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While I was at Singapore a few months back at the Renewable Energy Finance meet, Rex Reksniss of RECharge ( http://www.rechargenews.com/ ) asked me about trends in offshore wind exploitation in India. I told him I did not expect anything to happen in offshore wind in India over the next few years, but he said that I should probably be less pessimistic, and pointed towards China, which had also maintained, until a few years back, that it was not so keen on offshore wind farms. ( see the news on China Powering Up First Offshore Wind Farm – http://bit.ly/9UwAKj ).

Motivated, I decided to put together an article on offshore wind trends worldwide, with attention being given to specific efforts in the Indian context.

Here’s a bit of background on offshore wind, and some comparisons with onshore wind.

Efforts into commercialization of offshore wind have been underway for the past few years. Most of the initial efforts were in the waters of Northern Europe, where wind speeds in excess of 8 m/sec are frequently available ( to make offshore wind generation economically viable, a wind speed of more than 6.5 m/sec is needed ).

The advantages which offshore wind farms offer over onshore wind farms are quite well known. Onshore wind farms are often subject to restrictions and objections – objections based on their negative visual impact or noise, restrictions associated with obstructions (buildings, mountains, etc.), and land-use disputes or limited availability of lands. These reasons explain part of the growing importance of offshore systems, but the critical advantage offered by offshore wind farms is really the higher and more consistent wind speeds, and consequently, higher efficiency.

Offshore wind systems are costlier than their onshore counterparts, both in capital and operating costs. A summary of indicative cost data provided below is insightful.

Onshore
Investment of about $1.5 million per MW
Levelized cost of 6-7 cents per kWh
O&M – 1-3% of capital costs
May be built in smaller units

Offshore
Investment of $2.3 million per MW
Levelized cost of about 10-11 cents per kWh
Higher O&M – 40$ per kW and 0.7 cents per kWh variable
Large turbines and farms required

In spite of the higher costs and the uncertainties involved in offshore wind, research in this sector has been significant, and the main reason is the potential offered by offshore wind turbines, especially in lands close to water.

Before any others, the continent of Europe made rapid strides in offshore wind farms.

An EWEA (European Wind Energy Association) report estimates that between 20 GW and 40 GW of offshore wind energy capacity will be operating in the European Union by 2020. A fully developed European offshore wind resource could deliver a capacity of several hundred GW to supply its future energy demands. (Source: http://bit.ly/bxlEKi )

Among the European countries, the UK and Denmark have been leading in offshore wind.

UK has a current installed capacity of about 700 MW, with 228 offshore wind turbines operating in UK waters. A further 1,407 turbines are in construction and approved, totaling 4,598 MW. Just a few days back, E.ON flicked the switch on Scotland’s first full-scale wind farm, bringing the 180 MW Robin Rigg project in the Solway Firth online. Within a few months, the UK will have 1 GW of installed capacity in offshore wind farms. This is a large number, even if it pales in comparison to the total amount of onshore wind worldwide (by end of 2008, the onshore wind energy capacity was over 120 GW), because unlike onshore wind, offshore wind is a much less explored resource. Worldwide, the total installed capacity was less than 1.5 GW end of 2009 – clearly, the leadership that the UK has in offshore wind is significant.

Other European countries that are prominent players in offshore wind are: Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden and Ireland. All these countries already have operational offshore wind farms.

Recently, at the Copenhagen climate summit in December 2009, nine European nations vowed to create a supergrid for sharing offshore wind power. The North Seas Countries’ Offshore Grid Initiative includes Denmark, Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Sweden and Ireland. A supergrid connecting all those nations may not only create a wider electricity market, but also encourage offshore wind power development.

Clearly, when it comes to offshore wind, Europe is way ahead of the rest of continents.

The Chinese entry

China has big plans for offshore wind. China’s total wind potential is about 1000 GW onshore and about 250 GW offshore ( http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/bizchina/2009-06/18/content_8296706.htm ). China’s total installed electricity capacity is about 650 GW, so offshore wind has the potential to supply a large percentage of China’s growing electricity needs.

USA

USA is supposed to have an offshore wind energy potential of about 1000 GW. That’s a lot, and it is almost the same as USA’s total installed capacity ( about 1100 GW ). The country is thus keen on offshore wind as well (they even have an exclusive association for that – http://www.usowc.org), though the progress in USA is admittedly much slower than the happenings in China in this context (for more, see here – http://news.cnet.com/8301-11128_3-20001369-54.html ). There also exists a nice white paper on on the US efforts in offshore wind – http://www.windpoweringamerica.gov/pdfs/workshops/2005_summit/musial.pdf .

