Suzlon into renewable energy

Dhule, December 30:

The forest of white windmills that make up Asia’s largest wind farm can be seen from miles away. Dotted across 2,000-sq-km of hills and villages on a basalt plateau in western India sit more than 800 turbines — generating more than 1,000 megawatts of electricity.

The towering machines, which stand 80 metres tall, cast shadows across fields tilled by man and buffalo — a stark juxtaposition of ancient and modern India. For one man, however, the windmill farm in Dhule is a fitting riposte to the critics who derided his dream to build a global green energy business from a country plagued by crippling power cuts.

In little more than a decade, Tulsi Tanti has made Suzlon Energy into the world’s fifth-largest producer of wind turbines — selling its turbines at a couple of million dollars apiece. Company turnover last year increased 29 per cent to $1.8 billion. About 90 per cent of Suzlon’s order book is from markets outside India, largely the US, South America and China.

Despite the success, 2008 was an annus horribilis for the company. While Suzlon should have been reaping the benefits of a world hungry for clean energy, it has been hit by a triple whammy: the credit crunch sent its stock plummeting; cracks appeared in its rotor blades used by US customers, raising doubts over its technology; and the $1.6 billion acquisition of Germany’s Repower, a turbine maker that produces giant offshore rigs, stalled.

The turbulence has hit the company hard. Suzlon’s stock price has crashed 90 per cent since January to end up trading at just Rs 56 Indian Currency ($1.20) in December — valuing the Tanti family’s 66 per cent stake at $1.6 billion.

Tanti brushes aside these episodes, seeing opportunities where others see crisis. The 51-year-old concedes his paper fortune has been blown away by the economic storm but says the forecast for the company remains good. Wind power producers, he says, can’t keep pace with demand at a time when concern about global warming is driving governments to promote greener electricity. “Our final product is electricity and that is sold at a fixed price. Demand is growing at five per cent a year globally and you need wind power to prevent climate change and for energy security. It’s the only industry that is going to grow,” he says.

Tanti’s rationale is about demand and supply. He says that by 2020, the US, Europe, China and India will want to have 20 per cent of their power supply from renewables. The issue is about making wind power ‘cost competitive’ with carbon sources, especially coal, which fuels 65 per cent of India’s electricity and costs at least a quarter less.

“Today wind power is just one per cent of supply. It can grow to seven per cent by 2020.”