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Big challenges lie ahead for the wind energy sector in India

According to reports, it has been difficult for the country’s wind energy industry to get excited about tapping offshore wind. First of all, the untapped onshore potential itself is quite big, with less than 15% of the potential 1,00,000 mw realised till now. Secondly, since seabed is India’s property, approvals are needed from at least six government agencies. That can be cumbersome.

Finally, offshore is relatively costlier – a factor that can’t be discounted given the poor state of power utilities. Amid all this, a rare bullish voice comes from Malolan R Cadambi, managing director of the Bangalore-based Greenshore Energy Pvt Ltd, a company that wants to do nothing but tap offshore wind in India.

“It’s a little bit of ignorance to say that we are having a power crisis when we have potential in the sea,” says Cadambi. The US department of energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study does support his claim. It has pegged India’s offshore developable potential at a huge 2,37,964 mw.

Cadambi says the sweet spot for offshore wind is off the coast of Tamil Nadu. Without counting a biosphere reserve off Rameshwaram, he estimates a potential of 30,000 mw, nearly five times Tamil Nadu’s current installed wind capacity of 6,500 mw. “Tamil Nadu is the only state where both monsoons (south-west and north-east) criss-cross, giving it a unique advantage of having 10 months of good offshore wind speeds,” he says.

Greenshore is a company formed by marine engineers and naval pros. It also has advisers in L R Chary, a former executive director with the Shipping Corporation of India who publicly backed offshore wind energy as early as 1995, and Commodore S Shekhar, regional director of the Chennai chapter of National Maritime Foundation. Cadambi, an engineer, ran a small real estate firm before he met Chary in 2009.

He immediately embraced the offshore wind energy idea. Cadambi knows offshore wind energy won’t come on in ahurry. In fact, the ministry of renewable energy official told ET recently it won’t push for offshore right now. But what the ministry surely has done is pave the way for India’s first offshore pilot project, off the coast of Dhanushkodi in Tamil Nadu.

This was facilitated earlier this year through the Chennai-based Centre for Wind Energy Technology, a government of India agency. Further, the ministry has also formed a technical committee to study offshore wind energy issues, and this will be headed by the chairman of the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board.

More favourable news for Cadambi has come from the recent Tamil Nadu budget, which has explicitly sought to promote offshore wind energy farms. His Greenshore wants to put up a mast off the coast of Kanyakumari so that it can be bankable wind data. One fact that sceptics regularly highlight is that the offshore project cost is easily 3-5 times than an onshore project.

In Europe, for instance, offshore costs the equivalent of about Rs 21 crore. So, isn’t cost a dampener? Cadambi doesn’t think so. “The Europe cost is high, because of aesthetic reasons. They use steel jacket foundation, which is expensive. China has achieved a capex of half of that and their wind tariff is Rs 7-8 per mw due to the higher plant load factor (a measure of efficiency),” says Cadambi.

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