“Repowering is a low-hanging fruit”

Views of Martand Shardul

The COP26 conference held in November 2021 saw India extending its ambitious target of achieving 175 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2022 to 500 GW of non-fossil fuel energy capacity by 2030. India also announced its target of net zero emissions by 2070. Wind energy is expected to play a significant role in the achievement of these targets. The country’s current installed wind power generation capacity is roughly 40 GW. However, the average annual capacity addition has been merely 2.48 GW over the past five years. Meeting the country’s energy targets would entail greater capacity addition, improvement in energy efficiency outcomes and repowering on a large scale. Despite a policy on repowering, the segment is yet to witness significant growth due to limitations imposed by the lack of financial incentives, high costs, poor coordination among stakeholders and few implementation mechanisms. At a recent Renewable Watch conference on “Repowering of Wind Turbines in India”, Martand Shardul, policy director, Global Wind Energy Council, India, talked about the progress, challenges and future potential of repowering wind assets in India. Excerpts…

Repowering potential

It is now an accepted reality that greening the grid and transitioning to green energy is inevitable. In this respect, wind energy will play a pivotal role. It has played an important role in the past, and now the role will become much more prominent. Earlier, electricity generation was dominated by coal-based capacity. Now, as we are transitioning from coal to renewables, the deployment of a large quantity of solar energy would not be sufficient given the fact that storage costs are very high. The deployment of wind energy will be essential for balancing the grid. There are multiple opportunities for wind-based generation. Policies for the development of hybrid projects that combine solar and wind energy are already in place. Stand-alone wind projects are also being harnessed. These will be crucial to secure our grid and ensure its reliability. Furthermore, the Gree­n­ing the Grid initiative under the Internatio­nal Solar Alliance requires wind energy to play a strong role in balancing the grid.

With large renewable energy commitments and targets, identifying and harnessing all potential greenfield sources is crucial. Repowering presents a great opportunity for the wind energy segment. We have already established a mature wind power market and have a handful of sites with potential for generating wind power. The market can be utilised effectively if the existing sites are harnessed to generate much grea­ter po­wer. From the perspective of independent power producers, generating more power from the same resource that is already established is expected to generate higher profits. At the same time, the government will benefit as we will be able to harness more wind resources.

We have more than 300 GW of wind energy po­tential in the country. Repowering is a low-han­ging fruit in front of us. It presents ample opportunities for utilising the wind power potential more effectively. India has roughly 2.9 GW of short-term opportunity available for sub-MW ins­tallations. This will extend to an opportunity of almost 4.5 GW in the coming years.

Key issues and challenges

There are several issues facing the repowering sector. Primarily, clear eligibility criteria for progressing to repowering must be defined. There are a number of options that have been laid out by stakeholders. The government is inclined to­wards the size of turbines as a criterion. How­ev­er, in the past, the business model for the wind segment was drastically different from what it is now. Merely focusing on the size of turbines may not be in the best interest of the sector, especially if we aspire to meet our 2030 targets in a timely manner. Va­rious other parameters must also be considered, such as the remaining life of the turbine, overall capacity that can be generated from a particular site and the number of turbines that have been dep­loyed at a particular site.

The present repowering policy also has limitations as it does not lay down any sp­e­cific criteria for repowering of wind ass­ets. This demands that stakeholders come to a consensus. From a technical point of view, moving from a low capacity turbine to a higher capacity modern turbine would require them to be connected to 33 kV or 66 kV lines. Currently, only 11 kV connectivity exists, which is not sufficient to draw power from the new larger projects. It is important to ensure that at sites where repowering is planned, there is access to substations and the opportunity for substations to absorb power. Greater conse­n­sus among power transmission companies, state-level units, the central agencies and power developers is very crucial. Wi­th­out consensus and coordination, repowering may not be successful in meeting the country’s green energy agenda.

We need to look at institutional and policy-related issues. On the policy front, old wind turbines have different arrangements and incentives. In the new regime, these may have been abolished. Enough incentives must be offered to developers as well as owners of past projects. Incentives are also needed for people who own the land, based on the type of landownership. Making the most of existing land assets and resources will be in the best interest of greening the grid.

The way forward

To summarise the priority areas for boosting re­powering in India, first and foremost, while we have a policy in place, the definition and dynamics of repowering need to be relooked at. A prime question to be ans­wered is: Do we have to confine ourselves to wind turbines or should we look into the possibility of harnessing hybrid ins­tallations while repowering? We will also certainly have to rethink whe­ther we want to confine ourselves to the 1 MW th­re­shold or scale up. Captive ag­ents may not be able to absorb 51 per cent of generation. This must be add­ress­ed. Suffici­ent financial incentives must be establish­ed for both players that in­­vested in the past as well as potential future players. Since the cost of deploying higher capacity turbines is greater, the in­centives re­quired will also be greater. The availability of low-cost finance for re­po­w­ering projects is also essential.

As electricity is a concurrent subject, the government may form a working group under the ministry and take it up on a priority basis as a means to communicate with state agencies and discoms. There exist huge opportunities for wind repowering in states such as Gujarat and Tamil Na­du. The sector entails a wide range of sta­keholders including key industry players, state and central governments as well as small players. Bringing them all on to one platform and discussing a timeline for moving forward in the sector is critical. While state-wise estimates have been an­alysed by several agencies, the adoption of higher capacity turbines will require the estimates to be revised accordingly.

It is also important to revisit the definition of repowering, not just from the perspective of the eligibility criteria, but also in terms of relooking at old sites for hybrid es­tab­lishments. The addition of solar po­w­er in wind turbine repowering presents great potential for future development in the renewable energy sector. Finally, while the existing policy has provisions for interest rebates, etc., it may not be sufficient to bring about the kind of change that the sector is capable of. Thus, institutional arrangements must be made to transform old projects into projects of the new era.

Stakeholders in the wind sector are continuously innovating. Every two years, a new customised turbine for the Indian mar­ket is introduced. Siemens Gamesa Re­newable Energy has come out with 3x platforms and more players are likely to come out with such platforms in the near future. This is all when there are limited in­cen­tives for the wind sector as compared to solar and others. Even without a level playing field, wind stakeholders are working towards national interests, and developing and innovating rapidly for energy efficiency. Greater innovation and ra­pid development can be expected once the desired incentives and policy measures are put in place.

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