Wind energy has been identified as a potential response to India's crucial power challenges since the 1990s. After a good 25 years, we still await the full potential of this renewable source of power to be realised. Currently generating just over 28 GW, the wind power sector has undergone a major shift in India. From being an investment that provides tax credits to mainstream Independent Power Producers (IPPs), the sector still leaves much more avenues to be explored.
The current scenario
The union budget of 2015 saw the government quadrupling the target of renewable energy to 175 GW by 2022—split between 100 GW solar, 60 GW wind, 10 GW biomass and 5 GW small-hydro power. With renewable energy becoming a major focus of the government, policymakers, along with field experts, are increasingly waking up and taking stock of the true potential of wind power. Wind farms are being set up with the latest technology, large-scale MW-class wind turbines, inclusive operation and maintenance practices for sustainable plant life, logistics tools for construction, while maintaining seamless grid integration.
With the current level of technology, the "on-shore" potential for utilising wind energy to generate electricity is pegged at 102 GW.
The new draft of the renewable energy law that was tendered last year puts forward institutional support that's required to achieve renewable energy goals. The National Renewable Energy Committee, the National Renewable Energy Advisory Group, and the Renewable Energy Corporation of India are all examples of this support. A plan is also in place to build supporting ecosystems that include resource assessment, testing facilities and monitoring and verification programs. Policies are also in place to boost local manufacturing.
Opportunities and challenges
While the 2022 energy targets look well within reach, any delays and setbacks could be detrimental.
The Indian Wind Energy Association has estimated that with the current level of technology, the "on-shore" potential for utilising wind energy to generate electricity is pegged at 102 GW. The nature of this unexploited resource's availability presents a potential that can be sustained to grow the wind-energy sector in the country for many years in the future. The Ministry of New & Renewable Energy (MNRE) has also pledged to achieve 60 GW of wind energy capacity by 2022. Eight wind turbine manufacturers also committed themselves to manufacture over 36 GW of wind turbines in the same period.
As of today, wind is at parity with other forms of power and old perceptions such as "renewables are expensive" or "unreliable" need to be updated as per current technology norms. The industry has gained from improvements in drive-train technology, tower structure and use of advanced power electronics, all of which add to the cost-effectiveness of wind power generation. Adopting technology and manufacturing in India will also help bring costs down further, while reducing debt costs.
Room for growth
As the sector gets more competitive, companies need to innovate constantly to stay on top of their game, while working continuously to be an attractive bet for investors, customers, employees, be recognized by the larger Indian community, and be respected among key influencer constituents such as the media and policymakers.
The focus of the industry must remain on leveraging a skilled workforce, continued technology development, a robust transmission setup and consistent investments for on-time commissioning of projects. Demand drivers for the wind-energy sector remain favourable in the long run, supported by strong policy support from the government, both at the centre and in key states, a favourable regulatory framework in the form of RPO (renewable purchase obligation) regulations, and an overall cost competitiveness of wind-based energy compared to conventional energy sources.
Hub heights and rotor diameter of wind projects have increased substantially in the last two decades, while the average Wind Turbine Rating (WTG) rating increased by almost ten-fold. Boosting the level of energy generated per turbine, this also reduces the overall cost of electricity. However, the top-end rotor and hub height installed for WTGs in India still has room for improvement.
No other renewable energy source has attained the level of maturity that wind power has. This power, if used to its full potential, can take India's growth to unchartered shores.
With the use of lightweight materials such as carbon-fibre, better aerodynamic profiles, on-site manufacturing, segmented blades and variable diameter rotors, costs are expected to come down, while pushing the capacity factor. A U.S. Department of Education study suggests that adoption of advanced technologies can increase energy output to the tune of up to 61% with small changes in capital cost between 36-21%.
India needs to shift to non-polluting, renewable sources of energy. While the demand for electricity is expected to go up, there's an economic as well as environmental reason why we must make this shift. Solar and wind energy represent a bright spot for India's economic future. A renewable energy-powered future. We are on the cusp of this future and no other renewable energy source has attained the level of maturity that wind power has. This power, if used to its full potential, can take India's growth to unchartered shores.