Clean Tech

NIWE has done a lot...

M Ramesh | Updated on September 11, 2018 Published on September 11, 2018

NIWE Director General K Balaraman

...some, however, say it can do a lot more

When it was set up in 1998, the Centre for Wind Energy Technology (C-WET), was pretty much meant to certify the worthiness of new classes of wind turbines. Apart from that, and holding training and workshops, there was little need for anything else.

Today, in its new avatar as the National Institute of Wind Energy, the organisation is gearing up to become the go-to body to its parent ministry, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, for all wind (and to some extent, solar) matters.

NIWE is laying the foundation for the wind industry’s march from the current installed capacity of 34 GW to the target of 60. A chat with the Director General, Dr K Balaraman, reveals how.

First, the institute has made data generation its primary focus. Its 800-odd masts spread across the country continuously record wind speeds at various heights at those locations — but that is only onshore. Offshore, where the machines are much taller and bigger, it is a bit more complex.

For data generation, you need LiDARs, which measure wind speeds and direction at various heights round the year. NIWE has one in the Gulf of Khambhat and intends to put up five more (for starters) at several locations along the coast.

Alongside, it is handling geotechnical studies of sea beds, for siting the turbines. India targets 30 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030, which is impossible in data-vacuum. NIWE, Balaraman says, has the biggest land-based wind data in the world; most others have satellite-based data.

Second, NIWE is taking wind to an unlikely region of India — the North East, where there is potential to be tapped. Wind measurement equipment is being installed on some 60 telecom towers, many of them in Manipur.

Further, NIWE is marketing its services abroad. It recently helped Indonesia develop a grid code to accommodate growing wind power and is talking to Cuba for wind resource mapping.

Balaraman is targeting the countries of the International Solar Alliance to market NIWE’s expertise. In addition, NIWE is busy offering services of wind forecasting, solar irradiance assessment, R&D projects to address specific needs of the industry, conducting workshops and training programmes and assisting educational institutions develop wind-related curriculum.

Amidst all these, NIWE has developed an app which, if you select even a roof-sized area on the map, will tell you how much solar power a rooftop solar plant will generate.

Hard work has its rewards and NIWE earned record revenues of ₹19 crore last year. The organisation is self-funded; MNRE funds are only for specific projects, such as LiDAR. An expansion of technical team, from the present 25 to a “much bigger” number, is on the cards. NIWE has transformed itself over the last two decades to become a nationally and internationally recognised institution in South Asia, says Dr S Gomathinayagam, NIWE’s former Director General.

Gomathinayagam is sure that NIWE will be a global organisation, though he adds a word of caution: to attract and retain talent you need adequate incentives, or else there will be attrition and “NIWE will always be in training mode”.

But, as always, there is another view.

R&D or problem-fixing?

While most agree that NIWE has come a long way, some in the industry feel that, perhaps due to lack of sufficient autonomy, the institute is only limping towards what it needs to be: a premier research institution, like US’ National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Balaraman himself says NIWE has no intention of becoming that — its R&D is more related to problem-fixing.

However, industry insiders, who asked not to be named, note that problem-fixing can be done by others, such as research labs in educational institutions. We need home-grown research institutions, they say.

Further, some say that NIWE could do well with better role definition. Is it an odd-job boy of the Ministry? Or a consultancy, or a training institute or a certifying body, like TUV?

So, is NIWE a vibrant, multi-faceted organisation, or a confused one that wants to be everything? We will know in a few years.

Published on September 11, 2018
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