Offshore Wind in India - Charting the Right Course

With rapid economic growth and significant energy supply shortfalls, India is in urgent need of new electricity generation capacity. Development of conventional power plants has been unable to keep pace with demand.Concerns about climate change and environmental impacts pose additional risks for conventional fossil fuel based generation.

Meanwhile, renewable energy is seeing higher political support from both central and state governments. India is currently the world's fifth largest wind power market by installed capacity and fourth in terms of new annual capacity installation. As of March 2014, over 21 GW of wind power had been installed.

Despite this success, availability of suitable land for onshore wind energy development has proved to be a significant barrier in India. Obtaining planning consent and building the required infrastructure for onshore wind has proved to be a complex task - resulting in delays and in many cases, leading to cost escalations for the project. For onshore wind site saturation for sites with IEC Class III winds (annual average wind speed of 7.5m/s) is becoming increasingly common.

The typical average long-term wind speed currently being considered for onshore wind projects are in the range of 6-7 m/s at a hub height of 90m.

In states like Rajasthan, wind farm developers are even considering sites with average wind speeds of less than 6m/s. In the next 5-6 years, average wind speed of 5.5-7.0m/s at hub height of 90 m is expected to be more common, likely to result in greater hub heights (>100m) in an effort to mitigate the economic impact of weaker wind resource. However, the trend towards larger rotor diameter and hub heights is already posing a challenge in terms of transportation and project development.

Against a backdrop of increasing demand for energy and the government-led push for renewables, some policy-makers are turning their attention towards the long Indian coastline of 7,200 km that offers an alternative potential solution in the form of offshore wind energy. Early indications of good offshore potential along parts of the Indian EEZ makes a strong case for undertaking further assessments to initiate offshore wind energy developments.

In 2013, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy published a draft national offshore wind energy policy - final version of which is expected later this year. This demonstrates political willingness for the initiation phase. However, experience with this technology elsewhere has shown that policy certainty is also needed over the long-term to ensure that early momentum is maintained. The FOWIND project, which will identify and address the major barriers to offshore wind, is a concrete step in the right direction.

Offshore wind is significantly different from onshore wind- it is not merely an onshore wind turbine in the water. In fact, each offshore wind project comes with its own unique site-specific requirements and challenges because of the interplay between the environment, technology, grid, sea state and seabed characteristics. Indian environmental, geographical and climatic conditions will present its own challenges and hence the direct application of European experience may not work. Neither is there any guarantee that India'sown experience with onshore wind will prove to be fully relevant and applicable to offshore wind. In fact, there is a possibility that existing knowledge and experience of onshore will hinder the innovation required for the bespoke engineering of offshore. Similarly, any comparison of offshore wind with the solar sector on account of similar cost would prove to be counterproductive. European experience show meticulous planning and thinking of the bigger picture right from early project scoping is crucial for the success of any offshore wind project.

Offshore wind is qualitatively different and over-emphasis on its high project cost generally hides the important differences it has with onshore wind. There will be more dependence on the government for approvals, leasing and permitting processes and this, in turn, will impact the overall project timeline. From the technology side, a different wind climate, different foundation system and power export system with their proportionately higher importance in overall project matrix will demand a unique optimized approach and methodology. Rigorous planning will assume more importance as it will have a high degree of relationship with overall cost.

It is also necessary to recognize the synergy of existing industries and infrastructure. Ports, traditional shipping and oil and gas industry are required to provide the necessary infrastructure and support. However, European experiences have shown that the offshore wind requires its own ecosystem with specific turbine technology, customized vessels, skilled workers and tailor-made infrastructure if economies of scale are to be realized.

In the onshore sector the industry has charted its own course by negotiating the various realities and barriers, to create sustainable business models with support from various government incentive schemes. However, the different nature of the offshore sector means that it would be highly risky for offshore wind energy to be left to its own fate in India. It should also be noted that the potential hurdles and bottlenecks for offshore wind energy projects are more stubborn and not easily amenable to 'off the shelf' solutions. The idiosyncrasies and enormity of offshore wind projects require greater collaborations from relevant stakeholders underpinned by a solid regulatory framework. The importance of good and comprehensive planning and the right policies cannot be over-emphasized.

There are more than 7,000 MW of offshore wind capacity installed worldwide-over half(3,681 MW) of which is in the UK and almost a fifth (1271 MW) is installed in Denmark (GWEC, 2013). European experience of more than 10 years with offshore wind will certainly provide valuable lessons for India. However this is to ensure that India does not repeat mistakes made elsewhere; instead making sure it can utilize the learning from the sector success stories, wherever applicable whilst taking account of local conditions. In this way, the FOWIND project will seek to fast-rack the uptake of offshore wind in India.

Authors: Abhijeet Banerjee, Alok Kumar and Ruben Menezes from DNV GL