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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2646

Wind Power: The solution to South Asia’s energy problem

By Garvin Karunaratne,Ph.D.


A few years ago, while touring California I was stunned to see the wind farm at Altamont Pass near Livermore, California. I saw hundreds of turbines turning out energy for the national grid. Earlier, I had seen a stray turbine in the UK and in Hambantota, Sri Lanka and have read of windmills in the Netherlands. It beat me as to why South Asian countries, with so much of mountains blessed with ample wind power, even blowing our cars off the roads; have given no thought to wind power. I have worked in many Districts in Sri Lanka and have travelled all over Bangladesh in connection with my work for two years and have also toured through many thousands of miles in Myanmar, Thailand and Northern India. In my travels in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and India, I have had to contend with power cuts due to the lack of energy supplies. Currently, the matter has come to a head with the price of a barrel of oil reaching a hundred dollars. The Governments have had to increase the prices of fuel causing massive increases in the cost of living on the one hand and also causing foreign indebtedness because these countries have to import oil. This week, it was reported that India is proposing to build power grids to purchase power supplies from neighboring countries- Nepal and Bangladesh.

The wind is undoubtedly a clean and sustainable power source.

It has been held that wind power is variable and unpredictable. This is not true. I have lived and worked in five countries and have traveled widely in North America, Mexico, the Caribbean, Asia and Europe. It is my experience that wind power is dependable and its dependability is due to it being caused by monsoon winds and convection currents which are very regular. New technology used on wind turbines enable the turbines to be automatically switched off if the velocity is high.

I am of the firm opinion that all these countries- Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India and Myanmar can become totally self sufficient in all their power requirements through wind power with the cost of the foreign exchange of any one year spent on the imports of oil. This can be achieved within a year or two- far less than the time span required to build up a thermal or coal power plant. Though I do not hold an engineering degree, as an administrator I have had the experience of directing the construction of large paddy stores in Sri Lanka, easily comparable with the largest stores in the World, irrigation and road work, approving and supervising the work of engineers and can make a firm statement that the construction of wind turbines can easily be done. I can state without any reservation that building up a few thousand turbine towers is easier a task than either building a harbor to get at the imported coal, or building up a thermal power plant. This task will be fairly equal to what was done by my colleagues in the Land Development Department in the Fifties- at Padaviya, Sri Lanka, the Unit included easily a dozen D4, D8 and Grader machines, a hundred lorries and over a thousand labour force.

Worldwide Use of Wind Power

Some details of worldwide installed wind power is given below in order to convince the authorities that wind power offers the solution. Over the entire world the installed capacity is 59,084 MW. Germany leads the world with the USA and Spain competing for the second place.

* USA produces 11,600 MW.

* UK produces 482 MW from 940 turbines.

* The countries of the European Union produce 34,000MW

* Germany produces 20,621 MW from 18,000 wind turbines.

* Spain produces 11,615MW

* Denmark produces 3129 MW in 2005, 18% of its power is derived from wind.

At first the turbines had a capacity of less than 1MW. However with developments in technology, turbines of 2 MW are now common. The world’s largest wind turbine is a 5 MW wind turbine installed in Germany in 2005.

Wind Power in the USA

The USA was once the largest producer of wind power, but countries like Spain and Germany have stolen a march. The US produces 11,600 MW. Of the 26 States in the US where wind power is harnessed, California is the largest producer. It produces 1.5% of the State’s requirements. We have to consider the fact that a twelfth of the population of the US live in California and the people consume a high amount of power. The installed capacity in California is 1,676MW(1997) and this is derived from 14,597 turbines. Most of these turbines are of the old type installed before new technology was introduced.

The USA has vast plans afoot to harness wind power in a big way and this well illustrates the potential that is there to be tapped by countries that are blessed with wind.

New Plants in NW Nevada, to be the world’s largest… These two plants will have a capacity of 560MW and will generate enough power annually to serve more than half a million people. (AWEA News Release)

In California, the wind turbines are concentrated at three mountain passes, at

- Altamont Pass, 5041 turbines producing 544MW,

- San Gorgornio Pass, 2898 turbines producing 273 MW

- Tehachapi Pass, 4714 turbines producing 623 MW.

