Why are we having all these powercuts? And why doesn’t anyone seem to be able to do anything about it? We dig into every aspect of power generation in this country: from the power plants, to their output, to how we ran out of fuel to keep the lights on.

January 23, 2022

Read this article in සිංහල | தமிழ்


Story and analysis by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne. Edited by Aisha Nazim. Translations by Mohamed Fairooz, Nadim Majeed.

Updated 30th March, 2022.

A note of recent events

Unfortunately, we’ve had a bit of a wild ride with electricity recently.

On the 10th of January, the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) confirmed that scheduled powercuts would happen on the back of a complex load shedding schedule.

The reasons given differed by source – many newspapers cited a breakdown of the Sojitz power station, a private thermal power generator that puts out 163 MW of power and counts itself as part of the Kelanitissa power plant. Our own fact-checking showed a slightly broader set of issues. CEB suffered massive power losses to the tune of at least 800MW. [1]

In public statements, the CEB was unsure of its supply of fuel to run even existing infrastructure. A.G.U Nishantha, President of the CEB Technological Engineers and Superintendents' Union, confirmed that the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), which supplies CEB with fuel, had asked the CEB to settle their debts. He noted that the CEB’s ongoing inability to purchase fuel put the the country at risk for more long term power failures in the future.

However, just a day later, the Government got together; the President called an emergency meeting, and assured uninterrupted power supply.  CEB would settle that Rs 18 billion of its debt to CPC; the Central Bank of Sri Lanka would release forex for CEB’s urgent coal imports; and everything would go back to being wonderful. The CPC agreed to lob some fuel at the CEB, the CEB announced that power was back on the menu; no more load shedding, no more panic, the public would be able to go about their business.

Despite the promises by both the political infrastructure and the CEB, there have indeed been powercuts. On the 14th of January, we ran a survey asking people whether they had gone through powercuts over the last seven days, and verified that the political propaganda was just that - propaganda [2]. Fast forward to today, and we know power cuts are happening. 10 hours a day, with more to come. It’s gotten so bad that we’re crowdsourcing places to work from. A.G.U. Nishantha’s words now have the tinge of prophecy (or good statistics).

So. Why are we in this mess?

How do we get our electricity, anyway?

Let’s start with what we know.  To understand the state of power generation in Sri Lanka, we dug into three sources: the CEB’s 2019 annual reports, which details the past;  the long-term generation expansion plan for years 2022-2041 by The Generation Planning Unit of the CEB, which details the future and looks back to historic trends; and data from the Global Energy Monitor, a database of power stations.

Here’s a map of generation in the country.


Let’s make this easier to understand. Sri Lanka has three main types of power stations powering our national grid. They are: thermal (that is to say, fuel-powered, be they oil or coal), hydropower, and renewables. These three types of energy either come from CEB or IPPs - independent, private power plants that supply the national grid.