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Bob Smith

Bob Smith, EVP & Head – Asset Management, Mytrah.

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Clean Power: The Technologies Shaping 2017

An emerging trend in wind power generation from on-shore wind farms is the installation of wind turbines in ‘low-wind’ areas (places with low wind velocity) which wasn’t feasible before.

Never in the history of the modern world has so much been said and written about the need to switch to ‘clean power’ as is being done now. Encouraged in part by the inherent limits of the dominant fossil fuel-driven model to keep up with an ever-expanding demand for energy, and strongly supported by international and national mandates that prioritize targets to reduce carbon emissions, the impetus to adopt planet-affirming sources of energy is now for all purposes, inescapable.

India has witnessed a tremendous growth of solar energy generation and wind power production in recent years. At the RE-Invest Summit in Feb 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced an overall target of 175GW of renewable energy capacity by 2022 which includes 60GW from wind power and 100GW from solar power.

Buoyed by rapidly expanding capacity and positive uptake in investment in the sector, a recent draft national electricity plan projects the country will exceed targets set by the Paris accord by generating nearly 60% of electricity capacity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2027 – going beyond the 40% prescribed by the international agreement for 2030.

In this scenario, what are the technological trends projected to shape the further growth of renewable power in India?

Let’s take a closer look at some of these.

Material improvements  

An emerging trend in wind power generation from on-shore wind farms is the installation of wind turbines in ‘low-wind’ areas (places with low wind velocity) which wasn’t feasible before. This development is the result of technological improvement in two dimensions: in the material used to make and add length to wind turbines’ rotor blades—and--the capacity to build taller turbines. So far, blades have been predominantly made of fiber glass. In the coming years, they will be made of carbon. While retaining the tensile strength of fiber glass the new blades in being lighter and longer, will help ‘churn’ greater speed and thereby generate more power from the same velocity of wind.  

Taller turbines and longer blades are already leading to higher power generation potential. While the average hub height of a wind machine used to be about 50 meters less than a decade ago, current onshore turbines have a hub height of 120 meters and blade length of 60 meters, which on rotation span 120 meters across in diameter helping generate far more power than so far possible.

Machine learning

Additionally, turbines are increasingly set to be laden with sensors that study wind and weather patterns and use these results to further optimize performance. New-age machines fitted with such sensors will be able to ‘talk to one another’ and help the first in a row of turbines to ‘inform’ the rest, ahead of an expected gust of wind, to automatically reposition their blades for optimal power generation.

Digital technology

This ties into the improvement in information that renewable power generation is going to require on the digital side of things. By having information systems in place that accurately broadcast information second by second from every power generator will help central grids have information in advance to plan the distribution of power according to expressed requirement thus optimizing cost-savings and power production. This function will prove to be of special relevance to India where the game-plan is to not only increase reliance on renewable power but to make choosing it and consuming it widely affordable.

A case for the humble but (currently) expensive battery

Which leads us to batteries. Renewable power generation tends to have fluctuations. But when it is combined with more affordable and efficient batteries, it can serve as a steady, reliable power source. In the coming years, batteries will become an essential part of integrated networks so that when I as a business consumer send a signal to the network about a demand for power, some battery somewhere will start discharge to serve my power needs.

What will further help its wider adoption will be ongoing research focused on breaking down the chemical constituents of batteries to make them lighter, more efficient and crucially, more cost-effective.

Although developments in material science in the case of wind turbine components and breakthroughs in the underlying chemistry in the case of batteries will lead the way in how wind-based power will generate more energy and ‘reach greater heights’, what will be a constant common factor fueling clean energy will be the application of data analytics. The ability to know patterns in advance will not only help boost how much power is generated per second in say a low wind area but will also determine how well this energy is hosted, stocked and distributed in keeping with demand.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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