Four new windmills made by Gamesa Corp. Tecnologica SA whirl beside a banana grove in India’s southern village of Kammalapatti, driven by a breeze that’s too soft to spin a group of older turbines standing idle nearby.
The Spanish manufacturer replaced 10 aging machines for the wind farm’s owner, gaining a toehold in a nation with about 4,600 wind turbines more than a decade old, many of them rusty or too small for today’s power market, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst Shantanu Jaiswal in New Delhi.
Europe’s wind-turbine makers are stepping up sales in India’s clean-energy rust belt, anticipating a boom in one of the bigger “repowering” plays that Gamesa says may be worth $3.8 billion in sales. The challenge is in taking work from Suzlon Energy Ltd. (SUEL), the dominant local supplier, and in getting funds in a market still depressed by the financial crisis.
“Many good-quality wind sites are currently populated with relatively old and inefficient turbines,” said Amit Kansal, vice president of sales for the Indian unit of Denmark’s Vestas Wind Systems A/S, the world’s largest wind-turbine maker. “The opportunity for repowering is obvious.”
The 4,600 turbines have a capacity of 1.3 gigawatts, or about 9 percent of the installed base in India, which rocketed to become the fifth-biggest wind market by offering tax credits to operators regardless of productivity, Jaiswal said.
“Some of them didn´t use turbines of the best quality,” Jaiswal said. India also has the smallest average turbine size of the world’s top 10 markets, according to Kenersys GmbH, a German manufacturer.
Gamesa’s estimate of a 168 billion-rupee ($3.8 billion) sales potential assumes 3,000 megawatts of installed capacity in need of replacement.
India isn’t alone in wooing companies to refurbish wind power plants. In the U.S., about 1,500 megawatts of windmills were installed in the 1980s and may need to be replaced with new, higher-output ones, said Liz Salerno, director of industry analysis at the American Wind Energy Association. About 85 percent of wind turbines were installed in the last five years, and most should produce power for another 20, she said.
NextEra Energy Inc. (NEE), the largest U.S. wind producer, plans to replace about 5 percent of its oldest turbines in the next four years, Chief Executive Lew Hay said in January. In Denmark, where Vestas is based, most turbines are 10 to 15 years old, said Anders Hasselager, a Danish Energy Agency policy adviser.
Cheaper Than New
In India, repowering a site costs 20 percent less than setting up a new project and avoids the difficulties of obtaining new land permits, said J. Balakrishnan, a Gamesa sales manager working on a repowering project there.
The smaller turbines installed in India are less efficient, require higher wind speeds and generate less power than newer models. The Indian government also is prodding the industry toward modernization.
Many existing wind farms in India were built to take advantage of a tax break that allowed companies to write off expenses of installing turbines more quickly than elsewhere. The measure encouraged companies to erect turbines but not to maintain them or see that they produced power, according to Renewable Energy Minister Farooq Abdullah.
“The time has come for India to think of repowering,” Abdullah told a conference in February, where he complained about the number of facilities with broken blades and rusting equipment.
He wants the finance ministry to scrap the tax credit next year and replace it with an alternative subsidy that rewards projects for the amount of clean energy they generate. The so- called generation-based incentive pays wind farms 500 rupees ($11) a megawatt-hour of electricity they feed to the grid.
Still, many operators won’t want to junk equipment that has more than half its useful life left.
Gamesa, which completed India’s first repowering project last month, thinks installations in Spain and other European countries can be revamped too, Chief Executive Officer Jorge Calvet said in an interview last month in Mumbai.
Kenersys, the German manufacturer, and Orient Green Power Ltd., an Indian developer of renewable-energy projects, say they’re looking for ways to tap into the budding repowering market.
The Gamesa project at Kammalapatti in Tamil Nadu state is owned by a unit of Lakshmi Machine Works Ltd. (LMW), a Coimbatore- based maker of textile machinery.
Bigger and Better
The newer machines – with hub heights and rotor diameters more than double that of the older ones – are better able to harvest energy from the wind. Controls inside their towers measure the wind speed, air pressure and tilt the fiberglass blades to best catch the breezes.
The new machines may double the farm’s electricity output by the end of the monsoon season in October, helping the project pay off in five years, Gamesa estimates.
Older machines can use more power than they produce during low-wind seasons. Owners turn them off, sometimes for up to half the year, said N. Sudhakar, site manager for Lakshmi Machine’s unit Super Sales India Ltd. (SSAI) Once a windmill stops, it needs power from the grid to start turning again.
“It doesn’t make sense to use them,” Sudhakar said. “They don’t produce enough power.”
Other benefits include lower maintenance costs and easier access to replacement, the Global Wind Energy Council said. Lakshmi Machine Works’ dismantled turbines were originally made by Denmark’s Nordtank Energy Group A/S and installed in 1993. Nordtank merged with Micon A/S in 1997 to form NEG Micon A/S, which Vestas agreed to buy in December 2003.
Obstacles to repower old sites include getting up to a dozen owners of each facility to agree and ensuring the plant can earn the same subsidized rate for energy.
“Even if you get better efficiency, if you lose your old power purchase agreement and replace it with a newer one with a lower tariff, what’s the point?,” Kenersys’ Chief Executive Officer Paulo Fernando Soares said in an interview in Chennai.
The waste generated by tearing down old windmills is another barrier. The eight 0.3-megawatt and two 0.55-megawatt Nordtank turbines dismantled by Gamesa sit at the site in a rusting heap, their rotor blades stacked atop one another. Lakshmi Machine Works hasn’t figured out how to dispose of them.
“It’s an important question. What happens to old blades?” said Andrew Garrad, president of GL Garrad Hassan, a wind consultancy. “We produce blades which are difficult to recycle and reuse. It should be on our conscience.”
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