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Interaction | April 2015

India needs turbines that suit its low wind speed

Mahesh Palashikar, CEO, GE Renewables, India, says wind turbine manufacturing in India is already at par with those in any other region. Edited excerpts

What are the latest developments in wind turbine technology and how relevant will these developments be for generating wind power in Indian conditions?
There are some exciting critical developments in wind turbine technology that are very relevant in Indian conditions. The first is installing a wind turbine that is designed to suit India´s low wind speed conditions. Wind speeds in India are typically in the 4 to 7 m/s range. And Indian wind farms are more difficult to access given the complex terrains, which poses a logistical challenge for large turbine components such as blades. Hence it is necessary to employ turbine designs that balance the two. Our 1.7-103 turbine was custom developed for these requirements.

Secondly, it is important to ensure that the availability and reliability of installed turbines is high, so that the turbines are available to generate power when winds blow. This requires superior operations and maintenance processes, coupled with an excellent Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) record, such as the one consistently demonstrated by GE. Also, it is critical to enhance the output of turbines to improve investor returns. At GE, we articulated our vision for the Industrial Internet sometime back. We use its big data and analytics capabilities to improve turbines´ Annual Energy Production (AEP) by up to 5 per cent through our ´PowerUp´ Services. We also back it up with innovative commercial models, sharing the risks and rewards of such improvements.

What are the specific challenges that wind turbine manufacturers face in India? What is the current manufacturing capacity of wind turbines in India?
And going ahead do we see any expansions?

We believe wind turbine manufacturing in India is already at par with those in any other region. In fact, we assemble our turbines at our world class GE Multi-Modal Manufacturing facility at Chakan, near Pune. We also source a majority of components from within India and have developed a very competent sourcing base for the same.

However, we do see issues related to evacuation of power from the wind farms given the grid constraints, as also with curtailment in high wind seasons, and land sites being locked in for years without being developed into wind farms. The industry as a whole is challenged by lack of enforcement of Renewable Purchase Obligation (RPO). The total manufacturing capacity for wind turbines is to the tune of approximately 10 GW annually. The government of India has set an ambitious target of 60 GW installed capacity by 2022, and we believe the industry will have sufficient capacity to supply the same.

Why is capacity utilization low in wind turbine installations in India? Are turbine manufacturers utilizing the capacity at the fullest?
The Capacity Utilization Factor (CUF) of a turbine is a function of turbine design, wind resource, and operations and maintenance practices. Our 1.7-103 model of turbine is designed for India´s wind resource and leverages our operational excellence and Industrial Internet technologies to deliver a best-in-class capacity factor. We improve the CUF even further with AEP enhancing technologies such as PowerUp.

Do we see consolidation taking place in this sector in the near future?
We have seen some consolidation in the industry in the past couple of years with Independent Power Producers (IPPs) acquiring wind farm assets from the original promoters. IPPs derive their revenue from generation versus earlier installations that were set up for claiming Accelerated Depreciation benefits. These acquisitions help IPPs scale up quickly. Depending on the availability of funds for greenfield projects or brownfield expansion, there could be some consolidation in the market with more generation-conscious IPPs driving the industry´s growth.

What are the kinds of turbines that India needs to produce keeping in mind the nature of wind energy in the country?
As mentioned earlier, India needs turbines that suit its low wind speed conditions and logistical constraints. We should also evolve our criteria for turbine evaluation from a Rs. per MW consideration to Rs. per MWh, given the huge demand for energy in the country. It will spur adoption of technology that generates more energy which is fed into the grid, rather than sub-optimal installations to claim tax benefits.

We also need solutions that address India´s unique regulatory requirements such as the one on scheduling-forecasting, mandated by CERC´s Renewable Regulatory Fund (RRF). We are currently demonstrating a pilot project that addresses the country´s unique forecasting challenges through our Integrated Forecasting and Control Solution. We are excited by the superior accuracy and successful results we have seen from the pilot till date.

India is blessed with abundant solar radiation along with a good wind resource. The two energy sources are complementary - with wind blowing primarily in the evening and night, and the sun shining through the day. A hybrid wind and solar solution could help leverage the land and electrical infrastructure better, and deliver better returns to investors. With the draft onshore wind policy encouraging such solutions, we are committed to developing technology solutions for this as well.

In terms of repowering, what is the potential available at such wind sites in the country?
Various reports peg repowering potential to 1.5-2.0 GW considering a large number of ~ 500 kW turbines that were installed in wind-rich sites over 10 years back. Technology has substantially evolved since those installations, and it makes sense to repower these sites. However, there could be concerns about the fragmented ownership of these turbines and sites. Nonetheless, we are enthused by repowering recommendations in the draft onshore wind policy.

How much is the export potential for wind turbines made in India? Is our local export industry technologically capable enough to meet latest global standards?

We believe the local industry is capable of manufacturing turbines of global standards. However it is critical that the landed cost of turbine justifies the export potential. At our Pune Multi-Modal Manufacturing (MMF) facility, we are exploring expansion of our operations, aligned with the ´Make in India´ campaign.

At the same time, we are very proud that our Engineering and Global Research Centres at Bangalore and Hyderabad house over 150 engineers developing cutting-edge technology solutions and software for the global wind power industry. India is known for this engineering and software talent, and we firmly believe these innovations, when exported, will drive tomorrow´s digital wind farms globally to new heights.

With wind targets increased by the government do we see increase in order books and by what percentage?
Certainly. We do see a lot of tailwinds for the industry´the government´s leadership and focus, enabling policy framework, a robust supply chain, foreign funds´ interest, etc. If some of the challenges such as those related to consistency in tariff determination across states, RPO and open access enforcement, land availability, transmission capacity, etc. are addressed, this industry is well poised for exponential growth in the near future. And we at GE are fully committed to support India´s growth in generation of clean and green energy.

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