I have been to Altamont and San Gorgornio Passes and the amount of wind power available in these areas is far less than what is available in many sites in the mountains of Sri Lanka, Myanmar and India.

In 2004 I visited a wind farm of 27 wind turbines at Hyde Country in N. Dakota, run by the Bismark Regional Cooperative. There, 27 wind turbines produce 40 megawatts - sufficient power for 14,000 American homes. These are new generation wind turbines, a development over the older turbines that generated power at 30 cents per kwh. These wind turbines produce electricity at less than 5 cents per kwh. the turbines are 330 ft tall on a foundation 28 ft deep. Computers turn the nacelle and the rotar to face the wind and the turbine shuts off automatically if the wind power exceeds 56 m.p.h

Though the USA was the pioneer in the use of wind power, its place has been stolen recently by Spain and Germany. However a mention has to be made of the vast wind resources available in the USA. If only there is a will the sky is the limit.

The Current Energy Problem in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka cannot provide the electrical energy she requires. For quite some time power cuts have been the order of the day. In 2002, power cuts were around 2.5 hours or more a day. Power cuts inconvenienced consumers and industries had to depend more on power generators, which is costly both in terms of fuel consumption as well as cost of importing the generation machinery. The authorities in Sri Lanka have in 2005 solved the problem of power shortage by buying power from foreign power suppliers at high cost, which has caused increased prices to the consumer and also a great running loss to the Electricity Board.

The current charges levied for electricity in Sri Lanka is well above the price in the USA.

The current capacity for energy is:

Installed Capacity Available Capacity
Hydro 1147 700-800
Mini Hydro 24.5 10
Thermal 683 350-500
Wind 3 2
Total 1857.5 1000-1250

(Peak demand-1400MW (night) and 900MW (day)
Two Studies of the availability of wind power have been made by the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB). The wind in the South was studied a few years ago while the Wind on the West Coast has been studied recently. According to the Study of Wind Power in the South Eastern Coastal Belt,

The Study revealed that the total potential of wind power generation in the South Eastern part of the country to be 200MW. This excludes the land area for wild life reserves and agriculture(, page 1)

The coastal belt winds are created in convection currents and the velocity is nowhere near the power available in the inland hilly areas. The wind power at Hambantota is established at 5 m.p.h. I have lived in Hambantota and am of the opinion that the wind power in Hambantota is the same as available anywhere on the south-western coastal belt. At the coastal hillocks- at Browns Hill in Matara where I lived for 2 years the wind velocity would be higher.

If the wind power in the South Eastern Coastal Belt can be estimated at 200MW, the wind power in the Deniyaya-Hayes area, the Central Hills and the Knuckles area can easily be twenty times this amount, i.e. 4,000 MW. , which is far above our country requirement. This is also a conservative estimate. Of these three areas I have lived and incessantly travelled in the Deniyaya-Hayes-Sinharaja area and the Central Hills and the wind power available in these two areas is realistically very high. At the Forest Department Circuit Bungalow at Ohiya, the further side of World’s End, the wind power was such that I found it very difficult to park my car. There was so tremendous a force, that could even blow my car away.

A Wind velocity of 11-14 mph is classified as good while a wind velocity of over 14 mph is classified as excellent. I am certain that sites with wind velocity of over 14 mph can easily be found. The Sinharaja Ridges, Madugoda on the Kandy Mahiyangana Road, Ohiya, and Haputale are some places where I have sensed tremendous wind velocity. In my travels in Myanmar too I have seen immense wind power at many places.

The Sri Lanka Electricity Board states that the cost of deriving electricity from coal is established at Rs. 3.80 per kWh while from wind the cost is Rs. 8.00 per kWh. Sri Lanka has only five wind turbines at Hambantota turning out 3 MW while California’s experience dates back from 1976. While the turbines at Hambantota are of the capacity of 0.6 MW, there are turbines turning out 2MW and 2.5 MW installed in Denmark and California. Perhaps the low capacity at Hambantota is due to the low wind speed and the outmoded turbines.

