Running the green mile

Tucked away 40 km from the city of Satara in Maharashtra is Vankusawade village, at the foot of a giant hill that is part of the Sahyadri mountain range. An hour-long drive from the city on a dusty road takes you closer to one of the largest wind power farms in Maharashtra. Most of it is run by wind power equipment maker Suzlon, which generates 231 MW from 571 wind turbines installed on the hill since 1999. Large corporate houses such as the Tata Group, the Bajaj Group, Dhariwal Industries and the Poonawalla Group own installations in Suzlon’s wind park, the highest in India at 1,150 m above sea level.

The life of each machine, installed on 50-metre-high towers, is 20 years, which means Suzlon will soon start replacing them for newer models that can generate up to 1.25 MW each, much higher than the existing 350 KW. Suzlon Chairman Tulsi Tanti expects the re-farming to take the total capacity to 1,000 MW. This will be critical for the wind power major, which made losses of Rs.1,075 crore for the quarter ending December 2014 and sold its German arm, Senvion, in January this year to pay off part of a Rs.17,000-crore debt. Having refocused, the company is no longer eyeing smaller parks-Tanti says large parks give better returns over a longer period.
But balance sheets are minor stakeholders in the larger picture. According to clean energy entrepreneurs such as Tanti, the power produced using wind turbines, solar power, small hydro projects, or even biomass is critical to India’s efforts to achieve self-sufficiency in energy and improving its credentials as a user of clean energy. As much as 58 per cent of the country’s power is generated from coal, the dirtiest of all energy sources, compared to just 12 per cent from renewables. Of India’s total power production of 243,000 MW in 2014, wind power had a share of around 22,500 MW, and solar just 3,000 MW. This despite India’s large land mass receiving one of the high-est levels of solar exposure, making it ideal for solar projects, and its extensive coastline and high wind velocity making it apt to set up wind farms.
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