Major expansion at home and abroad

Southern India's NEPC Micon has drawn up a mega expansion programme for setting up wind farms with a combined capacity of 500 MW, and expects to invest INR 20 billion in the wind sector by the year 2000. NEPC's wind plans are being augmented by solar energy which could reduce production costs by 25-30% for solar projects which would otherwise have to pay for their own land and infrastructure. NEPC is also negotiating the sale of wind diesel plants to hotels in the Maldives.

Southern India's most active wind company, NEPC Micon, has drawn up a mega expansion programme for setting up wind farms with a combined capacity of 500 MW. The company expects to invest INR 20 billion in the wind sector by the year 2000, says NEPC's group chairman, Ravi Prakash Khemka. The wind farms would be developed in six states: 250 MW in Tamil Nadu, 100 MW in Karnataka, 50 MW in Madhya Pradesh, 50 MW in Gujarat and 50 MW in Maharashtra.

NEPC's wind plans are also now being augmented by solar energy. "The solar-wind sector is bound to grow in the future, especially with the advent of new technology which will put solar on a par with wind energy," says Khemka. Together with American Omnion, NEPC has recently installed a 100 kW solar project at its existing wind farm in the Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu. It is India's first grid-connected solar plant.

Khemka says power from the wind-solar plant is already being fed into the grid. By combining the solar installation with an existing wind plant, NEPC Micon expects to produce solar energy for 25-30% less than it would have cost if the project had to pay for its own land and infrastructure. "The solar plant, spread across 400 square metres, is a demonstration project. We envisage a potential of 50 MW that can be increased to 100 MW after ten years," says Khemka. The company has floated a global tender for photo voltaic development "to encourage competitive bidding for a 5 MW plant."

In the medium term, NEPC Micon plans to install 100 kW solar-wind modules to gain experience of the technology, says company director Madhu Sudan. He adds that the solar-wind hybrid systems work in perfect harmony as they require the same engineering base.

Meantime NEPC is consolidating. Up until March this year it had installed 410 MW of the 730 MW of wind turbines now turning in India. With the recent budget allowing small investors to buy a stake in a wind plant, Khemka is predicting a no less rosy future. "This will mean that people having only one or two hundred thousand rupees will be able to own a turbine, while a hundred people can form an industrial co-operative," he says.

In Maharashtra, NEPC Micon has set up the state's first private wind farm, a 5 MW plant at Chalkewadi. Khemka says that though rates of pay for wind power in Maharashtra are "encouraging" at INR 3.30/kWh, fine tuning of the state's policy for wheeling power along the grid is needed. "They are charging for wheeling based on distance, which we feel is not reasonable. They have also stated that wind farms should be of a minimum capacity of 5 MW. This makes first-time clients wary." Commenting on the national market for wind energy he says it suffers from a weak industrial base and a poor return for power sold. Other barriers are regional. A state of great potential, Andhra Pradesh, is making no headway in developing its wind resource because of a confused policy on forest clearance, says Khemka.

In NEPC's home state of Tamil Nadu it currently owns about 7000 acres of land as well as 600 acres in Gujarat in the northwest, according to conservative estimates. In coming months the focus will be on decentralised marketing, says Khemka. "We are planning to tap the customer base in north and west India to invite them to install machines in Tamil Nadu."

Further afield, NEPC is negotiating the sale of wind diesel plants to hotels in the Maldives. "There is a potential there for at least 100 machines. This, we expect, will bring down fuel costs by 50%," says Khemka.

On the role of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in renewables (Windpower Monthly, October 1996), he says: "The CII is doing an excellent job. It can be a forum for technical development. R&D has always been looked at in India as a secret affair. Developments should be discussed in an open forum."

Khemka's target for NEPC Micon is for installation of 2000 MW of wind power by 2000, thus becoming the largest wind company in the world. With plans to add 400 MW each year until the end of the century, the company is aiming at the bull's eye.

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