As Iran continues to develop its nuclear power industry under the watchful eye of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the wider international community, what few realize is that for the last 13 years it has been quietly developing a domestic wind power industry.

Iran is a country rich in fossil fuels. Its proven oil reserves are estimated to represent 10 per cent of the world’s total, while its recoverable coal reserves are around 420 million tonnes. Furthermore, its natural gas reserves are estimated to be 25.5 trillion m3, second only to Russia in size. Thus, it is unsurprising that this country relies heavily on fossil fuels to meet its growing energy needs.

Manjil in the northwest province of Gilan is home to one of the few wind farms in the Middle East region
Click here to enlarge image

As a consequence of this reliance its atmospheric emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) are steadily rising. According to the USA’s Energy Information Agency, Iran’s CO2 emissions rose almost 40 per cent to 109.61 million tonnes of carbon (equivalent) between 1994 and 2004. In an effort to address this growing problem the government is looking at various ways to reduce these emissions.

The greater use of natural gas for electricity generation through the construction of combined-cycle plants is being encouraged. The government is also keen to expand its nuclear power industry, and has indicated that it plans to build 6000 MW of additional nuclear capacity. It also wants to develop its own uranium enrichment programme, but this is bringing it into conflict with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over fears that this might enable it to develop a weapons capability.

What few realize, however, is that since the mid-1990s Iran has been quietly developing a wind power industry. In this article, which is based on a paper by Professor M. Ameri and M. Ghadri presented at this year’s POWER-GEN Middle East in Bahrain, we chart this burgeoning Iranian industry’s development.

Why wind power?

Iran has a strategic geographical position in the Middle East. It not only borders the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman and the Caspian Sea, but also shares land borders with Turkey, Armenia, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan – a point where east truly meets west. Furthermore, its geographical location combined with its relatively mountainous terrain means that it can maximize the use of the strong air currents coming from Asia, Europe and Africa.

In the mid-1990s studies to assess the feasibility of utilizing wind power for the generation of electricity began. Using both software simulation programmes and preliminary field studies, two sites were identified as being particularly good locations for wind farms.

The first is the area around the city of Manjil in the northwest province of Gilan. It is known as the windy city of Iran because of its location in the Alborz mountain range. The city is located in a small valley, which funnels the wind through the city on its way to the Qazvin plateau. Wind speeds of up to 11 metres per second (m/s) have been recorded in the area. The second site is at Dyzbad, which is located in the northeast of Iran, near the holy city of Mashhad.

Manjil wind farm

The Manjil wind farm comprises several different sites in the area. The Manjil site is located southeast of the Sefid-rud dam and covers an area of 2 million m2. Currently 31 wind turbines are in operation, with another 19 turbines due to be installed in the near future. The Rudbar site is located in a high altitude, rural area outside Manjil and covers an area of 200 000 m2. At the moment four wind turbines – three 550 kW and one 500 kW – are operating, but the installation of four more is anticipated. Finally, the Harzevil site is northeast of Manjil and is 650 000 m2 in size. Twelve turbines are currently working, with the installation of a further two 300 kW likely.

Annual production of electricity at the Manjil wind facility, 1996-2005
Click here to enlarge image

In 1994, two 550 kW wind turbines were installed at the Manjil and Rudbar sites. Three years later, in a project financed by the World Bank, the capacity of the Manjil wind farm was increased to 10 MW, with the installation of eight 550 kW and 19 300 kW wind turbines.

Installed capacity

Since those early days the capacity and number of wind turbines installed in the Manjil area has grown significantly. The table above shows the capacity and number of installed wind turbines over the period between 1994 and 2005.

Click here to enlarge image

Fifty-one wind turbines, with a total capacity of 21.6 MW, had been installed at the wind farm by the end of 2004. This comprised of 27 300 kW turbines (15 in Manjil and 12 in Harzevil), two 500 kW (one each in Manjil and Rudbar), 18 550 kW (three in Rudbar and 15 in Manjil), one 600 kW turbine in Babaian and three 660 kW in Pas-Koulan.

In 2005, control of the wind farm was handed over to the Renewable Energy Organization of Iran (SUNA), which is affiliated with Tavanir – Iran’s Power and Transmission Management Organization. Tavanir is an executive organization that controls the country’s electricity sector on behalf of the Ministry of Energy.

One of SUNA’s main aims is to increase the capacity of the Manjil wind farm to 90 MW. As part of that effort 19 660 kW turbines, with a total capacity of 12.5 MW, were installed at the Pas-Koulan site, increasing the total capacity of this site to 14.5 MW between February and March of 2005.

The installation of 12.5 MW in 2005 represented 37 per cent of the total capacity installed over the 12-year period between 1994 and 2005. Furthermore, 2005 saw the highest number of turbines installed in any one year, representing 27 per cent of the total number of wind turbines installed over the period 1994-2005.

The total production of electricity during 1994 to 2005 was 296 TWh, with 62 TWh produced in 2005 alone. This represents more than a 56 per cent growth in production between 2004 and 2005 (see graph below).

Dyzbad wind farm

The Dyzbad wind farm is located in what can be best described as a 50 km by five km “wind tunnel”, through which wind steadily flows west to east at a velocity of 8.9 m/s. The wind energy potential of this area has been estimated at 2000 MW.

The wind farm will eventually consist of 43 660 kW wind turbines that can produce 28.4 MW of electricity. Currently, 23 wind turbines are in operation and delivering electricity to the grid.

The combined total capacity of the Manjil and the Dyzbad wind farms is currently 47.3 MW, but there are plans to increase it to 120 MW. Furthermore, two 100 MW wind farms projects, which will be built by the private sector, are currently under consideration by SUNA.

In November 2003, the Saba Sadid Niroo factory was also established to manufacture, under license to Vestas, 660 kW turbines.

Growth opportunities

Although wind power generation remains modest – according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), in 2005 wind contributed only 0.02 per cent to electricity production – it is likely that Iran will continue to grow and develop its wind power capabilities.

Based on the latest developments in wind turbine technology, economic evaluation and recent research into the country’s wind energy potential, electricity production though wind power is estimated to be 6500 MW.

For Iran’s northern regions in particular, which are located far from its main gas fields in the south, the capability to generate electricity from wind power makes a lot of sense.