With fossil fuels becoming scarce and climate change being a big concern, countries worldwide are delving deep into renewable energy. Similar is the case in India. The Indian Government has set a high target of 500GW of renewable energy by 2030, coupled with its 2070 ambition to hit a transformative net-zero economy. Hence venturing into Offshore Wind Energy is a step towards fulfilling this target. It was in 2015 that the government came out with the National Offshore Wind Energy Policy, since then the development in this sector has been rather slow. In this article I analyse the recent developments, the roadblocks and challenges faced in the Offshore Wind Energy Sector, leading to a delay. Further, by the end, I list down the major takeaways from the current situation and possible areas that need more clarity and focus.
In recent years, Offshore wind energy has become popular among countries for diversifying the country's energy mix and reducing its reliance on fossil fuels. The major difference between Onshore and Offshore wind energy is that the prior generates power from wind turbines located on land, while the latter generates electricity from the wind blowing across the sea. Offshore wind farms are considered far more efficient than onshore wind farms due to the higher speed of winds, greater consistency and lack of any physical interference as is evident on land. India being a peninsula has large coastal availability making it favourable for the successful set-up of Offshore wind Farms.
While China and Europe are leading players in the market for Offshore Wind Energy, the global market is divided into three sectors: Existing Market, Emerging Market and New Market. The countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, and China already have an existing market. While countries such as Taiwan, the United States (Atlantic Coast), Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam have an emerging market for wind energy generation. Lastly, countries like Turkey, Brazil, Morocco, the Philippines, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and India have fairly new markets.
India has a well-established infrastructure for Onshore Wind farms. Very recently, it has ventured into the Offshore Wind energy sector. Interestingly, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) had announced a medium-term offshore target of 5GW achievable by 2022 and a long-term offshore target of 30 GW to be achieved by 2030. Though India is running far behind the intended target there has been little progress in the Offshore Wind Energy sector. Based on the preliminary reports, the government has finalised the states of Gujarat and Tamil Nadu0 for setting up the first offshore wind energy farm.
India in collaboration with the European Union (EU) formed Facilitating Offshore Wind in India (FOWIND) It is a project funded by the EU and aims to support the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (“MNRE”) and the National Institute of Wind Energy (“NIWE”) in setting up the first offshore farm. Under the project, Pre-feasibility, and Feasibility reports have been prepared separately in both states to assess the viability and narrow down the sites for establishing the wind farm. FOWIND has also published reports on supply chain, ports and logistics and grid integration studies.
Based on the preliminary assessment from these reports, the Gulf of Khambhat in Gujarat and the Gulf of Munnar in Tamil Nadu have been divided into 8 possible zones. Furthermore, on the Gujarat coast, further assessment of Zone A & B has already begun. Initial assessment by NIWE within the identified zones suggests 36 GW of offshore wind energy potential exists off the coast of Gujarat alone. In addition to that, nearly 35 GW of offshore wind energy potential exists off the Tamil Nadu coast.
But despite all this, progress in the Offshore Wind Energy sector has been slow and delayed. There are various gaps and loopholes in current regulations which need to be cured for the proper establishment of the project. They have been discussed below:
Current policy and regulatory framework surrounding offshore wind energy plant development:
To drive offshore wind energy development, the MNRE came up with the National Offshore Wind Energy Policy in 2015. Further, in 2019 MNRE announced the "Draft Offshore Wind Energy Lease Rules, 2019," which outlined procedures for leasing out blocks for offshore wind energy projects. These two policy documents set the tone and put down the groundwork for the future offshore wind energy policy in the country.
● National Offshore Wind Energy Policy, 2015 (National Policy)
The National Policy sets forth that MNRE will act as the Nodal Ministry for the development of Offshore Wind Energy in India and act as one of the government entities, along with others, for the development and use of Maritime Space within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the country. The National Policy further designated NIWE as the nodal agency for conducting resource assessment and demarcating blocks for facilitating the development of offshore wind energy in the country.
Further, it also mentions the required clearance/No Objection Certificate (NOC) for site survey and development of offshore wind energy. The clearance is divided into 2 stages. In the first stage, in-principal clearance has to be procured by NIWE from various ministries like the Ministry of Defence, Home, External Affairs, Environment & Forests and Department of Space. In Stage II, the blocks will be allocated and, the successful bidder/developer will have to take further Stage II Clearances/NOCs from various Central and State Government Ministries/Departments as stated in the table provided in Annexure A of the National Policy. For a better understanding, one can refer to the “List of Important Documents” shared by the First Offshore Wind Project of India (FOWPI).
