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Indian energy set for winds of change
Publication Date : 27-10-2012
Towering over the waves of the Bay of Bengal, their blades whipping through the wind, hundreds of turbines dot the scenic vista along India's southern coast, the country's wind-power capital.
The turbines - each almost the height of a 20-storey building - produce enough electricity to meet the needs of about half a million homes each year, highlighting the potential of a freely available resource in the energy-hungry country.
Here, along a 120-kilometre stretch in the state of Tamil Nadu, the windmills generate more than 3,000 megawatt of power, almost 1,000MW more than what a nearby nuclear power plant will produce when ready.
Helped by years of tax incentives for renewable energy, India is now the world's fourth-largest wind-power market, although the bulk of the country's energy still comes from coal and oil.
India, which suffers regular power shortages, has thousands of miles of coastline, and though windmills are expensive to make and install, early experiments with wind power have been promising.
"The advantages with wind power is that it is gaining tariff parity with conventional energy and it has a much lower gestation period compared with thermal or nuclear power," said Dr Prodipto Ghosh, a distinguished fellow at The Energy and Resources Institute in New Delhi.
It costs 3.50 rupees (US$.065)) to generate one kilowatt hour of power from wind. By comparison, it costs 2.50 rupees per kwh from coal, 1.50 rupees from hydro and 4.90 rupees from diesel. Consumers pay the same rate for all.
Eventually, India hopes to sharply expand the share of "green" sources in its total energy mix from the current 10 per cent.
India, with 206,456MW of installed power capacity at the end of July, suffers from a peak-hour power shortfall of about 10 per cent. About 400 million Indians do not have access to electricity.
Asia's third-largest economy aims to add 88,000MW of generation capacity based on fossil fuels and hydro from this year to 2017, and another 29,800MW capacity based on renewable energy sources in the same period, according to official figures.
For now, wind power makes up just a small fraction of supply.
According to the Indian Wind Turbine Manufacturers Association (IWTMA), the country has an installed wind-power capacity of close to 18,000MW, or a little more than 1.5 per cent of India's total generated power.
"We have been adding about 3,000MW every year, which is a significant contribution," said Ramesh Kymal, head of IWTMA.
Last year, the United States' Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimated India's wind-power potential at 600,000MW, about a third of the country's total energy consumption now.
That would be a massive market, holding promise for such firms as Singapore-based Continuum Wind Energy, which is executing a 175MW project in the western state of Maharashtra among the largest singly owned wind farms in India.
India's rise to a "wind superpower" is due to tax breaks and government policies that require distributors in some states to buy 10 per cent of their power from renewable sources.
It also has Suzlon Energy, its biggest windmill manufacturer and the world's fifth-largest.
The number of turbine suppliers in India last year almost doubled to 24 from two years earlier amid surging installations, according to IWTMA data.
Yet, high capital costs and the fact that wind is intermittent - plants often run at a quarter of their capacity compared with 80 per cent capacity for nuclear power - mean that it is expensive and the sector has needed tax incentives to survive.
This year, installations in India are down, reflecting a wider worldwide slump in sales of wind turbines, as well as the expiry of two government tax incentives in March.
Still, experts see the slump as temporary, saying a revival in demand in India will come once the government implements a promise to reinstate the tax incentives.
"There is no reason we should not see a revival in growth in wind with proper planning even without incentives," Dr Ghosh said.
"Wind's advantages are too many to ignore it as a source of energy."