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29. May 2007

India's Tanti capitalizes on global warming concerns

Indian businessman Tulsi Tanti, who has just bought German turbine maker REpower, stumbled into wind energy almost by accident when he was calculating the cost of power for his textile plant.

More than a decade on, he believes increasing concern about global warming means the wind energy business will only turn in yet more profits.

Tanti, 49, found that he was paying 25 percent of his total expenditure for electricity for his textile plant in India's western Gujarat state.

So he decided in the early 1990s to buy a wind turbine to power the plant, thus saving costs.

He found it worthwhile enough to think he had found his next calling, and dropped out of all other businesses to concentrate on building a company that in 2006 overtook Siemens as the world's fifth-largest wind energy firm.

Fresh from buying REpower last week, he sees the next big opportunity for his company Suzlon Energy in rising international concern over global warming and climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

"Wind energy can, and will, play one of the most important roles in saving the world of tomorrow, today," Tanti said. "We drive our business as a cause, one where we power a greener tomorrow."

Fossil fuels are the world's biggest source of energy but burning them also produces heat-trapping greenhouse gases which contribute to global warming.

Tanti estimates that demand for wind power will grow 25 percent a year as governments encourage the use of more environment-friendly alternative energy sources, notably after oil prices more than doubled since the Iraq war began.

For energy-hungry India, which imports two-thirds of its petroleum needs, the oil price surge has produced a swelling trade deficit.

India's crude oil imports jumped 30 percent to 57.3 billion dollars in the year ended March.

A nation of 1.1 billion people, India is the world's fourth-largest market by annual capacity addition for wind power.

Vivek Kher, a vice president and spokesman at Suzlon, said it was Tanti's experience in finding an alternative energy source for his textile plant that turned him on to the potential of wind power.

"There are no major renewable energy sources that can compete with wind energy," Kher said.

"Technology has not been able to make solar energy grid-friendly," he went on. "The environmental impact of hydel (hydro-electric) power is a major consideration in many parts of the world; many other energy forms such as wave energy and geothermal energy are in the realm of the unknown."

Suzlon, based in the western city of Pune near India's financial centre of Mumbai, logged 108 percent sales growth percent to 79.86 billion rupees (1.97 billion dollars) in the year ended March, while net profit rose 14 percent to 8.64 billion rupees.

Its purchase of REpower -- beating French nuclear energy company Arevawill -- should enable Suzlon to build more capacity at a faster rate to capitalize on growing global demand.

Capacity addition in the wind energy sector has not kept pace with demand, with one major bottleneck being a shortage of components for the turbines that harness wind into electricity.

"This is an investment in the supply chain," said Kher. "We will continue to make such investments."

Suzlon, which last year bought a Belgium-based maker of turbine gear-boxes, is setting up foundry and forging facilities for wind-turbine components in the Indian cities of Baroda and Coimbatore.

The company now covers 14 countries in four continents and chief executive Andre Horbach boasts it will continue to grow.

"The group today has a strong manufacturing base, research capabilities and a presence in all key wind energy markets," he said.

The company has 2,700 megawatts of annual capacity and is eyeing expansion to 4,200 megawatts by March next year.

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