India’s wind farm developers hit poor road network bump

As Narendra Modi seeks $200 billion to fund the target of 175GW of green power over the next six years, India’s poor road networks are playing spoilsport to renewable-energy ambitions


The literal roadblock in India is affecting companies such as Suzlon Energy Ltd, one of India’s biggest turbine makers. Photo: Bloomberg
The literal roadblock in India is affecting companies such as Suzlon Energy Ltd, one of India’s biggest turbine makers. Photo: Bloomberg

New Delhi: India’s patchy and incomplete road network is proving a challenge for the nation’s developers of wind farms, threatening Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s targets for green energy.

Even under the best conditions, moving the enormous towers and blades found in wind farms requires intricate planning and expense. Individual blades on even modest turbines can exceed more than 100 feet each, while transporting the equipment and cranes needed for assembly can sometimes mean roads must be widened or straightened.

The literal roadblock in India is affecting companies such as Suzlon Energy Ltd, one of India’s biggest turbine makers. Suzlon, over two decades of operations, has located manufacturing facilities in each of the seven windiest states in the country, according to chairman Tulsi Tanti.

“I’m still not able to access 40% of the area irrespective of my plant being in that state when I’m transporting, say, a 128-metre rotor,” Tanti said in an interview.

Tanti’s experience reflects the challenge faced by many wind energy developers in India, a $2 trillion economy in which only 60% of roads are paved, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. By comparison, wind developers in China have a much easier task, with almost 90% of that nation’s roads paved.

Additional costs

Transportation adds nearly 8% to a project’s cost in India, according to the Wind Independent Power Producers Association. The cost per installation of 1 megawatt of wind is nearly Rs.7 crore, Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates.

“Right-of-way cost has gone up so tremendously that one spends Rs.50 lakh per megawatt just for the transport of equipment,” said Sunil Jain, the wind association’s president said.

Most wind turbines are typically comprised of a tower, two or three blades and a nacelle, which holds the turbine machinery. The blades and towers come in a variety of sizes, though most in use on land today generally range from 2 megawatts (MW) to 3MW. Blade lengths can be anywhere from 40m to as much as 57m, or slightly longer than an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The blades on the biggest wind turbines, which are built for offshore floating farms, can be as long as 80m.

‘Nightmare’ logistics

In India, developers have been opting for 2-MW turbines with rotor diameters ranging from 80m to 114m. As a whole, India currently has more than 27 gigawatts (GW) of installed wind capacity, according to government data.

The logistics of transporting turbines is a “nightmare,” said Rahul Munjal, chairman and managing director at Hero Future Energies Pvt., which has 320MW of wind capacity installed in the country.

Transport trucks, sometimes requiring a 25-m turning radius, can often find themselves stuck on highways or squeezing through small towns marked by residential areas on either side of narrow roads, according to Munjal.

“God help you if there’s a temple or a mosque on either side because then you can’t make it at all,” he said.

Project access

Every project faces extra costs to fix roads, build bridges or make turns easier to navigate, said Ramesh Kymal, chief executive for the India operations of Spain’s Gamesa Corp Tecnologica SA.

“If we have good access to our project site, we can see a reduction of nearly 5% in the total project cost, leading to lower tariffs,” Kymal said in an interview.

India’s road infrastructure ranked 61st in the World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness report for 2015-16. By comparison, Malaysia ranked 15 while Chile came in at 35. In a recent interview, Nitin Gadkari, India’s roads minister, said he plans to double the national highway system to 200,000 kilometers, though no timeframe was provided.

More intervention is needed in a rural roads programme known as the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, the wind association’s Jain said.

Rural roads

ReNew Power Ventures Pvt., an independent power producer with a portfolio of wind projects in India across several states, has built close to 1,000km of roads in rural areas since its inception in 2012, the company’s founder, Sumant Sinha, said in an interview.

“There are no roads from the highway to the remote site so one has to construct a huge amount of local roads in those places,” he said.

Over the next six years India is seeking $200 billion to fund Modi’s renewable-energy target of 175GW gigawatts of green power. The nation has almost 45GW at present, according to government statistics. Bloomberg

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