India's wind power potential declining due to warming

The majority of wind turbines are being built in southern and western India to best capture the winds of the summer Indian monsoon, the seasonal weather pattern then brings heavy rains and winds to the subcontinent. File photo

The warming of the Indian Ocean due to global climate change may be causing a slow decline in India's wind power potential, according to a study.

India, the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China and the US, is investing billions in wind power and has set the ambitious goal to double its capacity in the next five years, said researchers from the Harvard John A Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

The majority of wind turbines are being built in southern and western India to best capture the winds of the summer Indian monsoon, the seasonal weather pattern then brings heavy rains and winds to the subcontinent.

The study, published in the journal Science Advances, found that the Indian monsoon is weakening as a result of warming waters in the Indian Ocean, leading to a steady decline in wind-generated power.

"We found that although India is investing heavily in wind power to tackle climate change and air pollution issues, the benefits of these substantial investments are vulnerable to the changing climate," said Meng Gao, a postdoctoral fellow at SEAS and the Harvard China Project.

The research calculated the wind power potential in India over the past four decades and found that trends in wind power are tied to the strength of the Indian Summer Monsoon.

In fact, 63 per cent of the annual energy production from wind in India comes from the monsoon winds of spring and summer, researchers said.

Over the past 40 years, that energy potential has declined about 13 per cent, suggesting that as the monsoon weakened, wind power systems installed during this time became less productive, they said.

Western India, including the Rajasthan and Maharashtra states, where investment in wind power is the highest, has seen the steepest decline over that time period, researchers said.

However, other regions, particularly in eastern India, saw smaller or no decline, they said.

"Our findings can provide suggestions on where to build more wind turbines to minimise the influences of climate change," said Michael B McElroy, a professor at SEAS.

The researchers aim to explore what will happen to wind power potential in India in the future, using projections from climate models. 

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