There is a need for major investments in the energy sector in the developing countries of nearly a trillion dollars of technology and related infrastructure. Energy demand in the Asian region grew sharply between 1975 and 1988, at the rate of 5.6% a year. It grew at an even faster rate, 5.8%, between 1985 and l988. Several economies in the region have in recent years recorded an annual growth rate above 8%. Economically, Asia is one of the fastest growing regions of the world and in 1994 was expected to grow at a rate of 6.8%. Energy supply has to increase substantially to keep pace with the spiralling demand resulting from economic growth. If it does not, such growth will be crippled. In the developed world, the annual consumption of power per head is around 6000 to 7000 kWh, yet in developing countries in the Asian region, like India, it remains at 200-300 kWh.
It is also a fact that competitive capability, industrial restructuring, locational impact, employment and administration depend largely on the availability of energy sources or the mix of conventional and alternative, new and renewable energy sources selected by the developing countries in the Asian region. Pollution and ecological factors, too, are a major factor leading to the accelerated use of new and renewable sources of energy instead of coal and nuclear power.
Among the various alternatives of renewable energy the most effective would be solar energy. But until such time as photovoltaic conversion becomes economically viable, solar energy cannot be utilised as a major source. While fossil fuels will be the main fuels for thermal power, there remains the fear that they will eventually be exhausted in the next century. This is why other systems, based on non-conventional and renewable sources, are being tried by many countries in Asia.
Wind subsidy aid required
Among the several renewable energy technologies, wind electric generators have emerged as a mature, modern and cost-effective technology for large-scale use. The growing interest in wind power technology can be attributed not only to the fact that it is proving to be cost-effective, but also to other attractive features such as modularity, short project gestation and the non-polluting nature of the technology. These features of wind power technology make it very attractive for large-scale utilisation, particularly in the context of the present shortage of power and energy in the region.
Wind energy represents a significant potential as a non-polluting, non-global warming energy resource. On the other hand, the rapid development and use of fossil fuels in Asia is a major threat to the environmental well being of its countries -- not to mention that of the globe as well.
Wind energy development in the region should be assisted by financial subsidies from the developed countries, primarily because of the global environmental benefits that result from the use of this resource. Several opportunities exist to access financial subsidies including grants from the Global Environment Facility and through joint implementation of the targets of the Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The development of wind energy resources in Asia requires the active participation of the private sector in power generation. This, in turn, requires that the utility sectors in most developing countries adapt to private sector power generation. They must facilitate the buying and selling of this power. In some developing countries the state owned electric utilities still perceive private power generation as a major threat to their monopoly of the power sector.
In India, a major developing economy in Asia, the Ministry of Non Conventional Energy Sources (MNES) is the technical and administrative ministry for development and utilisation of all new and renewable sources of energy, including wind. Estimation for wind power generation in the country, as assessed by MNES, is about 20,000 MW and it is expected that 2000 MW of wind power capacity will have been installed by 2000. However, it has to be noted that most of the wind technology introduced to the Asian market is based on that developed in Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands and the United States. It is imperative that these foreign suppliers ensure that the technology provided by them is well-suited and well-adapted to the local climatic and grid characteristics. The aspirations in developing countries like India for wind power are very high; it is essential that the wind electric generator being installed under technology transfer/licensed production be proven and suitably adapted for local operation.
A severe weakness in the present state of development of wind power in the Asian hemisphere is the lack of regional test centres. In order to ensure a proper and orderly development of the local production of wind electric generators for the Asian market, it is necessary that exhaustive testing of the technology is carried out and that the power curves of each manufacturer's wind turbine are seen to accord with reality. In the absence of a regional test facility, indigenously produced wind turbines are being directly marketed and field experience is first being gained by the customer.
If these indigenously produced machines fail, it would be tantamount to announcing to the whole of Asia that wind technology is unreliable. Few would remember that the failures should have been attributed to the fact that proper testing at national test centres was not carried out. It is therefore imperative that joint venture companies/license production companies ensure that in the interest of indigenisation in their region they do not compromise on quality. If they did so, there could be an adverse effect on the wide-scale use of this technology for power generation, especially as the indigenously assembled/manufactured, untested and unproven wind turbines may not necessarily perform as stated.
Wind energy development must be undertaken in a true partnership with the developing countries. If this is not done, then we run the risk of just trading fossil fuel imports for capital imports. Developing countries are already in heavy debt to the developed world. Imported, capital intensive renewable energy technologies will only exacerbate this problem. What is needed is real partnerships in manufacturing of renewable energy technologies in the developing countries and ultimately even the possible export of these technologies to the developed countries. In this way, both economic and environmental objectives and benefits will be realised.
Rakesh Bakshi, M.I.E., M.I.M.A. is the managing director of wind company Vestas RRB India Ltd of New Delhi. For his work in wind energy the Indian government has honoured him with the title Padmashree.