Offshore wind energy potential in India

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Siddharth Pandit

1. Introduction

Worldwide, wind energy has been accepted as one of the most efficient, proven, and cost-effective renewable energy sources to sustainably meet the ever-increasing electricity demand. While onshore wind energy technologies traditionally hold the majority of the installed capacity in this domain, offshore wind technologies are yet to reach a comparable level of sophistication. India is blessed with a long coastline of more than 7600 km, surrounded by water on three sides, and holds a vast potential to harness offshore wind energy. Keeping this in mind, the Government of India formulated a ‘National Offshore Wind Energy Policy in October 2015 to promote, develop and install offshore wind technology and utilize the maritime space of India to the fullest. Under this policy, India plans to install 5 GW of offshore wind farms and expand it to 30 GW by 2030. Having said that, there have been numerous challenges due to poor infrastructure, lack of funding, and favorable financial incentives from various regional and central governments, and finally, the delays caused by COVID-19, which have led to the targets not being reached on time. In this case study, we will look at different challenges faced by the offshore wind energy sector and how they can be tackled sustainably and quickly.

2. Challenges Current Situation Vs Future Prospects

2.1 Infrastructure

The offshore wind turbines are much bigger than their onshore counterparts. To put this into perspective, an average onshore wind turbine produces around 2.5 MW compared to offshore wind turbines with an average of 3.6 MW. This roughly translates to an average height difference of more than 20 meters. Figure 1 highlights the difference in heights and capacity of offshore wind turbines compared to their onshore counterparts.

Figure 1: Difference in capacity and height of offshore vs onshore wind turbines [2]

These large turbines need to be transported considerable distances on land and in the sea, which is not viable unless the blades can be manufactured near the ports closest to the offshore sites. This infrastructure is currently unavailable in India, which drives up the cost of producing electricity through this technology even higher.

2.2 Lack of Financial Incentives

According to the March 2021 report by the Lok Sabha’s 17th Standing Committee on Energy, the per megawatt (MW) electricity cost from offshore wind energy technology is estimated to be two to three times higher than the cost of onshore wind energy and solar energy. This price is expected to remain high as long as no favorable policy changes are made to incentivize large offshore wind farms’ construction, installation, and operation.
In addition, India’s distribution companies (DISCOMs) are majorly loss-making and in significant debt. The lack of sufficient subsidies from the government will force the DISCOMs to buy electricity from offshore wind farms at a much higher rate, incurring much higher losses. Due to this financial crunch, the DISCOMs are unable to build the necessary infrastructure for subsea cabling and distribution lines.

2.3  Environmental Impacts

There are many studies and reports published over the years of numerous adverse environmental impacts of offshore wind farms, such as increased noise levels, changes in benthic and pelagic habitats, risk of collisions, alterations to the food web, pollution from increased vessel traffic and contamination of the seabed, among others [3].
The Gulf of Mannar, near Tamil Nadu’s coast, is one example. According to studies, it is one of the most lucrative and promising locations for setting up offshore wind farms because of its shallow waters. This location also houses about 4230 diverse and rare flora and fauna species. Due to this, there have been widespread protests and resistance from the local fishermen and environmental groups to stall this project for the past 6 years. These groups demand thorough environmental studies to understand the impacts of wind turbines on marine biodiversity before commencing any project.

3. Current Situation Vs Future Prospects

While the world’s total average energy demand is expected to increase at a rate of less than 1% per year till 2040, India’s energy demands are expected to increase at an average rate of more than 3% annually till 2040 [4]. In addition, India has pledged to increase the share of renewable energy in its energy mix to 50% by 2040. This shows the massive potential for various renewable energy sources to grow exponentially in the coming years.

Figure 2: Three scenarios suggested by the FOWIND committee (data source [5])

In 2018, the European Union signed a four-year deal with the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), the Government of India, to develop offshore wind in India. This project is named FOWIND (Facilitating Offshore Wind in India), whose main objective is to develop a roadmap for offshore wind technologies in two states of India, namely Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. As seen in Figure 2, under this project, the government has planned to achieve an installed capacity of 5 GW in two states – Gujarat and Tamil Nadu – by 2032. This capacity though large is just a fraction of the estimated total potential of the two states – Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. According to the 17th report by the standing committee on energy, it is estimated that approximately 36 GW of offshore wind power potential exists off the coast of Gujarat and 31 GW off the coast of Tamil Nadu [1]. Apart from these two states, preliminary assessments suggest offshore wind energy potential along the coasts of Kerala, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Goa. To put this in numbers, Kerala currently has 62.5 MW of installed wind energy capacity as of 31st March 2020, which comprises majorly onshore wind farms, and it is estimated to have a potential of around 2.5 GW with a significant amount of offshore wind farms in the mix [1].

4. Conclusion

We saw that with the ever-increasing electricity demand and the targets set by India to achieve a 40% renewable energy share in the electricity mix, it is only natural that offshore wind technology and other renewable energy sources have tremendous potential in India. Offshore wind projects are also necessary for diversifying the energy assets of each state so that they are not reliant on a single source of electricity. This is important to maintain the energy security and self-reliance of each region. There is also an urgent need to transform the entire supply chain, from turbines and blades manufacturing facilities to under-sea cables and floating beds, among others. In addition, the government needs to implement various policies that promote the development of new renewable energy technologies and offer sufficient subsidies to make it profitable and cost-effective for private companies to invest in this technology. If these challenges are overcome in a systematic, efficient, and prompt manner, then offshore wind has the potential to become one of the significant sources of green energy after solar PV and onshore wind energy sources.

Sources (Bibliography)

[1]. Seventeenth report, Action Plan for the achievement of 175 Gigawatt (GW) of renewable energy target in 2022, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Government of India, 2021

[2]. Wiser, Ryan & Rand, Joseph & Seel, Joachim & Beiter, Philipp & Baker, Erin & Lantz, Eric & Gilman, Patrick. (2021). An expert elicitation survey predicts 37% to 49% declines in wind energy costs by 2050. Nature Energy. 2021. 10.1038/s41560-021-00810-z.

[3]. Bailey, H., Brookes, K.L. & Thompson, P.M. Assessing environmental impacts of offshore wind farms: lessons learned and recommendations for the future. Aquat. Biosyst. 10, 8 (2014).

[4]. Press Release, 11th IEA-IEF-OPEC Symposium on Energy Outlooks, Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas, Government of India.

[5]. Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), From Zero to Five GW – Offshore Wind Outlook for Gujarat and Tamil Nadu 2018-2032. Available :