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August 2009

 

Harnessing the wind for Auroville

- Carel

 

Varuna Energy and Water Pvt. Ltd., a company created to serve the future energy and water requirements of Auroville, has bought its first windmill for Auroville.

 


The wind energy park at Dharapuram, Tamil Nadu


The landscape around the city of Dharapuram near Coimbatore is dotted with wind energy converters, more commonly known as windmills. “Probably close to a 1,000 windmills have been installed on this site alone,” says Mr. Venkateshwaran who shows us around. “These lands were unsuitable for agriculture and the villagers were earning a meagre existence from cattle grazing. But in the 1960s the potential of this area for wind generation was discovered. Due to the tunnelling effect of the Palghat Pass in the Western Ghats mountain range, high velocity winds sweep the area from May to September. In the next decades the Dharapuram wind park, an area of almost 29 sq. kms, was developed.”

Venkateshwaran is Deputy Manager Projects of Enercon India , one of the major windmill manufacturers in India . His company alone has erected more than 150 windmills on this site and hundreds more in other wind parks elsewhere in India . He shows the location for the first Auroville windmill. A massive concrete foundation is ready to receive the concrete elements of the tower that are lying nearby. “The tower will be 74 meter high, made of 18 concrete and 2 steel circular elements,” explains Venkateshwaran, stating that the windmill for Auroville will have a capacity of 800 Units/hour under ideal conditions. With an average loading of 28%, and a 6-months high wind season, the machine is expected to produce up to 2 million units a year.” Looking around, he mentions that the Dharapuram wind park is now almost filled to capacity. “The Auroville machine is one of the last to be erected. Other windmills will be erected in other wind parks elsewhere in Tamil Nadu.”

The Tamil Government is well-known for its policy of promoting wind parks, as there is a shortage of energy and many areas in the state experience high speed winds. The second largest wind farm in the world is in the Muppandal region in Tamil Nadu. Wind energy provides 15 to 20 % of the state's power demand during May-October, and 10% on average throughout the year. The Government also invites private parties to erect their own windmills and offers tax benefits and facilities such as ‘wheeling' of energy (for self-use the same amount of energy generated by a windmill in location A can be taken from the grid at location B, at 5% commission), ‘banking' (energy not used immediately can be drawn within a one-year period) and attractive schemes to sell electricity to the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB). In India , Tamil Nadu accounts for about 40% of the wind energy capacity in the country. Of Tamil Nadu's total estimated wind power potential of 4,500 MW from 41 sites, 4,136 MW is at present being produced by around 12,000 windmills.

Not only big industries, such as textile mills, cement factories and motorbike manufacturers, but also civic bodies and educational institutions are reducing costs by setting up their own windmills. One shining example is the Odanthurai panchayat in Coimbatore , consisting of 11 villages with a total population of 5,000. Ten years ago, 60 per cent of its budget was used to pay electricity charges, leaving just 40 per cent to be spent on the area's own development. The resourceful panchayat decided to become energy self-sufficient by installing solar streetlights, and set-up biomass gasifiers to generate power from the waste of Odanthurai's saw mills. In 2006, making use of a government facility called ‘the Remunerative Enterprises Scheme', the panchayat purchased its first windmill to generate energy. Today, in a situation where other parts of the state are experiencing power outages, Odanthurai not only enjoys uninterrupted power supply but sells its surplus power to the TNEB and uses the income for further development of the panchayat. The panchayat now has ‘pucca' roads, potable water, three primary schools and a high school.

Auroville’s very own windmill will look like thisFor Auroville, this example has long been a distant dream. The costs of a windmill, at present Rs 425 lakhs (approximately US $ 1 million) were prohibitive and there was no possibility it could make us of a government scheme. Auroville had no choice but to meet its electricity requirements, at present around 4 million kWh per year, from the TNEB. The power is generated by one of its power stations, the Neyveli Lignite Corporation at Neyveli, a hundred kilometres south of Pondicherry . But for a township that aspires to base its energy requirements on renewable energy, this solution is unsustainable – particularly as lignite has a large polluting potential.

For Michael Bonke, a long-term friend and financial contributor of Auroville who for many years has been involved in the building of the Matrimandir, the situation was untenable. He decided to set-up a private company, Varuna Energy and Water Pvt. Ltd. with himself and a few Aurovilians as directors to serve the future energy and water requirements of Auroville.

“I believe that the present and future electricity needs of the township must be met through wind generators,” says Michael. “They should first supply electricity to cover the demands of the township; in a second phase, they should meet the energy demands of the desalination plant which we want to build to help secure Auroville's future water supply; and in the third phase, they should make the Auroville wind park self-supporting.” He explains: “Two windmills of 0.8 MW would be sufficient to cover the city's present requirements; another windmill will be necessary for a future desalination plant, scheduled to produce 1000 cubic metre of drinking water per day which would serve the needs of 3,300 Aurovilians at a water usage of 300 litres per person per day. Two further windmills will sell energy to the TNEB; from this income more windmills will be bought, so that the Auroville wind park can continue to expand with the expansion of the city. With five windmills, Auroville will have – at least theoretically – an ever-young and ever-growing energy-source, cost-free.”

Varuna has meanwhile bought its first windmill, which became operational on July 1st. The company and the Auroville Foundation are now in the process of obtaining the required permission from the Government of Tamil Nadu for the wheeling of the energy from Varuna's windmill to Auroville.

Purists may argue that, technically speaking, Auroville will still get its energy from the Lignite Corporation in Neyveli. But there is a difference: Auroville's own windmill will have started to produce carbon-emission-free energy. This will justify Auroville being declared an eco-friendly and ecologically sustainable society that produces its own energy.

 

Windmill data

Type of wind generator: E – 53

Rated power: 800 kW

Rotor diameter: 52.9 metres

Hub height 75 metres

Blade material: fibreglass epoxy resin

Rotational speed: 12-29 rpm

Cost: Rs. 4.25 crores (approx. US $ 1 million)

Potential yearly income:
Rs 65 lakhs (all energy sold) (approx. US $ 150,000)

 

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