In India’s big renewables and non-fossil energy thrust, offshore wind farms may play an integral role in achieving the country’s climate commitment and energy security goals. However, the existing infrastructure, cost and policy challenges must be resolved first.
War and attendant shortages have a way of galvanizing ideas and resources. With the Russian gas and oil pipelines being turned off, several European countries are seriously considering alternatives, including offshore wind to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels after the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Nearer home, should India do the same given its big shoreline of around 7,600 km that has been estimated to have the potential to generate 127GW of offshore wind energy?
The Indian government has committed to combat climate change and global warming by setting a target of 500GW of renewable energy by 2030 at COP26. Of this 500GW, wind power comprises 140GW. However, despite an impressive coastline, India has not made much progress on this front. A Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) assessment shows that offshore wind farms built on India’s coastline could generate a third of its 2021 electricity capacity by 2050. Unfortunately, there are no operational offshore wind farms in the Indian waters yet!
Meanwhile, the global offshore wind market has grown from 29.2GW in 2019 to 35.3GW in 2020, as per a report by GWEC, and is estimated to reach $60.9 billion by 2028 at a CAGR of 11.8 percent, according to a recent analysis.
The National Institute of Wind Energy’s (NIWE’s) initial assessment puts the total wind energy potential at 302GW at 100 meters and 695.50GW at 120 meters hub height. The assessment also found that more than 95 percent of the commercially exploitable wind resources are concentrated in seven states — Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu, with Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, together contributing nearly 71GW.
So, why are we lagging?
In an ideal scenario, the efficiency of offshore wind turbines over onshore ones is proven. Wind speed over water bodies is high and consistent in direction, which allows more electricity to be generated per installed capacity. The absence of obstructions offers better wind quality. However, installing offshore turbines costs more per MW than solar or onshore wind turbines. By some estimates, the per MW cost of offshore wind turbines is two to three times that of onshore ones. Also, many of the components such as turbines, inverters, transformers and evacuation infrastructure have to be imported.
Increased cyclonic activity, especially on India’s eastern coast, poses another challenge. Incidents of monsoon fury also need to be studied before huge resources can be put in open seas. Lack of developed infrastructure, regulatory issues and slow activity during the pandemic further prevent offshore wind farms from taking off in India. The existing National Offshore Wind Energy policy does not outline a clear framework for delivering offshore wind grid infrastructure.
What is the way forward?
There is a strong need for an action-oriented approach to establish an offshore wind market in India. The starting point should be framing a clear policy that outlines the objectives toward cost reduction and security regarding off-taker risks, with a minimum 10-year roadmap for procurement and grid infrastructure. A long-term contract will help reduce the inherent risk in wind energy production, thus encouraging investment. There is also a need to draft policies on seabed leasing to developers. Pre-defined timelines and sufficient research on technological optimization will encourage developers and financing entities to participate. The policy could adopt a "one-stop-shop" approach.
The next step would be to identify potential zones for offshore wind projects by widening the offshore wind measurement campaign to advance detailed site-specific studies. In a first-of-its-kind project in Asia-Pacific, an offshore wind energy testing facility is being set up in Dhanushkodi in Tamil Nadu's Ramanathapuram district to assess the feasibility of large-scale projects. More such projects will help bust myths and allow new developers to compare costs based on data on economies of scale, technology optimization and capacity factors.
Higher costs must be handled on priority. Lower tariffs can be achieved through higher efficiencies in turbines in a well-developed ecosystem, larger offshore wind plants and bigger turbines. The offshore projects can be multi-purposed. For instance, a desalination plant, a hydrogen recovery plant or a facility for a private company that has huge servers and requires large-scale cooling can be set up around an offshore plant.
More initiatives such as the knowledge hub — the Centre of Excellence for Offshore Wind and Renewable Energy — set up jointly by the Indian Ministry of New and Renewable Energy and the Danish Energy Agency are required. Regular interactions between policymakers and trade representatives will help establish fit-for-purpose infrastructure, eliminate supply chain hurdles, and ramp up ports and networks for existing and upcoming projects.
India’s decade-long experience in developing solar and wind projects will be a big advantage. If the challenges are appropriately resolved, there are substantial benefits to reap. Pushing the pedal on developing offshore wind farms may well be the answer to achieving the country's aggressive clean energy targets.
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