A detailed list of ministries from which clearance is needed is mentioned in the National Policy and a list of all the agreements like Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), onshore and offshore substation agreements etc. along with licenses and permits required are mentioned on the FOWPI website.
● Draft Offshore Wind Energy Lease Rule, 2019 (Draft Rules)
According to the National Policy, private developers will receive offshore wind energy blocks through International Competitive Bidding. Considering this, the government has formulated the Draft Rules for input from stakeholders.
The Draft Rules, among others, provide for the following:
i. The offshore blocks will be leased out to the private developers for 35 years, including 5 years of prospecting and 30 years of project installation and operation.
ii. No person/entity shall install/commission an offshore wind energy project except in pursuance of an offshore wind energy lease granted under this Draft Rules.
iii. Activities related to the assessment of offshore wind energy potential through related studies and surveys are also to be undertaken under the lease; and
iv. Provisions related to fees, identification of project sites, penalties, cancellation of the lease, and restriction on wind energy generation for national security.
Furthermore, the Draft Rules also provide that the lessee shall have no right to block or bar routine activities, including activities related to fishing. Moreover, the lease agreement is subject to cancellation if the project causes environmental damage to flora and fauna lying under the sea. But these Draft Rules are still in the formative stage and have not reached finality.
● Other Rules and Regulations:
While the ‘National Policy’ and the ‘Draft Rules’ refer to specific environmental and social issues related to the deployment of offshore wind energy in the nation, there are other laws and regulations governing the marine environmental systems that also have an impact, albeit indirectly, on the deployment of offshore wind energy in the nation.
The "Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, 2019" is one such regulation. While the central government outlines the coastal regulation zone standards under such notification, the state government is required to publish its intentions for managing the coastal zone and create a Coastal Zone Management Authority (CZMA). These notifications are framed under the Environmental Protection Act of 1986, and as a result, the primary goal of their construction is to safeguard the maritime environment and ecosystem.
Further, the National Policy allows for the grant of permission by NIWE to interested private developers who have proven expertise in offshore studies and surveys to collect data on offshore blocks. In furtherance of this, the NIWE published Guidelines for offshore wind power assessment Study and Survey (Guidelines). These guidelines lay down the qualification requirements, the application process and other rights and obligations of private players w.r.t., technical assessment. They also clearly state that no private player shall have the right to the allocation of offshore blocks on account of surveys and studies carried out by them under the guidelines.
Social and Environmental Impact:
It is very clear from the National Policy and Draft Rules that any serious threat to the environment caused due to the establishment of offshore wind farms may lead to the cancellation of the project. Thus, for the successful establishment of offshore wind farms, there is need for a comprehensive Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) to have an in-depth study of the effect of putting up windmills, offshore sub-station, cables, land acquisition etc. As per the Environmental Impact Assessment notification, 2006, EIA is not a compulsory process in the case of establishing renewable energy projects and some even are expected. Yet, Offshore Wind Energy projects might require a detailed EIA as this project is going to have a significant impact on both onshore and offshore lives. Additionally, as offshore wind energy is the first of its kind in India, that too in a region with prior habitat, it is important to gauge the effect of such a big project on existing lifestyle, habitat, port routes, fish and fisheries etc.
Based on the reports prepared by FOWIND on Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, the two areas identified as promising sites for early offshore wind development are the Gulf of Khambhat, Gujarat and the Gulf of Munnar, Tamil Nadu. As these coastlines are known to be home to rare marine species and natural coral reefs, it’s important to assess the effect of the noise, electromagnetic waves, heat waves and pre and post-construction effects of offshore wind energy plants on the marine habitat and the migratory routes of the birds.
Large projects in several of the developed European markets undergo a comprehensive EIA. For those affected by offshore developments in the United Kingdom, there are community benefit schemes in place. The issues raised by the impacted communities are handled transparently. In Germany, citizens are made aware of offshore developments and their effects on the environment. Regulations and rules, particularly for impacted industries like fisheries, are taken into consideration when formulating policies and compensation mechanisms in emerging markets.
