- Since 2014, solar energy has seen growing rapidly in India while wind energy has remained stagnant.
- The introduction of bidding in 2017, is one of the reasons that have stalled the growth of wind energy in the country.
- A parliamentary standing committee recently recommended giving a push to wind energy. Repowering old turbines is one option to improve energy production but it needs further discussion about investment and old agreements.
In 2014, the installed capacity of wind energy was eight times that of solar energy in India. Now, eight years later, in 2022, the solar energy installed capacity has not only surpassed the wind energy capacity but continues to expand exponentially. A parliament standing committee on energy, in a recent report, highlighted that solar energy seems to get priority from the government even though the sector is heavily dependent on imports. The report highlighted challenges for wind energy growth in the country and recommended bringing wind power capacity addition back on track.
The committee compared the growth of wind to that of solar energy to underline problems faced by the wind sector. In March 2014, the country had 21,043 MW installed wind capacity as compared to 2,632 MW of solar power. In the past eight years, solar capacity addition has increased by 2,064% while wind energy has added 93% capacity. On May 31 this year, the cumulative installed capacity of wind power was 40,706 MW as compared to 56,951 MW of solar power.
In response to the committee, the government attributes several reasons for this slow growth of wind energy capacity, one of them being the change in tariff regime. India was following the Feed-in-Tariff model till 2017. That year, the country introduced a bidding mechanism to foster competition in the market. This in turn had an impact on capacity addition. While in 2016-17, India added 5,502 MW of wind power capacity, since 2017, the capacity addition has been less than half – 2,000 MW in 2019-20.
Other than this change in tariff regime, factors such as low availability of wind-rich sites and payment issues from discoms (distribution companies) were cited as hurdles in the path of wind energy capacity addition, by the committee. It recommended that, “The wind energy sector should be given due priority vis-à-vis solar energy sector in order to maintain a balanced energy mix and also to allow the sector to reach its potential.”
Ashwani Arora, a researcher who studies renewable energy at Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), says that though it appears that wind energy did not get the same preference from the government as solar. In reality, the market did not respond to reverse auctions in the wind sector as it responded to the same in solar.
He elaborates that competitive bidding for the wind energy sector was introduced in 2017, which led to low and unsustainable tariff discovery due to aggressive bidding by participants. This low tariff discovery also pushed developers to move to states like Tamil Nadu and Gujarat because of their high wind resources to ensure profitability. In this process, other wind-rich states were neglected while a few were overcrowded with energy developers which led to several challenges related to land availability and acquisition and transmission infrastructure. The low prices also led to the reduced profitability of the original equipment manufacturers. It also affected the growth of the wind energy sector.
Reacting to the standing committee observation about solar energy getting priority, Energy Director at the World Resources Institute (WRI) India, Bharath Jairaj says that this is not necessarily true. “Wind energy has had a head start, and has been around for some 20-30 years. And it is also true that most good quality wind energy sites have already been taken, so the potential for large investments in the wind energy was less, to begin with. To expect that the pace of investment and growth in wind would be the same as solar, which is a relatively newer sector, is not justified. I don’t think the Standing Committee comment about the priority given to solar is a criticism, it reads more like an observation,” he added.
The huge potential of wind energy
With nearly 40 GW at present, India is at the fourth position globally when comes to the highest wind power installed capacity. China tops the list with 282 GW, followed by the USA (117 GW) and Germany (62 GW).
As per the assessment by the National Institute of Wind Energy, India has a wind power potential of 302.20 GW at 100 metres above ground level and 695.50 GW at 120 metres above ground level in the country.
In 2015, the government of India set an ambitious target of 175 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2022 including 60 GW of wind energy. During COP 26 in Glasgow, the country announced to achieve 500 GW of non-fossil fuel installed energy capacity by 2030.
In response to the standing committee query about wind energy’s share of 500 GW of target by 2030, the government informed that it would be 140 GW. This is a Central Electricity Authority’s (CEA) estimate that MNRE has quoted.
However, such an estimate comes with certain caveats. While there is a significant potential for wind energy generation in the country, not all sites are lucrative enough and most are concentrated in certain states. The committee’s report states, “In order to make the tariff commercially attractive, the wind power installation sites chosen are those which have an annual average Capacity Utilization Factor (CUF) of at least 30%.” The majority of wind resource potential sites are geographically limited. As per the committee report, 97% of these sites are concentrated in eight states – Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Telangana, and Rajasthan.
Similarly, the standing committee has listed several other bottlenecks. One of them is the introduction of reverse auction. After the introduction of the bidding route, “some developers deliberately quote lower prices for competition and then, they back out.” Best windy sites are already utilised by old turbines, renewable energy overdue to discoms, states not abiding by the Renewable Purchase Obligations (RPOs) are a few other barriers, the sector is facing, the committee finds.
The government needs to pull up its socks
In 2015, when the government notified the National Offshore Wind Energy Policy, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy was assigned as the nodal ministry for the development of offshore wind energy. But, nothing has been achieved on this front in the past seven years, as indicated by the standing committee, which says, “Initial assessment of offshore wind energy potential within the identified zones has been estimated to be about 70 GW off the coast of Gujarat & Tamil Nadu only. However, no offshore wind project has been established in the Country till date.” It recommends establishing off-shore wind projects in a time-bound manner.
Since the majority of quality windy sites are already occupied by old turbines, the committee recommends replacing and repowering old turbines. It also asks the government to work on a policy for recycling old turbines.
Regarding developers aggressively bidding and lowering the price and backing out of the project, the committee feels there is a need for urgent and strict action against such players. The committee makes recommendations regarding the non-payment of dues by discoms and suggests MNRE urge state governments for timely payments.
The committee also recommends giving an extra push to wind-solar hybrid power plants so that the maximum of the installable potential of more than 50 GW can be harnessed with added benefits of greater grid stability.
The standing committee has given due emphasis to repowering the old wind power plants by changing the old turbines with newer ones.
Commenting on these recommendations of the committee, Jairaj says that repowering older wind plants is an important option but there is no clarity on how this will happen. The Government should urgently provide guidance on repowering older wind plants. The MNRE has given some reference to small wind power plants to the standing committee. There is significant potential in implementing small wind projects – especially since they can be sited in places with moderate wind potential. “And we must begin implementing offshore wind projects, with adequate environmental safeguards,” he adds.
Regarding repowering, Arora says that while replacing old turbines is a good idea, there are other challenges that need further discussion. In case new turbines are installed, they will produce more energy from the same chunk of land. To evacuate that power, transmission infrastructure needs to be upgraded. Both, the installation of new turbines and transmission infrastructure needs investment. These power plants are tied up with discoms under long-term power purchasing agreements. There are questions about the future of these agreements, who will take extra power generated, and what will be the price. These aspects need thorough discussions, notes Arora.
Banner image: A wind turbine in Tirunelveli-Kanyakumari state highway roads in Aralvaimozhi at Kanyakumari district, Tamil Nadu, India. Photo by Narayana Swamy Subbaraman/Mongabay