce skills through training programmes, and incentivizing energy conservation measures through policies and regulations. Implementing loan schemes and incentive schemes for renewable energy installations such as solar power. 
Shirangi: Small and medium scale companies should focus on correcting steam leaks and having the understanding of machinery purchasing in terms of not only capital cost, but evaluate the energy efficiency as well. At present a majority of industries focus on capital costs only.

Sashika: Current efforts are mainly voluntary. Mandating energy efficiency measures and clear guidelines could accelerate the transition to an energy-conscious society. Implementing policies requiring adherence to specific energy efficiency standards can drive tangible improvements. Additionally, fostering a culture of data-driven decision-making is crucial. By leveraging data analytics to identify areas for improvement, industries can make informed choices that maximize energy efficiency.


 How can renewable energy sources be incorporated in various industries to bring down the energy consumption? 

Asanka: Renewable energy sources can be incorporated into various industries through on-site generation, grid-connected systems, and hybrid solutions tailored to the energy requirements and infrastructure of each sector. For example, solar energy can be utilised for powering manufacturing processes, or providing electricity for agricultural operations. We also planned several solar installations for the upcoming financial year.


Sashika: Renewable energy sources offer a significant opportunity to reduce energy consumption across most industries, leveraging Sri Lanka’s abundant resources - year-round sunshine and fast-growing vegetation/biomass. Currently at Jetwing Hotels, 60% of our energy requirement is catered through renewable sources primarily through sustainably sourced biomass used for boilers which generate hot water and steam for laundries and air-conditioning systems (in the case of 04 hotels). Solar thermal systems generate daytime hot water, while solar PV systems supplement grid electricity, meeting up to 40% of the daily demand in some hotels. Additionally, onsite biogas digesters convert food waste into cleaner, alternative cooking fuel, enhancing sustainability efforts in most of our resorts.


Arosha: My experience has been with Biomass energy. It can reduce conventional energy requirements. Using waste-to-energy options can substitute conventional energy sources for energy sourcing through waste.
QWhat more facilities do you think are required to encourage more females to play an active role in the energy sector?
Asanka: To encourage more females to play an active role in the energy sector, there needs to be greater representation of women in leadership positions, mentoring programmes, networking opportunities, and initiatives to address gender bias and discrimination in the workplace. Additionally, educational outreach and awareness campaigns can inspire young girls to pursue careers in STEM fields related to energy.


Shirangi: Development of a safer environment for women in the country so that they can actively participate in energy conservation where they can promote activities in manufacturing companies even in rural areas of Sri Lanka. Further, educating school teachers on energy conservation can lead to a brighter future with energy conservation as they will inculcate the habit of energy conservation among younger generations.
Sashika: Creating mentorship programmes, networking opportunities, and platforms for knowledge sharing (such as UNIDO’s energy management training programme) can help foster a supportive environment and encourage both men and women alike to play an active role in the energy sector and contribute meaningfully to the industry.


 What are the challenges you have faced as a female employed in this largely male dominant sector?

Asanka: Organizations promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplaces. In my personal experience, we haven’t encountered significant challenges in the energy sector, largely due to the significant involvement of female employees. 
Shirangi: Most company owners are male and majority does not want to listen to females. This is due to the male dominance in Sri Lanka and therefore we lack convincing power. Further if we make breakthroughs while proceeding with work on conservation, minimizing wastages the male dominant society does not have the willingness to contribute. 
Sashika: As the culture of the company I work for has been supportive, I haven’t faced significant obstacles in performing or progressing based on my gender. However, the reality is that the broader STEM-related industry landscape is male-dominated, and implicit gender stereotyping can persist – during networking opportunities or recognizing contributions, etc.


 What’s your message for young females who aspire to lead the energy sector in future ? 

Shirangi: Break the barriers of the traditional mindset on professions such as becoming a doctor and being only family centric and lead the journey towards sustainability of the world by managing energy and promoting renewable energy sources.
Sashika: Your unique perspective and contributions are essential for driving innovation and sustainability. Challenge the norm; empower others along the way. 
(Pix courtesy Prishan Pandithage Studios)

 

UNIDO - An advocate for women empowerment globally

 

UNIDO’s interventions to introduce energy management systems come in handy at a time when efforts are being made to reduce industrial energy waste across Sri Lanka. Speaking to the Daily Mirror Rana Ghoneim, Chief of Energy Systems and Industrial De-carbonization Unit at UNIDO shared insights to challenges faced by industries when integrating renewable energy systems and how women have become change-makers in the sustainability landscape. 

Excerpts:


What are some of the challenges industries in Sri Lanka face when integrating renewable energy systems and infrastructure?

There’s appetite for the installation of renewable energy technologies in Sri Lanka especially solar, which is growing exponentially in view of the energy crisis and energy shortages.  The challenge remains that there are gaps in skills for the design, installation and maintenance of renewable energy technologies, limitations in electrical infrastructure and a need for policy and financing schemes to support further adoption by industries. This in combination with the absence of a quality assurance schemes and certification may risk the consumer confidence in technologies and affect the future uptake.


 What results or changes have you observed when women lead energy efficiency efforts in industries ? 

It has been proven that women leadership in industry has many advantages.  Companies with women leaders perform better and are more likely to implement capital intensive investments that create a return in the long term.  One can say that women’s commitment to sustainability echoes well with the continual improvement concept promoted through energy management systems as they commit to the energy efficiency journey and optimal results beyond the immediate cost cuts.   


 In what ways are you planning to enable and encourage more women to get involved in the global energy sector?

Through the current project in Sri Lanka we explicitly target women and track participation of women in trainings.  In addition, UNIDO has a strong convening power and is an advocate for women empowerment globally.  We intend to utilize our global network to connect women experts in Sri Lanka with other global experts, thus creating opportunities for them to share knowledge and provide mentorship to further develop their skills and build a support ecosystem.

 


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  Comments - 2

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  • FredSnR Friday, 08 March 2024 09:03 AM

    That's great. Small is beautiful Self reliance is the key.Let's hear more stories like this of innovation entrepreneurship And what a refreshing sight young Sri Lankan women on a roof top installing these energy saving devices by themselves

    P Kunchithapathan Saturday, 09 March 2024 06:36 AM

    Thoughtprovoking writeup by Kamanthi Wickremasinghe by interviewing country's eminent women leaders spearheading in sustainable energy saving in their respective organizations. Government should take the initiative to encourage more and more women should take the lead role to implement energy management measures in their respective work place and domestic homes. They should consult Energy Management Authority to provide guidelines to make their homes and work place enrgy efficient. The benchmark could be set by deploying digital temperature meter and humidity level to scale the inside conditions. This measure could help reducing the usage of air conditioners significantly. A 18,000 BTU air cool air conditioner is rated at 5KW which consumes lot of power. Women organizations should press the government to encourage householders to install solar panels to beat the ever rising electricity costs. Another crucial factor is that usage of fossil fuel to generate electricity.


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