Wind energy, the way ahead

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Given the frequent power outages in the country and deficient, low voltage power scenario in the rural areas, along with the looming energy crisis, it certainly makes sense to tap this renewable source, especially when India enjoys a potential technical a

Sample this, current global energy requirements can be met purely through wind energy. Global land and near shore wind resources are close to 72,000 gw which is roughly five times the world’s current energy use. But in practice, just over one percent of the global energy consumption is sourced from wind.

The current oil crisis and exhaustible nature of our fossil fuels have made the world look at renewable options more seriously. Even a country like the USA, which produces huge amount of oil, is facing the fossil fuel crunch and increasing use of renewable energy options.

Recently, the state of Texas in the US approved an investment of $5 billion for building power lines to transmit 18,500 MW of wind power by 2012, which is expected to light up an average 3 million homes in the state.

India ranks fourth at 8748 MWin global wind energy generation. Yet, it is abysmal compared to our existing wind energy potential of 45,000 MW. Moreover, the actual power generation capacity is only about 30-35 per cent of the name plate capacity. Typically, a one-megawatt turbine generates electricity that can light up an average of 300 homes.

Dire need

India’s wind power generation has been growing at the rate of 35 per cent over the last three years. Currently, annual production capacity of domestic wind turbine is 2000 MW with the unit size of wind electric generators deployed across the country ranging between 225 kW and 1.65 MW. But 60 per cent of wind power comes from Tamil Nadu. Our poor show in wind energy generation is shocking though we can ill afford huge oil import bill.

Many villages still lack access to electricity. To begin with, our actual technical potential for wind energy is 18,000 MW against the estimated potential of 45,000 MW. Some states have more potential while others have none.

Land use patterns and geography of the region too reduce potential that can be tapped. Availability of infrastructure to tap wind energy and enable individual players to hook on to the local grid for sale of power is again limited.

To cite an example, Western Ghats offers immense potential for tapping wind energy but the infrastructure to make this operational is lacking, discouraging companies willing to explore. The geography of the region too throws up road blocks.

Hurdles galore

The current cost differential between conventional and renewable sources is also a disincentive. For instance, average capital cost of power generation from thermal energy amounts to Rs 5.2 crore /MW. The equivalent cost of wind energy is Rs 6.5 crore/MW.

However it needs to be noted that renewable energy projects have an average pay back period of 5-7 years. This means, the zero input cost of wind power generation will push long term average cost below Rs 5.2 crore and cost of generation would become nil for the rest of the lifespan of the turbine. Typically, mechanical life of a turbine is about 20 years but capital cost is recovered over six to eight years.

The seasonal nature of wind is yet another deterrent preventing it from being sustained through the year.

Generally, 70 per cent of wind power is generated in six windy months in a year.

Comparing cost of wind power with that of fossil fuels is nevertheless unfair as the exact cost of fossil fuels in terms of exploration, mining, transporting, technology used, environmental cost of extraction besides political costs and impacts, is not reflected in its current pricing. Eventually when these fuels get exhausted, the impact on prices and economy can only be imagined. Lately, there have been extensive technological developments in making wind energy commercially viable. The future will see further refinements and cost reductions. This means, eventually wind energy will assume significance at levels that can only be imagined.

Currently, technology used in a windmill is very similar in principle to a dynamo in a cycle. As the windmill rotates, the mechanical energy is converted into electrical energy as it passes through the gear box on to the generator which incorporates an induction motor.

Many misconceptions

Besides cost, various misconceptions prevail about wind energy. Concerns such as loss of green spaces to accommodate wind mills, reduced precipitation levels, bird hits, confusing radar operators prevail, hampering its intensive tapping. While these are plain misconceptions, tapping wind energy on a large scale calls for serious policy changes from the government and greater access to information regarding its potential availability.

Suzlon Energy Ltd CMD Tulsi Tanti, the largest manufacturer of wind mills in the country, contends, “Implementation of RPS (Renewables Portfolio Standard) by all states with viable power purchase pricing, faster regulatory approvals and speedy land acquisition would help the wind energy market in India to grow faster.”

He further opines that if lower capacity wind turbines used in the early stages are replaced by modern large capacity ones, the actual wind energy potential realised would be higher. His company is in the process of setting up the largest wind farm in Asia with an installed capacity of over 1000 MW, in the district of Dhule in Maharastra.
Enzen Global Solutions Associate Vice President Energy Upstream Ramakumar Purushotham adds, “present tax incentives are confined to a few years when the company is still recovering capital cost. This acts as a disincentive to continue generating power over a longer period until the entire capital cost is recovered. Besides, required support systems to make projects self sustaining are currently absent.”

Also needed clear market information regarding availability of infrastructure, access to inputs and quantum of potential in each state. Technical feasibility should be forthcoming from the respective state nodal agencies dealing with renewable sources. Similarly, coal-based power generator, NTPC Ltd plans to build a capacity of 1000 MW of renewable energy over the next 10 years, of which 650 MW would be from wind energy.

Presently, after Tamil Nadu, Maharastra ranks second in terms of wind power installed capacity. Karnataka ranks third with an installed capacity of 917 MW as of December 2007. Karnataka has significant potential waiting to be tapped with areas like Belgaum, Hubli and Shimoga yet to be explored fully.

At the global level, about 20,000 MW of wind turbines was installed in 2007, pushing up world capacity to over 94,000 MW. Currently Germany leads with over 22000 MW. Spain ranks third after US at 15,000 MW. Denmark has 20 per cent of its electricity consumption met through wind energy.

Given the frequent power outages in the country and deficient, low voltage power scenario in the rural areas, along with the looming energy crisis, it certainly makes sense to tap this renewable source, especially when India enjoys a potential technical advantage.

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