India clearly had a head-start over China in the wind energy sector. But given the pace at which things are moving in the two countries, it is just a matter of time before China overtakes India in the total installed capacity and net annual additions.

N. Ramakrishnan

Comparisons, though inevitable, are odious. Especially if India and China are the players involved. It is quite common to hear Indian companies ruefully talk about the advantage that their counterparts in China enjoy, because of which Chinese manufacturers are able to plan capacities that are enormous and aggressively price their products and compete on a global level.

This advantage that China enjoys is not confined to manufacturing alone. Take the wind power industry, where India clearly had a head-start, but China is slowly but surely catching up. Given the pace at which things are moving in the two countries, it is just a matter of time before China overtakes India in the total installed capacity and net annual additions. For this, India has no one to blame but itself.

The wind power industry in the two countries is quite similar — most of the global manufacturers of wind turbines have a manufacturing presence in the two, either through joint ventures or on their own. Where India is different is that its market leader is a domestic manufacturer — Suzlon — which has aggressively expanded its presence not just within the country but abroad too and also across the spectrum of turbine manufacture. In China, the domestic turbine industry now accounts for less than half the turbines installed.

Wind energy capacity

Consider the figures recently released by the Global Wind Energy Council, an international forum for the wind energy sector: Over 20,000 MW of wind power was added in the world in 2007 led by the US, China and Spain. China added 3,449 MW during the year and now ranks fifth in installed wind energy capacity with over 6,000 MW at the end of 2007. In comparison, India added 1,730 MW during 2007 taking its total installed capacity to about 8,000 MW, enough to retain its fourth position globally in terms of total installed capacity.

A status report on its wind power industry released by the Chinese Renewable Energy Industry Association clearly identifies the goals set by the country and the roadmap ahead. “China has chosen wind power as an important alternative source in order to rebalance the energy mix, combat global warming and ensure energy security.

“Supportive measures have been introduced. In order to encourage technical innovation, market expansion and commercialisation, development targets have been established for 2010 and 2020, concession projects offered and policies introduced to encourage domestic production,” says the China Wind Power Report 2007 available on the Internet.

Enabling laws

China has in place a renewable energy law, while India is still a long way off from enacting a similar legislation. More importantly, though there are a handful of industry associations there is hardly any comprehensive status report available.

As industry representatives admit, in the rat race to install more turbines, no one is prepared to pause and examine whether key issues — that of a sustainable policy framework, infrastructure preparedness or grid adaptability — are being cohesively addressed.

Industry representatives admit that India can easily add more wind energy capacity every year. The potential itself is vastly under-estimated. Against 45,000 MW, which is still the official figure given out by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, the wind industry itself believes that this could be as high as 100,000 MW.

The higher figure is because of advanced technology that allows turbines to harvest more wind to generate electricity and the fact that the towers on which the turbines are fixed themselves are taller than originally envisaged. Manufacturers say that there will be greater indigenisation of the turbines if the annual capacity addition is 3,000-3,500 MW every year. Everything is right but it just needs that kind of impetus to push it to takeoff point.

For one, there is no uniformity in policies across the States, right from the tariffs that are offered to the period of the power purchase agreements that State utilities are prepared to sign with the developers. This puts off investors, for whom the first level of comfort is continuity in policy. Investors look for a reasonable return on investment and some sort of cover for the risks.

Each State follows a different policy as far as renewable energy, more particularly wind energy, is concerned.

Only now have the State utilities — that too, at the prodding of the electricity regulatory commissions — realised the need to have a basket of renewable energy projects, what with concerns over the environment.

Different providers

Unlike in China, where wind energy projects are tendered out based on tariffs, in India wind energy projects are put up by either private power utilities who are under an obligation to satisfy renewable portfolio standards — that is having a percentage of the electricity they distribute from green sources — or those who put them up for captive consumption, an insulation from costly and unreliable grid power.

Significantly, till now most wind energy capacity, especially in a State like Tamil Nadu, which leads in total installed capacity, was for captive consumption from power-intensive industries such as textiles and cement.

The problems vary from State to State. In Tamil Nadu, it took more than a year for the regulator’s orders to be implemented fully while problems of evacuation remain. In Andhra Pradesh, the transmission utility has not implemented the regulator’s orders because of which capacity addition suffers, while in Karnataka, a Government order for a higher percentage of renewable portfolio standard has got stalled.

The more serious problem is in Maharashtra, where “local issues”, in the industry’s parlance, threaten to derail wind power development. Maharashtra, however, has the most attractive tariff in place, which is why a number of developers — power utilities such as Tata Power and Reliance Energy, and multinationals such as BP, Roaring 40s, Axiona and CLP — are flocking to the State with large-sized projects. “Local issues”, or interference at all levels, are posing a serious threat to wind power development in Maharashtra. There have been cases of wind turbines being forced to shut down or equipment meant for installation taken away, or even workers held for ransom. All these have been sorted out, but at a high cost to the industry and investor confidence.

The wind energy sector in the country has to first come together and get these issues sorted out before it can expect large-scale development to happen.

All manufacturers, irrespective of their business interests — here they can learn a lesson from the IT industry, which has one of the most effective industry associations — should cohesively work to highlight the issues in the public domain.

For this to happen, the players need to have a status report first. The China Wind Power Report 2007 could be a good guide for the Indian wind power industry to follow.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated February 20, 2008)
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