With nearly 7,500 kilometres of coastline and an exclusive economic zone of more than two million square kilometres, India has vast areas available for the development of offshore wind power. Preliminary assessments suggest good potential off the coasts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala states in southern India, Maharashtra in the west, and Gujurat in the north-west.
Several state-sponsored and independent studies — based on modelled data — indicate this potential. One study carried out for Tamil Nadu by Denmark's Riso National Laboratory for Sustainable Energy estimated nearshore mean wind speeds of about 4-5 metres per second (m/s), rising to 7.6m/s further offshore at a hub height of ten metres.
Indicative offshore wind speeds for potential sites off the coast of Gujurat in the north-west have also been estimated. They point to average speeds in the 7-8.5m/s range at hub heights of 50-80 metres. However, none of these resource estimations are based on actual site data. On-site measurement of some offshore locations has only recently started under the supervision of the Centre for Wind Energy Technology, a newly formed autonomous organisation under the administrative control of the new and renewable energy ministry.
India released its draft offshore policy in May 2013, formulated by the Offshore Wind Energy Steering Committee, which is responsible for providing overall policy guidance and support to the National Offshore Wind Energy Authority (NOWA), the agency responsible for implementing offshore wind power. NOWA will coordinate with all concerned ministries to facilitate clearances, carry out preliminary resource assessments and manage contracts with developers.
The draft offshore policy moots incentives such as ten-year tax holidays and duty concessions for procurement and services on offshore wind projects. Demonstration projects, invited by the Indian government in the future, will be exempt from paying a lease fee for a specified period.
Many state-owned entities and private players have shown interest in investing in offshore wind. The Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, a state-owned oil business, first expressed interest in developing offshore wind in 2012. Tata Power, one of the country's largest power-generation companies, has also indicated its willingness to invest in offshore, off the Gujarat coast.
More recently, a four-year, EUR 4-million European Union-funded project to facilitate offshore wind in India, known as Fowind, was launched with the Global Wind Energy Council as lead partner, and the World Institute of Sustainable Energy, Centre for Science, Technology and Policy and DNV-GL as consortium partners. Fowind's main objective is to assist India's transition towards low-carbon development by supporting implementation of national policies and programmes for offshore wind-power development in the states of Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. It aims to do this mainly through offshore resource assessment and by developing a project implementation framework. State-owned Gujarat Power Corporation has already committed EUR 500,000 to the project, with a focus on developing offshore wind farms off the Gujarat coast.
But offshore wind development in India is not short on challenges. Infrastructure challenges related to port handling capacity and vessel sizes, and technological issues related to foundation laying, special installation machinery, cabling and grid evacuation are going to be significant. Impacts on commercial activities, such as fisheries, tourism and freight routes, and the environment, including seabed disturbance and electromagnetic interference, are other facets of offshore development that will have to be tackled. But possibly the most difficult challenge will be to secure financing for this, as yet, unproven high-cost technology in India. Development of pilot projects and their successful operation may however, change the perspective in the future.
Offshore wind-power development is in a nascent stage in India. However, based on recent developments, and considering the ongoing EU-funded project, an optimistic estimate would be that the first pilot project could be online in three to four years. Commercial-scale development is likely to be further away, perhaps beyond five to seven years, as technology availability, execution expertise and price acceptability evolve.
COMPULSORY LICENCING – EU FEARS OVER INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY IN INDIA
The long-running battle that German turbine maker Enercon has fought over patent rights in India has highlighted the country's compulsory licensing regime to potential European suppliers of offshore wind technology.
Compulsory licensing is described by the World Trade Organisation as when a government allows someone to produce a patented product or process without the consent of the patent owner.
India's national manufacturing policy, introduced in late 2011, created a technology acquisition and development fund that can ask the government to issue a compulsory license for green technology "which is not provided by the patent holder at reasonable rates or is not being worked in India to meet domestic demand in a satisfactory manner...
Reasonable royalty will be paid to the patent holder." What constitutes "reasonable" in this context is not entirely clear.
A primary purpose of compulsory licences appears to be to enable domestic industries to avoid paying commercial rates for technologies, according to the US's Intellectual Property Owners' Association in a statement in February. It also claimed India lacks an effective trade-secrets protection regime, and criticised the "highly burdensome" Form 27 procedure for providing periodic statements on whether a patent is being implemented in India - opening the way, if this is found not to be the case, to justifying compulsory licenses.
The fear of compulsory licensing in India is unnecessarily exaggerated, counters Nitya Nanda, a fellow at the Centre for Global Agreements, Legislation and Trade in the green growth and resource efficiency division of the Energy and Resources Institute.
"India has a 103-year history of patent protection, and the relevant law always had a provision for compulsory licensing," he says. "However, India has decided to issue a compulsory licence only once, for a medicine that is life saving."
Two other factors will make issuing a compulsory license for offshore wind technology difficult, says Nanda. First, while a medicine involves only one patent and so makes the issuing of a compulsory licence quite easy, technologies usually involve several patents, often owned by different parties, which would make issuing a compulsory license difficult.
Second, an essential requirement of a compulsory license is that there are industrial firms capable of working with the technology once they get necessary clearance. "I do not think this is the situation in India with respect to offshore wind power," says Nanda.