Blowing with the wind

Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

ONE of the more remarkable and result-oriented activities of the Union Ministry of Non-conventional energy Sources (MNES) has been its wind energy-schemes. The objective of this programme- to create an installed electricity generation capacity of 800 mw by 1998 - is eminently laudable. Whether it is part of a comprehensive non-conventional energy tailored to Indian requirements in another matter.

For the moment, the non-conventional energy establishment is in a self-congratulatory frame of mind, bucked up by the favourable reception accorded by private companies to its schemes for the promotion of the wind energy projects. Private firms both Indian and foreign, have announced investment plants worth Rs 400 crore this year itself, and the figure is anticipated to escalate to Rs 1,000 crore by the end of 1995. The proposals include both equipment as well as actual wind farms supplying electricity to power grids.

The latter aspect itself is threatened by problems that demand urgent redressal. The efficiency of wind-farm performance is crucially determined by the quality of power grids to which they are attached. The country's power grids are perennially plagued by frequent interruptions, voltage and frequency variations, as well as drastic phase asymmetries. The MNES has sought to play down the apprehensions of prospective investors on this count by accentuating the scope of its promotional schemes, as well as using cliched arguments of economics-of-scale to encourage companies to go in for bigger capacities.

Towards this end, the MNES has also tried to play up the potential of ultra large wind generators using blades of 50-100 metres. The use of these larger wind farm of California, US , in the late '80. Significantly, preliminary studies of their performance indicate substantial diseconomies in their performance.

There are other inherent flaws in the current fashionable drive focused towards establishing largescale wind energy systems for electricity generation. As a corollary, the current MNES programme is quietly shedding earlier proclaimed priorities of using non-conventional energy systems for decentralised energy supply, particularly to far flung rural areas. Thus, the use of wind for smaller, standalone electricity generating systems has not received equal emphasis. Even more revealing is the lack of any breakthroughs in increasing the efficiencies and capabilities of wind-driven mechanical devices - irrigation pumps, for example.

Developing countries like India place a large range of expectations and requirements upon the alternative energy sector. To be seen, and realised, as being responsive to this demand, policy planners have to necessarily proffer a multifaceted approach which can cater to an immense diversity of needs. As long as this imperative is not heeded, wind, or any other alternative energy programmes, will be an airy-fairy affair.

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