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.
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.
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