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India, 5th largest wind energy producer

Samyukta Bhowmick in New Delhi | March 29, 2005

Wind energy is the fastest growing source of commercial energy in the world. And India, surprisingly enough, emerged last month as one of the fastest growing wind energy producers, behind only Germany (the highest producer in the world), Spain, the United States and Denmark.

All together, these five countries produce 80 per cent of the 14,000 MW that make up the entire world's capacity of wind energy.

India is no stranger to renewable energy, whether it's solar energy, wind, hydro or biomass.

We're using all four to some extent or another: hydro power where it is available (hydro power is technologically the best understood, and so among the most widely used); biomass in rural areas where the required waste is available (cost of transportation becomes prohibitive); and solar power more sporadically (usually also locally, for small domestic loads), given its high costs.

Wind power, however, can be used on a much larger scale. It uses a very simple principle to convert wind (which spins a turbine) into mechanical energy, which is then converted into electrical power.

India currently produces approximately 3,000 MW of wind energy annually (only marginally behind Denmark, which is at a total installed capacity of 3,117 MW, according to a recent World Wind Energy Association report), and had a growth rate last year of over 40 per cent.

As glowing as this sounds, however, India's wind power potential is 45,000 MW, making the amount harnessed less than 7 per cent of total potential capacity.

Wind energy costs only marginally more per unit than conventional energy (Rs 4-4.5 crore/MW, compared with thermal power costs of Rs 3.7 crore/MW), and even this difference becomes insignificant, say proponents of the renewable energy sector, if not non-existent, when you factor in the great environmental costs of thermal energy.

On top of this, wind is an indigenous resource that we can use almost unlimited amounts of, and it can be generated locally.

The message so far is clear: wind energy good. What then is stopping us from harnessing our potential, given the fact that we are a developing country and we could use the local employment generated, we could use less pollution and we could definitely use more energy?

The answers are coming in from all directions, and their message is equally clear: government bad.

Since producing wind energy is very capital intensive, there is a large amount of investment required. Most of this investment, predictably, comes from the private sector, but it is an unstable venture, since it is never clear what kind of returns will be got, and over how long.

Mahesh Vipradas, a Fellow of The Energy Resources Institute, likes to look on the bright side of life.

"Ever since the 2003 Electricity Act," he says, "there have been regulatory commissions set up in different states to determine state policy, leading to clear policies being formulated in states such as Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan.

This has promoted regulation, and must in the long run help investment. Also, the capital investment in wind and thermal energy is the same; what you need more of is land.

In India, land for wind energy is used when it is not otherwise being used for agriculture; so it's making unproductive land productive."

Kushal Yadav, a correspondent with Down to Earth, a Centre for Science and Environment publication, is equally sunny about the plus points of the wind energy sector, but becomes slightly darker when he talks of the public policy (or lack thereof) pertaining to it.

"It's true that we have nodal state agencies," he says.

"But what we really need is a single national policy about renewables. All the government is doing at the moment is providing subsidies on capital, and the occasional sop. This is really making us fall far behind our potential. You have to set clear targets for production and you have to guarantee that this amount will be bought by the grid producer."

"It's not that we need to know exactly what percentage of precisely what kind of renewable energy we'll be producing this year or next year -- but we need to know what percentage of our energy is going to come from the renewable sector, and then go with common sense to decide which to produce more of at that time."

Rakesh Bakshi, managing director, Vestas RBB India Limited, an Indo-Danish joint venture for the manufacture of wind generators, also has an axe to grind.

"Wind power," says Bakshi, leaving behind his grave businessman's demeanour for a while to grow lyrical, "is in our heritage. Why do you think we used to worship gods of wind, the sun and water? We have always respected Mother Nature, and now that we have near destroyed her with our carbon emissions, it's time to start looking after her again, especially now that we have the technical know-how as well as the capacity. We have 80,000 unelectrified villages. By 2012, we want to have power for all."

What is baffling Bakshi and his ilk in this aim is again lack of a clear national policy. "If returns are not clear, why should anyone invest? If they don't know when they're going to get their money back, or whether they'll get it back at all, this is a clear detriment. We have the technology, we even have the finances -- all we need is a long-term commitment from the state."

There are of course many pitfalls when one ventures into the murky ground of renewable energy. Mother Nature, for all that we worship her, behaves much of the time like a grumpy, red-faced fisherwoman, prone to fly into fits at little or no provocation.

Vipradas points out that coal-powered plants will run a steady 80 per cent of the time, whereas wind factories run at maximum only 35 per cent, so the energy generation is almost a third less.

Nevertheless, it is also true that you know in certain months there will be more than average wind strengths, for example in the monsoon, usually in the months of May and June, when humid air moves inland and again during October, when cool, dry air moves towards the ocean.

In any case, the benefits of wind energy are clear; the money is available; the technology right at our doorstep; and we have all the raw material we need -- there is more than enough hot air in this country -- all that's left now to do is convert all this wind into something concrete.

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