Currently, we do not have any comprehensive EIA for the coast where the Offshore wind farm is expected to come up. We only have one Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) commissioned on the Gujarat front and none on the Tamil Nadu side. A rapid EIA was conducted in Gujarat, but a detailed EIA is necessary to attract responsible investment. The rapid EIA had indicated that many coastal areas of Gujarat are rich in biodiversity and home to fishing activity up to 10 km off the coast. Mangroves and corals are also major ecosystems that need to be managed with care. In the case of Tamil Nadu, detailed studies are yet to be conducted, but the state is known to be home to a stronger fishing community and equally critical biodiversity resources.
Construction, Technical and Financial Impact:
India is categorized under the ‘new market’ in the global offshore wind energy sector, but to fully meet the ambitious goal set by the Government for 2030, we first need to have a proper assessment of the viability of the projects, get the relevant laws and rules in place and make the environment conducive for such heavy-duty project.
As per Lok Sabha's 17th Standing Committee report on Wind energy, it was estimated that Offshore wind turbines and tariffs would cost two to three times more than the cost of onshore wind turbines. Offshore wind farms are an expensive technology, especially when there is a price drop in onshore wind and solar energy. Thus, there is a requirement for financial assistance, and incentives to act as a luring factor for investors and businesses to invest into India’s dream.
As stated in the Global Wind Energy Council Report of 2021 (GWEC 2021) even after significant progress on the Gujarat project with the commissioning of LiDAR, rapid EIA, and floating of tender, the project has not progressed since 2018 due to the need for heavy initial capital. Similarly, on the Gulf of Munnar the progress is negligible, only recently have they floated tenders for the commissioning of LiDAR.
A working paper of NIIF published in 2022 suggested the following for easy logistical and infrastructure management:
– Existing ports should be modified to handle offshore wind transport requirements
– Offshore wind equipment manufacturing clusters can be developed close to the port cities to facilitate offshore wind and easy transportation of parts and equipment.
– If the transmission system operator accepts responsibility for bringing wind energy to shore, confidence increases and costs fall.
Major roadblocks on the way:
1) Lack of Infrastructure: Currently, India lacks the appropriate infrastructure to facilitate Offshore wind energy farms. For example, there are currently no specialized vessels or ports in India that can support the installation and maintenance of offshore wind turbines adding to the already heavy cost. Additionally, transportation is a huge concern; the blades, turbines and additional parts of an offshore windmill are rather bigger than the ones built for Onshore Wind Farms. Thus, the government will have to provide adequate support and space for a cost-efficient solution.
Creating offshore wind energy clusters can promote the establishment of a robust supply chain and manufacturing ecosystem. By bringing together manufacturers, suppliers, and service providers in close proximity to offshore wind projects, the sector can benefit from economies of scale and reduced logistics costs.
2) Lack of Impact Assessment: Environmental concerns are also a significant issue in the
offshore wind energy sector in India. Offshore wind energy projects can have significant
impacts on marine ecosystems, including the displacement of marine wildlife and changes
in water quality. These concerns must be addressed through a comprehensive
Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) process that considers the potential
impacts on both the environment and local communities.
Denmark has a long history of offshore wind energy and has developed a robust regulatory framework for offshore wind farm development. The Offshore Wind Farm Regulation in Denmark ensures proper permits, environmental assessments, and safety standards for offshore wind projects. India can adopt similar regulations to ensure compliance with environmental and safety requirements for offshore wind farms.
3) Lack of comprehensive regulatory framework:One of the major issues is the lack of a
comprehensive regulatory framework for offshore wind energy projects. While the Indian
government has set a target for offshore wind energy capacity, there are no clear
regulations governing the development and operation of offshore wind energy projects.
This lack of clarity can lead to delays and uncertainties for developers, which can
ultimately impact the growth of the sector.
It is important to have clear guidelines, rules and policies to provide a strong base for the ginormous project and aim set by the government. We can take cues from counties with existing Offshore Wind Energy Farms such as Denmark, the US, the UK, and the Netherlands.
By adopting and adapting these existing legislations from established offshore wind energy markets, India can create a robust legal framework that provides clarity, promotes investment, and ensures the sustainable development of offshore wind energy projects. India needs to leverage the experiences of other countries to accelerate its offshore wind energy sector and contribute significantly to its renewable energy goals.
Having taken an overview of the Offshore Wind Energy Sector in India, and some of the issues it faces, the following are some of the takeaways or major points the Indian Government could delve into to get the work moving in this sector:
1. Infrastructure: Optimize ports with existing infrastructure for offshore wind, such as Pipavav port in Gujarat, and plan for necessary alterations for smaller ports like Tamil Nadu's, to save costs on transportation infrastructure. Even with the recent tender bids, which should have been out months ago are facing two major issues: one being- to put up the transmission line from the offshore site to the landing point onshore and two, time given to the project developers to implement the project. It seems that the government has overlooked some really important details and hence the progress in this sector is staggered.