At Hambantota the cost of installing the five turbines has been Rs. 280 million($350,000 at Rs.80 per $). This is too high a cost perhaps due to construction models and methods. It could be surmised that if there had been more wind power and turbines of a larger capacity had been installed the amount of power generated would be far more. According to my opinion Hambantota has a low wind power and it will not be correct to make any decision based on the power generated at this site. Currently plans are afoot to construct three turbines at Puttlam. I have traveled frequently in the Puttlam area and am certain that the wind power in Puttlam is fairly equal to the wind power in Hambantota. Perhaps the idea of having wind turbines at Puttlam and not in the m mountainous area where there is ample wind power is due to the Coal & Thermal Power Lobby which is trying to prove that wind power is not the solution to Sri Lanka. The words of John Perkins , a foreign consultant in his books comes to mind, where he states that he was hired by an international consultant firm to fabricate reports for infrastructure development projects that were not beneficial for the countries and left the countries overly indebted:

(Confessions of an Economic Hitman & The Secret History of the American Empire:Economic Hitmen, Jackals & the Truth) The history of development is interspersed with sabotage. Mark Diesendorf states:Anti wind power groups that exaggerate environmental impacts and technical limitations should be scrutinized for possible funding from industries that stand to gain from attacks on wind power.((Diesendorf:2005) It is upto the leaders and bureaucrats to veer away from them. We are living in an age where even development instituitions like the IMF can fairly be accused of forcing non-growth strategies on poor countries. (Karunaratne: How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka..:2006)

In today’s predicament of not having sufficient power, the Government has even approved an Indian company- Enerco to install a wind farm in Kalpitiya and it is said that this company is to be paid at the rate of 12 cents a unit and that in US $. It is strange that payment is to be made in foreign exchange when many units of wind turbines can be put up with ease and the payment need not be made in foreign currency.(See Karunaratne; “Pay the Wind in Dollars”)


India appears to be making inroads in using wind power. India is the third largest wind power producer next to the USA and Europe. In the words of Villas Muttemwart, the Minister for Non-conventional Energy on the use of wind power: the trend has been set. We added nearly 2,000 MW in the previous year. I am confident that by next year we will have 10,000 MW from wind power(Krishnan: “Interview- India Hopes to double Wind Power by 2007”, Yahoo News. India Aug 17,2006)

By 2001, the capacity of wind power installed was 1,500 MW. In 2004 the wind power production was increased by 46%. This increased to 5,340 MW. By March 2006

India currently allows tax breaks for the installation of wind farms. In addition to cheaper loans, 100% of investment cost is allowed as a write off in tax over two years. India has been convinced of the feasibility of using wind power. In the words of Minister Muttemwar: wind power works out cheaper than conventional energy over the long term due to almost non-existant running costs. Farms can be set up quickly to bridge power shortfalls. It pays in the long term since there are no recurring costs unlike thermal power which requires a constant fuel supply.

While the current installed capacity of all power sources is 120,000 MW, India is short by 12% of total requirements. India has the capacity to turn out 45,000 MW of wind power. It is hoped to build up wind farms to reduce the oil imports- amounting to $ 49 billion a year. It is estimated that a 200 kw wind turbine replacing a thermal power plant would save 120 to 200 tons of coal (Krishnan:2006)

I have not had the occasion to travel by road in South India but have seen a number of wind farms from the air.

Feasibility & the Advantages of Wind Power

Savings on Foreign Exchange

The main advantage lies in the fact that there is no recurrent foreign exchange commitment after installation. In the case of coal and thermal units, Coal and Oil have to be imported incurring valuable foreign exchange which countries do not have and which has to be borrowed at high interest. The cost in foreign exchange also escalates due to the fall in the values of the local currencies- at around 10% per year in most Third World countries. The wind is a freely available resource. In arguing out the case for wind energy harnessing in the US it is even said that Wind Power helps cut our trade deficit by lowering our foreign petroleum imports. (Harris & Navarro)

On the non-pollution basis alone the use of wind power deserves serious consideration. The uses of fossil fuels create pollution, such as oxides of sulphur and nitrogen which contribute to acid rain and carbon dioxide that causes climate change.

