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Government gets around to re-energising wind power in India

According to reports, the government’s plan to put wind energy in the same league for policy support as solar energy is a much-needed and overdue step. An unwarranted apathy towards wind power caused a needless deceleration in capacity addition in this sector in recent years. In the 10th and 11th Five-Year Plans, the wind power sector exceeded the targets set for it. In the last two years, however, two key fiscal inducements – an accelerated depreciation subsidy and a generation-based incentive scheme – were withdrawn. The latter was later reintroduced, but the sector was still effectively derailed.

However, with the government’s decision to launch a national wind energy mission later this year and to extend wind power production beyond the country’s shores to capitalise on ocean winds, this sector may hope to see better times ahead. Offshore wind power, which is likely to be promoted with the co-operation of the Global Wind Energy Council, is relatively capital-intensive but it gives higher and steady power yield without the hassles or costs involved in acquiring land. India is a land-constrained country; its long coastline, thus, offers good prospects for offshore wind power production in the longer run.

Countries like the United States, Germany and China have invested heavily in offshore wind electricity. The national wind energy mission, meanwhile, will identify high-wind zones, ease transmission constraints to facilitate grid connection, assist in land acquisition, and regulate tariffs for wind power. These measures will hopefully spur investment; remember, it’s wind energy that accounts for the bulk of India’s total installed capacity in clean power production. Still, India’s present installed wind power capacity of around 19.9 GW (one gigawatt equals 1,000 megawatts) is small compared to the 75.5 GW in China and 60 GW in the US. By some estimates, 300 GW could be economically produced by the wind power sector.

Both wind and solar power are useful. Wind energy has managed to attract more investment so far, thanks to the local availability of tried and tested technology and equipment. That it needs less land helps, too, as does the fact that much of the land in wind farms can be gainfully utilised for agriculture and other purposes to supplement revenue.

On the other hand, the technology and equipment for solar power generation are undergoing rapid advances, which is gradually bringing down production costs. But in order to take advantage of the emerging technologies, investors need to periodically update their projects. Nevertheless, solar power comes in handy for energising remote rural hamlets or operating tube wells – or even for supplementing power supply to urban buildings through rooftop solar power generation.

The real and formidable barrier for both sectors remains the inadequacy of the infrastructure that can link them to a grid designed for thermal power plants. This has adversely affected the growth of the wind energy sector even in a state like Tamil Nadu, which has been relying substantially on renewable energy for overcoming electricity shortage during its long, hot summers. This issue needs to be addressed to let wind power play its due role in ensuring energy security.

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