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Opening the door for repowering

Repowering is an issue that is only going to grow for the global wind-power industry. Over the next few years, the number of turbines reaching the end of their working lives will increase markedly, mirroring the sector's rapid growth in the early 2000s.

This should represent good opportunities for asset owners and developers. They have a site already chosen for its good wind resources, approved for the purpose of generating electricity, and with the required grid-connection infrastructure in place.

Public acceptance, after up to 20 years of operation, is likely to be high, especially as a repowered project will require far fewer turbines.

Germany provides a good example: in 2015 it pulled down 253 turbines totalling 195MW and replaced them with 176 new machines for 484MW. That is two-and-a-half times the capacity for less than three-quarters of the turbine numbers.

Most to gain

The gains will be more dramatic in other markets. The average nameplate capacity of new installed turbines exceeded 1MW in Europe and the US in 2003. But that barrier wasn't passed in India until 2011-12. India is the world's fourth-largest wind market, behind only China, the US and Germany, but a great deal of its 27GW installed capacity consists of ageing sub-500kW turbines.

India's wind industry has long been aware of the need to replace obsolete and increasingly unreliable machinery, especially that occupying the prime sites. But asset owners' previous attempts to do so have foundered in the red tape of revised tariffs and power purchase agreements, and disputes over who should stump up the money for improved grid facilities.

Now the Indian government has passed policy reforms that clear the path for large-scale repowering by providing repowering projects with the same, or better, financial and fiscal incentives as new builds, while giving state utilities responsibility for transmission upgrades.

All of India's sub-1MW turbines - nearly 10GW of capacity - are eligible for repowering, though in practice, attention will focus on 3.4GW of the oldest machines in the wind-pioneering states of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.

The repowered projects will help India reach its target of doubling wind-power capacity by 2022. More importantly, they will be far more productive and efficient, and cheaper to maintain than the current fleet.

The need to repower will grow, but progress will be slow unless other countries adopt India's example of direct intervention.

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