In my last blog ‘The Promising Sea’, I wrote about the opportunity for India to harness offshore wind energy to produce electricity. India so far, haven’t focused in this area of renewable energy sector primarily because of two reasons, first it was prohibitively expensive in comparison to other sources of energy.

Even was far more expensive than its counterpart onshore wind energy. Secondly the country was engaged to develop the technology and expertise to exploit the potential of the onshore wind up to a reasonable level.

Now that India has advanced its onshore wind energy generation capacity to an appreciable level of 38 GW and chasing a further bigger target of 60 GW in near future, it can be seen that harnessing onshore wind technology has now become a conversant technology and the required expertise has also got developed within the country.

This onshore sector is expected to grow up now in an organic way keeping pace with the world. Therefore, it is appropriate at this juncture to step in to work on offshore wind energy potential, when there is a global thrust for growth in offshore wind energy.

In fact, base work for offshore wind energy had taken place in 2013 with the installation of first ‘met mast’ in Tamil Nadu sea shore (Dhanush Kodi area). After that a policy was also announced by the Government in 2015,but the actual steps towards establishing offshore wind part had been taken only in 2018 when India invited EOI(Expression of Interest) for 1 GW of tender for Gujarat state.

That call for EOI had received encouraging responses from 34 players including Indian and major offshore International entities. Though the tendering process is yet to start, but it can be said that India is advancing in offshore wind projects with defined targets of 1GW in first phase and 5 GW in second phase by 2030.

I have seen in last 20 years, that in case of onshore wind, as Indian players had encountered challenges they found out a way to resolve it successfully. Country wide pool of experts had been developed in that process and now India is self-reliant in terms of turbine manufacturing, EPC and operation & maintenance services.

Though the design and R&D part isn’t developed in the country so far, but all Indian players either have tie ups or their owned resource in Europe. Situation will not be the same in case of offshore projects. EPC of offshore wind calls for a different domain of expertise for which the country has no skill pool.

Activities like construction of turbine foundation, installation, its logistics, subsea cabling for power transmission & erection of related transmission infrastructure, Grid connection, Operation & maintenance of the turbines and finally the coastal security arrangements for the assets are the critical areas that is needed domain expertise.

Though, I think that country’s highly experienced oil and natural gas companies can provide substantial help in this regard and with their support future specialist team can be built up within next few of years, but still there exists couple of more challenges :

Offshore Barriers

Socio-Environmental Challenges

Offshore wind project development may affect the local environments to some extent. Fishing communities in the coastal area may feel disturbed, shipping routes may get obstructed, birds around the area may get hurt and threatened due to collision with rotation blades, wind park may get overlapped with offshore oil and gas blocks, Turbines may create interference with the radars of  defence and civil aviation, legal restrictions of deployment of foreign nationals at site may hamper project progress etc.

In India there are about ten key government agencies are involved in the process getting clarences to establish wind park and evaluation of ‘impact assessment’ in all the mentioned areas are really complex because of multiplicity of methods, varying values of acceptances criteria and different way of interpretations within different government departments. 

  • Ministry of Environment and Forest (for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Coastal Regulations Zone (CRZ) clearance).
  • Ministry of Defence (MoD) (for clearance related to defence & security aspects, related to Army, Navy, Air force, DRDO, and other such institutions under MoD). 
  • Ministry of External Affairs ( for clearance for the development of offshore wind energy projects within the maritime zones of India). 
  • Ministry of Home Affairs (for clearance deployment of foreign nationals in offshore wind energy blocks).
  • Ministry of Civil Aviation (for clearance for construction near aviation Radars/ aerodromes).
  • Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas (for clearance/NoC for installations proposed in and outside of Oil & Gas Blocks).
  • Ministry of Shipping (for clearance/NoC for projects near Major Ports and to operate away from shipping lanes). 
  • Department of Space (for clearance with regard to the security and the safety distance from the installations owned by Dept. of Space). 
  • Department of Telecommunication (for NoC to operate outside subsea communication cable zones).
  • Ministry of Mines (for NoC to operate outside mining zones). 

So, it is indeed a cumbersome work to handle so many departments simultaneously and potentially may retard the project progress.

Infrastructure:Supply Chain, Ports & Grid

It is very important to develop dedicated supply chain for offshore wind sector as quick as possible. Historically it is an area of concern worldwide and every participant country is now focusing to address this issue. It will be better for India to start working on it from the very beginning. Though  for initial projects  borrowing supports from ‘oil and natural gas’ companies and vessel companies may help, but self-sufficiency is to be achieved very fast .

Further, development of required transmission infrastructure for power evacuation and Grid integration is necessary to operate the wind park commercially. Therefore, a quick development in indigenous capability (with the help of experienced European companies) to plan, design and deliver offshore transmission system needs to be done. Existing capacity of India’s national grid is also to be expanded very fast.

No Historical Offshore Data Available

Historical data always plays a supporting role in identifying suitable turbine locations, design of tower foundation and most importantly to get an prior estimation of power generation. This is an area where nothing much could be done now, these will get developed only with time. It addition, what being seen as a hinderance is inaccessibility to a lot of existing information about dredging region, oil exploration and fishing zones, shipping routes, under water communication cables location, restricted military area etc., due to various procedural complications.

Higher Tariff of Offshore Energy

Initially offshore wind energy cost will be much higher in comparison to onshore wind and most other renewables as well as fossil fuel energy costs. It is expected that the cost of offshore energy could be Rs.7-9 per unit, whereas present cost of onshore wind is Rs.2.8-2.9 per unit. Solar energy cost came down to Rs. 2.36 per unit in a latest bid. Coal based power cost is around Rs.4.1 per unit. Therefore, it will be an incomparable proposition. However, it is expected for this new technology, that the capital cost will be high in the initial phase (may be for first 10 years), until sufficient indigenisation in all related areas and further development in technology is done. Government  have to provide necessary support during this period, as was done in case of onshore wind. 

Complex Wind Park Development process for Offshore

Developing offshore park needs a huge amount of (in terms of several hundreds of crores) investment upfront and the estimated lead time from feasibility study to turbine commissioning is 7-9 years. Moreover the project developer would have to follow a very complex work relationship matrix with several stakeholders, starting from EPC and installation contractors, port authorities and the regulatory bodies for utility and energy sector. As I said in an earlier paragraph, each agencies will have their own expertise and objectives and in many cases will get involved in the project development activities either directly or through their appointed subcontractor. So, it wouldn’t be easy task for the project developer to manage these diverse entities in a coordinated manner towards a common goal, in order to minimise/maintain the estimated lead time.

The Bright Side of Offshore Energy Development

Positive side is that the Indian wind energy market is uniquely dominated by the home grown players like Suzlon and Inox Wind. Other foreign players like Siemens-Gamesa or GE are present with a lesser participation. These home grown players expectedly will try to get leveraged from their onshore expertise and will act to improve the situation in case of offshore. In that case, they could be able to get a foot hold in offshore also within a short period of time. 

Meanwhile, let us expect that improvement in resource availability, streamlining of policies and further development in technology will bring down the offshore wind cost continuously to a comparable status. It is estimated by a study, that by 2028  offshore cost will fall below onshore prise ,mainly because of improvement in technology along with introduction of bigger capacity turbines ( 10-12 MW models).I sincerely wish that India  rise to the occasion and prove the capability once more.