In the words of Steuart Baird: Wind Power has none of the green house gases and acid gas emissions, which result from the combustion of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas,… does not result in the risks of radioactive exposure associated with nuclear power plants.(Baird:1993)

Nuclear power plants have better be avoided due to lethal leaks and problems involved in the disposal of nuclear waste. The leaks at Chernobyl, Ukraine and Three Mile Island are well documented. BBC.Co states: When uranium fuel is used up(or becomes spent) it becomes highly radio active, so much so that anyone standing unprotected near a spent fuel assembly will contract a lethal dose of radiation in minutes. The only way that has been proposed to dispose of this spent fuel is to bury it and wait for the radiation to fade away which could take thousands of years. Of course no man made structure is known to have remained intact for such a long period, so practically speaking, the disposal problems remain unsolved.

Feasibility in terms of Costs
The experience of costs in California will provide a basis for our conclusions.

In the words of the California Energy Commission, The levelized cost of energy from wind turbines in 1993 was 7.5 cents per kiloWatt hour. With current wind research, the Energy Commission estimates that newer technologies can reduce the cost of energy to 3.5 cts. Per kilowatt-hour.

Frank Harris and Peter Navarro in their Report state that wind power costs around 5 cts. per kwh while solar costs 16 cents, geothermal 11 cts. and biomass 7 cents.(pg.10)

At Hyde in N. Dakota, the cost on new generation type of turbines was less than 5 cents per Kwh.

Installation Costs

The following excerpt from the National Wind Technological Center is revealing: Existing wind power plants produce electricity at a levelized cost of $ 0.05/kwh to $ 0.08/kwh at a site with an average annual wind speed through the rotor at 15.4 mph. These turbines cost as little as $ 1,000/kwh and last as long as 20 years. New turbines can produce at less than $ 0.05/kwh and have expected life times of 20 to 30 years.

The installation cost is around $ 1,000 to 1,250 per kWh. Paul Gipe states, the installed price of new medium sized wind turbines has plunged from $ 4,000 per kWh in 1980 to $ 1,250 today. (Overview of Worldwide Wind Generation).

The comparative costs of energy as given in the California Energy Commission’s 1996, Energy Technology Stations Report, is:

Levelized Costs Cents per kW/h 1996

Coal 4.8 – 5.5
Gas 3.9 – 4.4
Hydro 5.1 – 11.3
Nuclear 11.11 – 14.5
Wind without PTC 4.0 – 6.0
Wind with PTC 3.3 – 5.3

This shows that the experience of California is that wind power costs less than coal. The Report states that the cost of energy is as low as 6 cents per kilowatt-hour today under ideal conditions.

A key advantage in the use of wind energy lies in its modular nature. It is easy to add capacity. Adding capacity merely means constructing another turbine tower. Additions do not involve the de-commissioning of plant.

Use of Local Resources

Local resources like cement, sand and wood can be used in the construction. Wood can also be used for the rotor blades. Since the early 1980s, the best blades in the world designed and manufactured in the UK have used wood as the primary structural material. The early blades of this type have now completed over 20 years’ trouble free service… the Chinese partners have shown that bamboo can be used.(Engineering Newsletter, University of Cambridge, Aug 2007) In the fabrication of the structure for the turbines concrete can be used like at Hyde in North Dakota.

The Creation of Employment

In installing wind turbines only the turbine motors have to be imported. The rest including the rotor blades can be made locally.

In the words of Frank Hariss and Peter Navarro: Wind Power generates more than just electricity. It also generates more jobs per unit of energy produced than most other forms of energy. In gas (and oil) fired plants fuel costs account for much of the operating expenses….. However, with wind, the majority of the operating expenses will remain in the State, in the form of wages. Moreover much of the employment occurs in economically disadvantaged rural areas where employment opportunities are both scarce and low paying…. In California, the wind energy supports over 50 businesses and 1,200 people directly.

