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Sri Lanka at 70: Looking back and forward

Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough's picture
A view from the Independence day parade.At 70, Sri Lanka has accomplished a lot in its seven decades as an independent nation.
A view from the 2018 Independence Day parade. At 70, Sri Lanka has accomplished a lot in its seven decades as an independent nation. Credit: World Bank

Like many Sri Lankans across the country, I joined Sri Lanka’s 70th Independence Day festivities earlier this month. This was undoubtedly a joyful moment, and proof of the country’s dynamism and stability. At 70, Sri Lanka has accomplished a lot in its seven decades as an independent nation.
 
The country’s social indicators, a measure of the well-being of individuals and communities, rank among the highest in South Asia and compare favorably with those in middle-income countries. In the last half-century, better healthcare for mothers and their children has reduced maternal and infant mortality to very low levels.
 
Sri Lanka’s achievements in education have also been impressive. Close to 95 percent of children now complete primary school with an equal proportion of girls and boys enrolled in primary education and a slightly higher number of girls than boys in secondary education.
 
The World Bank has been supporting Sri Lanka’s development for more than six decades. In 1954, our first project, Aberdeen-Laxapana Power Project, which financed the construction of a dam, a power station, and transmissions lines, was instrumental in helping the young nation meet its growing energy demands, boost its trade and develop light industries in Colombo, and provide much-needed power to tea factories and rubber plantations. In post-colonial Sri Lanka, this extensive electrical transmission and distribution project aimed to serve new and existing markets and improve a still fragile national economy.
 
Fast forward a few decades and Sri Lanka in 2018 is a far more prosperous and sophisticated country than it was in 1954 and, in many ways, has been a development success story. Yet, the island nation still faces some critical challenges as it strives to transition to another stage of its development and become a competitive upper middle-income country.
 
Notably, the current overreliance on the public-sector as the main engine for growth and investment, from infrastructure to healthcare, is reaching its limits.  With one of the world’s lowest tax to gross domestic product (GDP) ratios -- 12% in 2016, down from 24% in 1978 —Sri Lanka’s public sector is now facing serious budget constraints and the country needs to look for additional sources of finance to boost and sustain its growth.
 
As outlined in its Vision 2025, the current government has kickstarted an ambitious reform agenda to help the country move from a public investment to a more private investment growth model to enhance competitiveness and lift all Sri Lankans’ standards of living.
 
Now is the time to steer this vision into action. This is urgent as Sri Lanka is one of the world’s most protectionist countries and one of the hardest to start and run a business. As it happens, private foreign investment is much lower than in comparable economies and trade as a proportion of GDP has decreased from 88% in 2000 to 50% in 2016. Reversing this downward trend is critical for Sri Lanka to meet its development aspirations and overcome the risk of falling into a permanent “middle-income trap.”

PPP laws in Africa: confusing or clarifying?

Maude Vallée's picture



Between 2004 and 2017, some 30 African countries have adopted laws regarding Public-Private Partnerships (PPP). If we were to add to this list the countries that have implemented PPP policies, and those who are in the midst of drafting PPP laws, the tally would rise, leaving us with less than just 10 African countries that are entirely without a PPP framework.

What this tells us is that the calls by international financial institutions have been heard by decision-makers in Africa: a quality PPP legal framework will not only help identify successful projects, but it will guide those projects effectively and transparently towards closure, all the while ensuring development goals are met and investors are satisfied.

But how does reality measure up to the theory? How many projects, based on PPP law, have actually reached financial close? Given the time required to prepare a PPP, it is maybe too early to see PPP laws translated into concrete PPP projects, especially as more than 20 countries have in fact adopted their laws only in the last five years.

Low-carbon shipping: Will 2018 be the turning point?

Dominik Englert's picture
Photo: Peter Hessels/Flickr
As highlighted in a previous blog post, international maritime transport has not kept pace with other transport modes in the fight against climate change.

While inland transport was included in the 2015 Paris Agreement and international air transport followed suit in 2016, progress in the international shipping sector, which carries 80% of the world’s trade volume, has been more modest. Back in 2011, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) did adopt a set of operational and technical measures to increase the energy efficiency of vessels. Realistically though, it may take about 25-30 years to renew the world’s entire fleet and make all new vessels fully compliant with IMO’s technical requirements.

In any case, focusing only on technical and operational efficiency simply won’t be enough. The demand for maritime transport is growing so quickly that, even when taking all these energy efficiency regulations into account, CE Delft projects that emissions from international shipping could still increase by 20-120% by 2050, while IMO estimates range between 50-250% for different scenarios. This clearly calls for a bolder agenda that includes credible market-based solutions, too.

Breathing new life into power utilities through debt restructuring tools

Teuta Kaçaniku's picture


Photo: Raymond Ward | Flickr Creative Commons

Sector reform is a familiar concept for anyone working in the energy sector, particularly in developing countries. Typically, reforms involve measures such as building an institutional framework that allows for an independent regulator, improving the operational efficiency of utilities (for example, by unbundling vertically-integrated utilities), creating an environment for private sector participation, and last but not least, introducing tariffs that reflect costs. All these measures are designed with one goal in mind: to put the sector on a sustainable path and improve the quality of service for end-users.

