Untapped Potential

Scope, challenges and outlook for distributed wind power

Distributed wind energy systems refer to distributed or decentralised wind turbines that are installed to meet the energy demand for a specific consu­mer, or to meet local loads. These installations may be off-grid or connected to the central grid, which can receive the ex­cess power generated by these turbines. The capacity of distributed wind projects may range from less than 1 kW for remote applications, to several MW for industrial and agricultural applications. There are se­veral possible reasons for installing distributed wind projects, including, but not limited to meeting clean energy goals, hedging against rise in energy prices and establishing greater energy stability.

These systems may be employed by a wide-ranging set of consumers. A 2022 re­port by the US Department of Energy id­entifies seven main types of consumers for distributed wind systems:  utilities, residential, institutional, government and affiliated bodies, commercial, industrial and agricultural. These consumers may directly own a dis­tributed wind asset, or be purchasers of energy from a distributed wind project. Residential consumers may inclu­de remo­te households, rural homesteads as well as multifamily residential complexes. Institu­ti­o­nal consumers include educational insti­tu­tions, while consumers in the governme­nt include state and municipal facilities su­ch as water treatment plan­ts. Com­mercial consumers include offic­es, re­tail spaces, restaurants and large da­ta centres, while ag­ricultural consu­me­rs in­cl­u­de water pum­ping, irrigation, warehousing, cold storage and other farming operations.

Distributed renewable energy systems have not been adopted on a large scale in India, as power generation is largely centralised and based on national bids. The Global Wind Energy Council’s Market Out­look 2021 suggests that 90 per cent of wind capacity deployed in India between 2021 and 2025 will come through national bids. However, heavy dependence on the central grid may create limitations for consumers due to grid instability and potential transmission losses. In states well-endowed with wind, distributed wind po­wer can provide a reliable source of energy to consumers, especially if combined with solar power or biogas. These syste­ms possess immense potential for dep­lo­y­ment in the coming years to meet India’s energy demand as well as its carbon emission targets.

This article identifies the current status, key drivers, challenges and future potential of distributed wind power systems in India…

Status of wind power in India

India is endowed with rich potential for producing wind energy, primarily spread in its seven windy states, namely, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Ma­dh­ya Pradesh, Karnataka and Andhra Pra­­desh. Given its long coastline of 7,600 km, India also has tremendous prospects for harnessing offshore wind energy. Ac­c­ording to estimates by the National Insti­tute of Wind Energy, India possesses a to­tal wind energy potential of 302 GW at a hub height of 100 metres above ground, which almost doubles to over 695 GW at a hub height of 120 metres. Additionally, the country has an offshore wind energy po­­tential of 174 GW, which is primarily concentrated in the states of Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. As of June 2022, the total ins­talled onshore wind capacity in India was roughly 40.8 GW, while offshore wind has not yet taken off in the country.

For the past few years, the rate of wind turbine installations in India has remained stagnant. This was further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which led to se­vere supply chain constraints, obstructio­ns on movement and delays in procurement of raw material. As per the Mi­nis­try of New and Renewable Energy, only 1.45 GW of wind projects were installed in 2021. The potential for installations is mu­ch greater, and distributed wind power hol­ds immense promise for harnessing this potential more effectively.

In recent months, a few encouraging de­ve­lopments have occurred in the distribu­ted wind energy segment. In August 2022, Honda Motorcycle & Scooter India (HMSI) installed its third wind turbine system at Jagalur, Karnataka. The turbine has a ca­p­acity of 2.7 MW and is expected to gene­rate 7.5 million kWh of energy annually. The project will offset the company’s carbon emissions by over 5,400 tonnes per year. With this, HMSI has ins­talled a total of 7.4 MW of wind energy, including its wind turbine systems ins­talled at Radhan­pur (2 MW) and Bhanvad (2.7 MW) in Gujarat. Earlier, in June 2022, Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport announced the commencement of a pilot project to develop a wind-solar hybrid system to generate renewable energy for captive use. The airport is the first in India to deploy a hy­brid wind-solar system. The project will be undertaken by WindStream Energy Technolo­gi­es, based in Hyderabad, whi­ch has created a patented 10 kW hybrid power system, including a 2 kW vertical axis wind turbine and an 8 kW solar photovoltaic system with a minimum energy ge­neration capacity of 36 kWh per day. Repor­tedly, Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) is also seeking to set up captive offshore wind power projects of up to 5 MW ca­pa­city in the near future.

Drivers for distributed wind power

There are a number of key drivers that motivate the deployment of distributed wi­nd power systems across India’s windy states. First, harnessing the untapped potential of small wind turbines can go a long way towards meeting India’s ambitious 2030 target of producing 500 GW of non-fossil fuel-based power. Hedging against potential rise in electricity prices is another key reason for moving towards the­se new models of power generation. Po­wer supply by discoms also remains er­­­ra­tic, especially during summer and mon­soon. This significantly hampers the output of industrial, commercial and agricultural consumers of grid power.

These decentralised and distributed solutions are also capable of generating em­ployment in rural areas while providing a stable source of energy for multiple applications. Commercial and industrial (C&I) consumers are thus moving to renewa­bles-based captive projects to ensure reliability in power supply. These consumers can also accrue significant savings by adopting captive renewables, especially solar or wind power, over the costly grid power. State discoms in India continue to charge very high tariffs from C&I consumers, while solar and wind power tariffs have declined significantly over the past few years. This makes distributed renewable systems – wind or solar – more att­ractive to C&I consumers. Moreover, po­tential users of distributed wind power may possess underutilised space at their own premises, which can be effectively used to install small wind turbines for in-house power generation.

The government is also actively engaged in creating an enabling policy environme­nt for large-scale deployment of renewables, with increasing emphasis on newer models such as decentralised renewable energy. Recently, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy released a draft policy framework for decentralised renewable en­ergy livelihood applications with the aim to facilitate an enabling ecosystem for the adoption of decentralised and distributed projects on a large scale. Further­mo­re, the availability of affordable financing options for the development of such projects is also rising. Investments in the segment are also increasing, as IPPs expand their renewable capacity and large industry players shift towards clean energy.

Challenges

At present, the policy focus in India is lar­gely on utility-scale wind projects and lar­ge wind-solar hybrid projects. The scope and potential for distributed wind power has not been evaluated on a large scale so far. This, in itself, is one of the big­gest ch­a­llenges in the deployment of small wi­nd turbines for captive purposes. Identi­fying and mapping the potential application areas for distributed wind solutions is crucial for the success of this segment. Many of the regions with potential for wind energy generation may be rural or isolated areas with limited resources, tools and manpower. This may hamper the deployment of distributed wind projects, despite favourable wind conditions.

Other challenges include the lack of affordable finance due to a preference for centrally backed projects with defined po­wer purchase agreements over independent projects. There also exists a lack of uniformity in policies across different sta­tes. Local technicians lack the skills to ser­vice small wind turbines, while in re­mote regions, accessing turbines for maintenance is also a limitation. More­ov­er, land acquisition and soaring land co­sts due to clustering of projects in particular regions are severe challenges. Fin­ally, supportive business models, policies and evaluation studies have not be­en put in place yet.

Outlook

Going forward, to harness the potential of distributed wind systems in India, it is important to enact long-term policies. Su­ch policies would attract new entrants and investments to the market, producing more clean energy while creating green jobs. Ideally, these wind systems can be established as hybrid models with solar energy or biofuels to ensure continuity in power supply. Finally, comprehensive feasibility and evaluation studies must be conducted to ensure that investments are made in optimal locations.

By Kasvi Singh

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