2. Cost Optimization: Developing Offshore Wind Farm is a costly affair as it demands
dedicated infrastructure, such as offshore substations, subsea cables, and onshore grid
connections. The government along with incentives need to put coordinated effort
between themselves, investors, and stakeholders to mobilize resources and build the
India has successfully implemented Public-Private Partnership (“PPP”) models in various sectors, such as highways, airports and even the solar energy sector. Similar partnerships can be explored in the offshore wind energy sector, where private companies can collaborate with the government to develop and operate offshore wind farms. This approach can bring in private sector expertise and resources to accelerate the growth of the sector.
3. Impact Assessment: Conduct detailed and comprehensive Environmental and Social Impact Assessments to cater to marine habitat, pollution, and environmental and social impact on people, their lifestyle, existing activities, and businesses. A thorough EIA study is necessary to meet international standards for project bankability and to engage financial institutions from abroad.
4. Effective Distribution: Plan for electricity distribution by putting in place a policy that outlines the planning and delivery of offshore wind grid infrastructure, mapping out a feasible route for power generated from the offshore plant to where it would be used. Coordination between the state and centre is necessary for filling up regulatory gaps and the easy establishment of offshore wind projects.
5. Cues from the pre-existing model: India has shown progress in the development of
hybrid energy projects that combine solar, wind, and storage technologies. Similar hybrid
projects can be explored in the offshore wind energy sector, where energy storage
solutions can be integrated to ensure a stable and reliable power supply. A hybrid project
will also help in rationalizing the cost, currently given the huge manufacturing and
operational cost attached to Offshore Wind Energy, the electricity so generated is
expected to be costlier than usual.
Another would be implementing a system of Renewable Energy Certificates, similar to what is used in the solar and wind energy sectors, which can incentivize the development of offshore wind energy projects. By issuing RECs for every unit of electricity generated from offshore wind farms, developers can sell these certificates to obligated entities, such as power distribution companies, to meet their renewable energy obligations. This will provide an additional revenue stream for offshore wind energy projects and attract more investments.
6. Foreign Legislations: Lack of proper regulatory framework is one of the biggest
roadblocks we face today. While Offshore Wind Energy might be new to India, it is an
existing and flourishing concept in the world. To up our game in this sector we will need
to move fast, but with caution. One way of going about it would be to take instances
from counties that have an established Offshore Wind Energy sector with proper
regulations in place. We can use these regulations as the base and build upon them
depending on our needs, circumstances, and resources. Some of the countries and
regulations that India can look towards are:
i. Netherlands (Maritime Spatial Planning): The Netherlands has a sophisticated maritime spatial planning system that designates specific areas for offshore wind energy development. This approach helps in minimizing conflicts with other marine activities and ensures efficient use of marine space. Given how busy the Gujarat and Tamil Nadu waters can be, India can develop its maritime spatial planning system to identify suitable areas for offshore wind energy projects and streamline the permitting process.
ii. Germany (Offshore Wind Energy Act): Germany has a well-developed offshore wind energy sector, and its Offshore Wind Energy Act provides a comprehensive legal framework for the development, operation, and decommissioning of offshore wind farms. The Act sets out clear rules for permits, grid connection, environmental impact assessment, and stakeholder engagement. India can adopt similar legislation to provide clarity and certainty to developers, investors, and stakeholders involved in offshore wind energy projects.
The Indian peninsular has a large coastal area at its disposal, with great potential for setting up Offshore Wind Energy. While the Indian Government has already taken a stride towards it and has made quite progress, there is still a long way to go. The national Offshore Wind Energy Policy came out in 2015 since then we have only been in the research and feasibility stage, and no actual work can be seen happening on the ground. The COVID Pandemic was a huge blow and staggered the progress but we have moved past it now. It is time the government starts looking into the critical areas causing the apparent delay and tackles it from all the corners. India has set an ambitious net zero and renewable energy target, and to achieve that Offshore Wind Energy can contribute immensely.
About the Author
Anukriti Prakash is a recent graduate from the Faculty of Law, University of Delhi. She also holds a degree in English Literature, which fuels her love for reading and writing. She has a keen interest in Renewable Energy Sector and Technology law.
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