Interview with Dr S. Gomathinayagam

“NIWE has enabled easy location of potential wind-solar hybrid sites”

Established in 1998, the National Institute of Wind Energy (NIWE) is the premier entity for research and development in the wind energy sector. Its reassessment of the country’s wind potential to 302 GW has positively impacted the wind energy market. NIWE has recently launched wind-solar hybrid atlases for better deployment of the technology in the country. In an interview with Renewable Watch, Dr S. Gomathinayagam, director-general, NIWE, talks about the institute’s achievements, the status of its projects, the key issues and challenges and the future outlook…

What have been the key highlights of NIWE’s operations over the past one year?

The key highlights have been designing a light detection and ranging (LiDAR) support structure for deployment in the sea, off the coast of Gujarat, forecasting and scheduling of wind power through Vortex-NIWE in Tamil Nadu, taking effective steps for implementing low voltage ride-through (LVRT) in both the existing as well as new wind turbines marketed in India, assessing the wind-solar hybrid potential in 24 wind-rich sites. Also, the secretary, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy rechristened C-WET as NIWE and dedicated it to the nation. Video conferencing facilities have also been introduced at both the Kayathar and Chennai campuses.

NIWE’s reassessment of India’s wind energy potential has created hope for significant capacity addition in the space but grid availability and evacuation remain major concerns. How can these be mitigated?

Significant efforts are being made by the government to overcome the evacuation problem by implementing the Green Energy Corridors project with the assistance of KfW, Germany, in addition to the announcement of the Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY) for improving the financial health of discoms in various states. Also, the present wind farm development is not being undertaken by single-windmill owners; instead, large-sized wind farms are being developed with multi-megawatt machines. Developers are also allowed to build their own substations and distribution lines to evacuate power. Effective forecasting and scheduling can lead to increased availability of the grid, as demonstrated in Tamil Nadu, with additional availability of up to 26 per cent. Grid availability may not pose a serious problem when there is conscious inclusive development of renewable energy systems with a socio-political will to reduce pollution (CO2 reduction).

How has the wind forecasting infrastructure developed in the recent past?

The NIWE-Vortex collaboration has been extremely successful in the last two wind seasons in Tamil Nadu, despite being in the learning process. Today, 106 substations have been metered to verify the forecast accuracy in real time and improve the forecast for 15- minute blocks as well as intraday and day-ahead forecasts. The scheduling of wind power in Tamil Nadu by NIWE-Vortex has enhanced the confidence of wind power generators in the state. The renewable energy management centres (REMC) in various states are likely to use three forecast service providers (FSPs). NIWE would like to be the FSP on behalf of the state load despatch centres/ national load despatch centre.

India has come up with an offshore wind energy policy. What are the challenges that the country’s offshore wind development is facing?

There are no technical challenges in the deployment of offshore wind power, except the cost. Even when developed in hundreds of megawatts, the per-MW cost is two and a half to three times that of onshore in terms of capex. The operational cost of offshore wind can also be slightly higher, unless very high reliability is ensured in the design of every component at the design stage prior to manufacturing. Also, the major challenges would be getting multi-ministerial/departmental/defence agencies’ permissions and techno-economically viable tariff structures.

What are the key technological issues that are plaguing the wind energy industry?

There are the traditional hurdles in the sector that include land allocation, evacuation, delays in payment from discoms and cash flows for the operation of booked/contracted orders. An important technological issue could be the unavailability of logistical infrastructure in windy sites, which are mostly rural. Road infrastructure requires special care in these areas as they are used for transporting heavy multi-megawatt wind turbine components such as nacelles, towers and blades.

What is your view on the government’s proposal to bring wind under the purview of competitive bidding like solar?

If the solar park pattern is followed to develop wind parks (given land, evacuation, road and logistics infrastructure), competitive bidding poses no issue for the wind sector either.

What is the progress on assessing the potential for solar-wind hybrids in India? What are the key challenges in assessing the true potential of such projects?

NIWE has already released online web GIS atlases for the wind and solar radiation potential, which is already superimposed. The wind atlas at the 100 metre level has a resolution of information at every 0.5 square km grid all over India. The solar atlas has radiation information at every 3 square km grid all over India. The wind atlas also includes the latest land use land-cover maps along with set-offs for various types of terrain like waterbodies, cities, airports, and roads. Hence, making use of the available information, it is not difficult for any developer to locate wind-solar hybrid potential sites in India. A key challenge could be that land has multiple uses other than wind and solar development, depending on state and central policies.

How does the coming up of NISE impact NIWE’s role in the solar resource assessment space? What has been the progress on the projects initiated in this segment by NIWE?

The National Institute of Solar Energy (NISE) is a young autonomous body yet to recruit key scientists as well as regular chief executive officers for effective operation, independent of ministries’ interventions. The objectives of NISE and NIWE do not overlap, except for resource assessment and mapping, which are handled together by expert groups at NISE as well as an experienced team at NIWE. So, we do not see any serious issues except that NIWE would keep serving and complementing the efforts of NISE, with hybrid development being emphasised, based on the complementary nature of wind and solar in most places.

What has been the progress on the FOWIND project so far? What are its key highlights?

The FOWIND project has reached the stage of the erection and installation of a LiDAR for the measurement of offshore wind at the Gulf of Khambat in Gujarat. It may be completed by the end of December 2016, subject to getting permissions that have been already applied for.

What are the key focus areas for NIWE in the coming years?

The key focus areas for NIWE are LVRT field testing, international accredited certification of wind turbines, capacity building for power quality assessment, capacity building for noise and acoustic measurement around wind turbines. There would also be a focus on capacity building for enabling wind-solar hybrid project development both grid-connected in all windy states and off-grid systems, especially in the north-eastern and mountainous regions, and wind and solar power forecasting for the entire country on demand from customers/regional energy management centres.

Dr. S. Gomathinayagam is Director General, NIWE.

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