(A Report to the Governor & State Legislature, University of California, Irvine, 1999) The US experience is that on the older type of wind turbines in California the creation of 1676 MW provide work for 50 businesses and 1200 jobs.

The construction of the turbine towers, the wind blades and repairs will enable employment avenues in many remote rural areas.

The Advantage in terms of energy used in the installation is an important criterion in judging the feasibility of any project. A UK Government Release: Energy from the Wind states: The average wind farm in the UK will pay back the energy used in its manufacture within 3 to 5 months. In its lifetime, a wind turbine will produce over 30 times more energy than what was used in its manufacture. This compares well with coal and nuclear power stations which deliver only a third of the total energy used in their construction and fuel supply,

Paul Gipe, easily one of the world’s foremost personnel in the wind energy industry and the author of several books on the subject states: Though wind turbines do use energy intensive materials such as steel, reinforced polyester (fibreglass) and concrete (for foundations) they quickly repay the energy consumed in their construction. At good sites wind turbines pay for the energy in their materials within the first 3 to 4 months. Even at poor sites, energy pay back occurs in less than one year. (Overview of Worldwide Wind Generation: 1999)

The Disadvantages.. The criticisms made range on the following:

* Impact on Land Use,

* Noise

* Effect on Wild Life

* Disruption of Radio Transmissions

The advantages easily outweigh these factors.

Re Land Use, it is accepted that wind power plants require space. On an average it is said that wind power requires 17 acres of land to produce 1MW of electricity. (Wind Energy in California by California Energy Commission)

It is my contention that 17 square acres can also produce 2 or 2.5 MW because the only variable would be the turbine and the larger rotary blades. However land is not a constraint. The land on which the turbines can easily be used for cultivation and farming. In my travels I have come across large extents of mountainous land, uninhabited in Sri Lanka, India, the USA, Myanmar, Thailand, Mexico and Greece. Of these countries there is a severe power shortage to my knowledge in India, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. In all instances wind power offers the solution.


The conclusion that wind power offers an immediate solution to any country that is blessed with wind power is very valid. It is hoped that this Report will be an eye opener to the authorities in charge of Power and Energy in Sri Lanka, India and Myanmar to take action as appropriate. Wind Power has been ignored in many countries of Asia. For instance the Eighth Meeting of the Experts Group on Power Interconnection and Trade(EGP8) Greater Mekong SubRegion held at Yangon, Myanmar ignores Wind Power altogether. With my experience in administering development programmes including construction work- roads, bridges, irrigation works, the largest stores in Sri Lanka, I can assure that the structures required for the turbines can easily be built. Harnessing the wind for the creation of electricity in any country is not only feasible, but achieving a target of self sufficiency can easily be done within a few year at a fraction of the cost of installing coal fired plants. I can make this statement without any reservation.


S. Baird Energy Fact Sheet, Energy Education of Ontario, 1993 BBC.Co.UK How a Nuclear Power Plant Works, Guide ID A476723, December 6,

Diesendorf, Mark, Bluf and Bluster: The Campaign against wind power, On Line Option Australia’s e Journal of social & political debate, Feb 23, 2005

Harris & Navarro , A Report to the Governor & State Legislature, University of California, Irvine, 1999)

Garvin Karunaratne, “Pay the Wind in Dollars?” in The Island, September 18, 2007

Garvin Karunaratne, “The Energy Problem of Sri Lanka. Can Wind Power Help?” in How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka and Alternative Programmes of Success,
Godages, Colombo, 2006.

Unni Krishnan, by Reuters, Interview: India Hope to double wind power by 2007, Yahoo News, India, August 17, 2006

“Wind Energy Turns to Bamboo”, in Engineering Newsletter, Department of
Engineering, University of Cambridge, Issue 5, August 2007, page3

- Asian Tribune -

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