Japan

Surprisingly, Japan has not proceeded as much as many European countries in offshore wind. Since 2003, the northern Japanese city of Hokkaido has been harnessing offshore wind with two 600-kilowatt turbines located inside a breakwater less than one kilometer off the coast. This also happened to be the first offshore wind installations anywhere in the world outside of Europe. But since then, not a lot of water appears to have flown under the bridge, save for some efforts that were reported in Aug 2009 when Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and the University of Tokyo announced they were planning a new project to investigate offshore wind power using a wind observation system off the Pacific coast of Japan. The project is scheduled to be carried out from August 2009 through March 2014,

We finally return to India.

After the brief chat with Rex, I was wondering whether I had missed out on any happenings in the Indian offshore wind scenario. Upon returning to office, I tried digging up on this, and I asked my colleagues if they knew of any developments in this regard. Cutting a long story short, I drew a blank.

I drew a blank even after hours of search. There seemed to be almost no data about offshore wind potential or efforts in India. I decided to check out with CWET (Centre for Wind Energy Technology, http://www.cwet.tn.nic.in ) and I finally figured that some initial efforts had indeed been undertaken by CWET. A working group consisting of expert members from National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM), Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), Indian Oil Corporation (IOCL) and C-WET had, in late 2008 or 2009, started studies for feasibility of offshore wind measurements. The team had initiated the work on getting the clearances for offshore measurements near Dhanushkoti ( close to Rameswaram ). For a project planning to kick start offshore wind measurements, the team visited Dhanushkoti and collected the GPS co-ordinates with the help of land surveyors.

The main objective was to take up wind resource assessment studies in the southern tip of India, particularly at two locations viz. Koodankulam (Kanyakumari) and Rameshwaram (Dhanuskodi), and to examine the feasibility for setting up offshore wind farms. The aim was to collect data set of wind speeds, wind direction and to gather sea temperature, sea current characteristics, and waves data for environmental research, design, and development of offshore wind farms, and to assess potential impacts of these measured parameters on the wind farms etc.

I was not able to get any more data about the results of this project, but my colleague was able to point me to some preliminary data which suggested that the wind power densities are about 250–300 W/m2 by the Arabian Sea (6-6.4 m/s), 250–600 W/m2 (6-7.8 m/s) by the Indian Ocean, and 150–500 W/m2 (5.1-7.4) by the Bay of Bengal (Rameswaram area). I am not sure how authentic the data is, but let’s say that this is some data for me to work around with.

A minimum wind speed of about 6.5 m/s is required for offshore wind farms, and as suggested earlier, many regions in Northern Europe oceans have wind speeds much in excess of 6.5 m/s. The data presented earlier indicates that India is not blessed with such high offshore wind speeds. At the same time, the data also shows that there is potential in certain regions, even if it is not as high as what is available in northern Europe. Given these data, I reckon that it at least merits more research?

Sadly, on the corporate side, there have been few, if any, efforts on offshore wind. The only piece of news that indicated some corporate interest was from the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), when, in April 2009, it announced its plans to tap offshore wind energy. After setting up its first 50 MW onshore wind energy farm in Gujarat, ONGC announced it was planning to tap offshore wind potential. In this context, ONGC held a series of meetings and collected a myriad of data related to offshore wind potentials. The company had mentioned at the time that a detailed study would be conducted to find out the viability of this offshore project. However, after this announcement, little detail has been forthcoming on this.

These are all the data I have on offshore wind developments and progress in India. Very little, as you will surely agree.

So, there we are. Many large economies worldwide (USA, China, UK, Japan…) are making efforts into offshore wind, albeit at different speeds…India is definitely lagging far behind these countries. At the very least, I reckon it makes sense to accelerate our research to identify the actual potential of offshore wind in India ( in terms of so many GW…). If the review shows a high estimate for the potential, it merits further investment and commercialization efforts.

References

Delivering Offshore Wind Power in Europe – http://www.ewea.org/fileadmin/ewea_documents/images/publications/offshore_report/ewea-offshore_report.pdf

A useful FAQ on offshore wind from AWEA – http://www.awea.org/faq/wwt_offshore.html