While acknowledging the many benefits that sector reforms can bring, one issue we continue to face is the poor financial state of key power utilities. In other words, a lack of creditworthiness. Often, their lack of financial creditworthiness is the most critical obstacle to implementing investment programs. This makes utilities even more dependent on continuous government subsidies.

Formula E drives electric mobility innovation

Max Thabiso Edkins's picture


To be honest, I have never really been a fan of motorsport racing, but Formula E is something different. Regular sports car racing has always felt too loud, too polluting and a bit pointless, but electric car racing is changing my perception rapidly. The most recent Formula E race and associated FIA Smart Cities event in Santiago, Chile last week highlighted the importance of sustainable mobility and the advantages of advancing electric technology as quickly as possible. Extremely fast electric cars, whooshing by cheering audiences with a distinctly electric whizzing sound, made me realize that the future is definitely now.

Energy challenges in the Kyrgyz Republic: It’s time to act!

Zamir Chargynov's picture
Last week, a technical failure occurred at Bishkek’s Heat and Power Plant, leaving parts of the capital city temporarily without power and heat supply. People residing in buildings connected to the district heating system experienced very cold and uncomfortable conditions, made worse by the exceptionally harsh winter this year. While the specific causes of the incident are still being investigated, it seems clear that old equipment at the Plant which is being operated well beyond its shelf-life was behind the failure.

Bishkek Heat and Power Plant

Most commodity prices surged in January, led by energy–Pink Sheet

John Baffes's picture
Energy commodity prices surged 9 percent in January, the seventh monthly gain in a row, led by an almost 30 percent increase in U.S. natural gas prices, the World Bank’s Pink Sheet reported.

Non-energy prices made solid advances as well, with metals and minerals prices gaining more than 5 percent, also the seventh consecutive monthly increase, and a five-year high. Nickel and zinc, up 12 and 8 percent respectively, led the rise.

Precious metals climbed nearly 6 percent, with similar gains in gold and silver.

Agricultural prices, which had been stable for nearly 2 years, increased more than 2 percent, led by advances in rice (+9 percent) and cotton (+5 percent). Fertilizer prices rose over 1 percent, led by DAP (+3 percent) and Urea (+2 percent).

The Pink Sheet is a monthly report that monitors commodity price movements.
 
All commodity price indexes gained in January, led by energy
Source: World Bank.

Strategies that work: New South Wales leads infrastructure development in Australia

Mar Beltran's picture


Photo: Dylan's World / Flickr Creative Commons

A decade before the financial crisis, Australia was a bastion of infrastructure successes. The country’s four major airports (Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane and Sydney) were privatized. Numerous greenfield projects were also launched, for example, extensive highway construction, and new projects were continually added to the pipeline.
 
Some of these new projects, however, faced significant difficulties: some were constructed without robust performance data, leading to overambitious forecasting and overaggressive financial structures. In part, this led Australia to suffer multiple high-profile defaults and brought the country’s infrastructure project pipeline to a halt.
 
But, today, Australia is displaying signs of promise once again. And one state, in particular, is among the developed world’s GDP growth outliers: New South Wales (NSW). The state’s economic growth has reached 3.5%, outstripping the country’s average rate of 2.8%, and even the G20 average (which stands at 3%). As such, NSW’s infrastructure model has likely had a multiplier effect on economic activity—and has been identified as a potential playbook for other jurisdictions.

Central America, optimizing the cost of energy through renewables

Mariano González Serrano's picture


Some months ago, during a visit to one of the Central American countries, while we were on a call with the head of the electricity dispatch center, we noticed by the tone of his voice, that he was becoming nervous. Shortly after, background voices could be heard on the line. They were experiencing a crisis and he quickly asked to continue our conversation at another time.

Announcing Funding for 12 Development Data Innovation Projects

World Bank Data Team's picture

We’re pleased to announce support for 12 projects which seek to improve the way development data are produced, managed, and used. They bring together diverse teams of collaborators from around the world, and are focused on solving challenges in low and lower middle-income countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia, Latin America, and South Asia.

Following the success of the first round of funding in 2016, in August 2017 we announced a $2.5M fund to support Collaborative Data Innovations for Sustainable Development. The World Bank’s Development Data group, together with the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, called for ideas to improve the production, management, and use of data in the two thematic areas of “Leave No One Behind” and the environment. To ensure funding went to projects that solved real people’s problems, and built solutions that were context-specific and relevant to its audience, applicants were required to include the user, in most cases a government or public entity, in the project team. We were also looking for projects that have the potential to generate learning and knowledge that can be shared, adapted, and reused in other settings.

From predicting the movements of internally displaced populations in Somalia to speeding up post-disaster damage assessments in Nepal; and from detecting the armyworm invasive species in Malawi to supporting older people in Kenya and India to map and advocate for the better availability of public services; the 12 selected projects summarized below show how new partnerships, new methods, and new data sources can be integrated to really “put data to work” for development.

This initiative is supported by the World Bank’s Trust Fund for Statistical Capacity Building (TFSCB) with financing from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), the Government of Korea and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland.

2018 Innovation Fund Recipients


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