With over 35 GW of installed capacity, the Indian wind energy segment has matured significantly. Over the past two years, the wind power market has transitioned from a feed-in tariff regime to competitive bidding. The auction regime, introduced in 2017, has led to a steep decline in wind tariffs. To remain profitable in a competitive market where tariffs are falling consistently, engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) players are focusing on increasing the efficiency of all operations involved in the commissioning of wind projects through automation. There is scope for automation at all stages of project execution, from the manufacturing of wind turbines to the development of the project.
On the manufacturing front, automation has become necessary owing to the need for large scale operations including larger wind turbines. At manufacturing facilities, robots are replacing human workforce to manufacture wind turbines and paint wind turbine blades. In the future, the use of 3D printing and augmented reality can help developers test and modify the blade design in real time, and reduce manufacturing time and costs.
In fact, automation is serving two purposes. One, with limited manual labour, the production time has reduced significantly, leading to increased productivity. Second, with greater precision, homogeneous products are being manufactured, leading to minimal manufacturing errors.
A low tariff regime has also raised many questions on the quality of wind projects, the majority of which are based on old technology. These projects were installed in the early years, mainly at sites with flat terrain and high wind speeds. These projects now need to be repowered using more efficient and advanced wind turbine technologies. The industry has already started using innovative technology for selecting optimum sites for project development, and increasing hub heights and rotor diameters of wind turbines. This is where automation can play a major role. The use of drones, for example, can enable project developers to survey sites, and perform soil and topographical analyses more efficiently and comprehensively.
Concerns for EPC players
With automation, the size of wind turbines and hub heights is increasing. Thus, EPC players now have to undertake careful planning and execution at each stage of the project. In order to ensure the smooth implementation of projects, developers have to work out strategies that are in line with their automation plans. This involves awarding the project works including equipment sourcing, civil works and erection, and pre-commissioning testing and maintenance, to new players. Given the mammoth scale of operations, the project execution is expected to get challenging. The increasing size of wind turbines and other equipment will put pressure on transportation and erection infrastructure. Moreover, right-of-way processes are becoming complex. Although the capability of EPC players to execute projects has increased, the other players involved in the value chain, including logistics and technology companies, need to strengthen their capabilities.
Growing need for automation
Going forward, automation will help in maintaining the quality of wind projects, which has gained centre stage owing to the strict norms set by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) and the forecasting, scheduling and deviation settlement mechanism regulations issued by various state governments. According to the action plan proposed by the MNRE, if discrepancies are found in the compliance of a self-certified wind turbine model, the original equipment manufacturer would be barred from installing turbines in the country for five years, the turbines would be disconnected from the grid, and a penalty of Rs 20 million would be levied. Meanwhile, the state electricity regulatory commissions have started levying deviation charges on developers for missing their power supply targets. Both over and underutilisation of generation capacity is penalised.
However, considering the current target of 60 GW for the wind energy segment, it will not be enough to just increase automation in the wind energy segment. More research and development labs also need to be set up across the country in a planned manner. To support the growing automation in the segment, a quality control and checking mechanism is required for the entire life of the wind power project.
By Sarthak Takyar