Offshore winds could bring change to India’s renewable energy sector

  • The national government’s recent announcement on the first offshore wind energy project has generated enthusiasm in the renewables energy sector and the industry.
  • With limitations restricting onshore wind energy development, the future could be dominated by offshore wind energy generation in India.
  • Long-term policy certainty and planning is needed to strengthen offshore wind energy generation.

As part of the commitment the country made under its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) towards greenhouse gas mitigation, India is aiming at installing 175 gigawatts (GW) of capacity of renewable power by 2022. The latest effort is the push for offshore wind energy development. The government’s ambition is to have 5 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2022.

The recent announcement of India’s first offshore wind energy project has brought in fresh spirit in the renewable energy sector and the industry is on board to tap the huge potential that the offshore wind energy sector is claimed to have. The National Institute of Wind Energy (NIWE), an autonomous body under the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), released a global Expression of Interest, to shortlist prospective offshore wind energy developers for a 1,000 MW offshore wind energy project in the Gulf of Khambhat, off the coast of Gujarat on the west coast of India.

The Indian renewable energy industry is onboard with the government’s push for offshore wind energy development. Representational photo from DNV GL-Energy.

“Offshore wind could play a very important role in India,” said Alok Kumar, India country manager for DNV GL-Energy. “Under the Paris Agreement, the country is committed to having 40% electricity generation from non-fossil fuels by 2030. In DNV-GL’s Energy Transition Outlook, it is predicted that rapid electrification will continue, increasing from 18% to 40% share of the total energy demand, with 86% of electricity production coming from renewable sources by 2050. It can be concluded that offshore wind will be an important component of these renewable sources.”

“Offshore has a distinct advantage over onshore, such as higher and steadier wind with no land constraints. Also, with most of the loads near to coastal areas, the cities close by will benefit.  Moreover, with a coastline of over 7,600 km, India offers tremendous potential for offshore wind,” said Kumar, who’s a member of the project management group for the European Union-funded Facilitating Offshore Wind in India (FOWIND) project, which aims to promote offshore wind power development in India.

The FOWIND consortium in its latest feasibility studies for offshore wind farm development in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu  concluded that there are eight potential zones each in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu that are most suitable for offshore wind development.  These potential zones are identified by ranking their compliance with a set of defined technical and environmental parameters and have the total potential of around 100 GW each in each state with the current technology.

However, there are concerns among environment experts that sites like the Gulf of Khambhat off Gujarat coast, where the first offshore windfarm is proposed, could be under threat as they are ecologically sensitive areas. They advocate for a balance between clean energy and the environment.

In terms of where the move towards offshore wind energy is headed, an official source in the MNRE told Mongabay India, “In offshore, one has to consider the fact that you are creating an ecosystem in the country for the first time – so, we are in the process of understanding what the nuances for that are. The policy came up last year and an assessment was made as well.”

Gujarat and Tamil Nadu are reported to have the highest potential for offshore wind farm development. Representational photo from DNV GL-Energy.

Demonstrating the potential

The MNRE also has plans to set up a small wind farm at Arichal Munai near Dhanushkodi in the southern state of Tamil Nadu at an estimated investment of Rs. 3 billion. It proposes to install four to five wind turbines, each with the capacity to generate a minimum of 6 MW of power.

“The possibility of installing offshore wind turbines in this region was being explored since this was found to be the best as far as wind quality and speed is concerned,” Bhanu Pratap Yadav, joint secretary, MNRE, told the media recently. This site is envisaged as another sample project to demonstrate the potential of offshore wind energy generation.

According to Kumar, demonstration projects are a vital component in ensuring the adoption of a new technology, especially for offshore, which is very unique in terms of challenges in every market and geographical condition. “This project can be viewed as a means to understand technological, economic, environmental, social and policy uncertainties. It would help to prove the technical feasibility, facilitate the formation of local expertise and develop industry confidence. Demonstration projects have been shown to lower long-term costs and accelerate technology deployment through the benefits of learning-by-doing and learning-by-using. Thus, they allow policymakers and private firms to prepare and modify long-term investment plans based on the initial demonstration project outcomes.”

However, this small sized project would be very expensive and will not be representative of future cost expectations as it would be largely built with European technology, work force and infrastructure, he warned.

Meanwhile, the Suzlon Group, a renewable energy solutions provider, has commissioned their first Operational Offshore Met Station in the Arabian Sea in December 2017. As one of India’s largest wind turbine suppliers, Suzlon is also tapping offshore wind energy technology and has initiated a techno-commercial feasibility study.

“Under guidance from the National Institute of Ocean Technology, Chennai, and approvals through NIWE, the first operational offshore LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) based wind measurement station was installed in the Arabian Sea, south west of Jakhau port in Kutch, Gujarat. The Met station is expected to collect data for two years,” a company press release said.

The solar-powered offshore met station. Photo from the Suzlon Group.

Additionally, another offshore LiDAR station is likely to be installed off the Tamil Nadu coast by September 2018 and the NIWE is planning to set up a few more for the assessment of offshore wind resources.

Policy to play a key role

Offshore wind, Kumar stated, is capital intensive and requires long term planning and investment by all stakeholders. This will be possible only when there is long-term policy certainty and a plan in place. Experience shows that a clear, time-bound, quantitative target for offshore wind development, and a roadmap of how to achieve it, is an effective tool to leverage offshore wind potential.

The industry predicts that the government’s focus would turn to offshore wind now that onshore wind and solar are well established, viable and largely market-driven, he explains.

Why offshore trumps onshore?

With an exclusive economic zone up to 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres) from its coastal baseline – where India has the right to build structures like wind turbines – offshore wind offers greater potential than onshore. Most of the high wind onshore sites have been exploited and finding suitable sites onshore are becoming increasingly more difficult. Besides, the growing sizes of an onshore wind turbine for commercial viability pose challenges in terms of transportation and development. “This is where we expect that focus would shift to offshore now – with the average size of offshore projects expected to be greater than onshore as it is more capital intensive”, reasoned Kumar.

“Given the large offshore potential, steadier wind and no land constraints, it would be correct to expect that offshore wind could surpass onshore wind in India in future,” he observed.

According to an official source in MNRE, a policy for promoting offshore wind energy generation will be in place and the government has initiated the process. Within the next one or two years, the early projects are likely to be reality.


[Also read: Clean vs green: Will India’s offshore wind energy thrust threaten biodiversity?].

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