One quick note - we had some wifi connectivity issues for the first ten minutes or so - please bear with us, as the insights shared by Mr. Khanna are too good to miss. I highly recommend you listen to this audio with headphones - and then everything should smoothen out after the ten minute mark or so. Thank you and hope you enjoy!
Ashish Khanna is the President of Tata Power - Renewables, which is now India’s largest integrated power company, that has helped transform the Indian electricity landscape. In this conversation, Mr. Khanna expresses his insight into the hurdles that the solar energy sector has yet to overcome to hit its potential, as well as the potential areas for US-India partnership in the sustainable energy sector. Mr. Khanna also provides advice to the younger generation on entrepreneurial opportunities in this space, and I hope you enjoy this conversation with Mr. Ashish Khanna!
[2:16] Future of Solar Energy: facts on Indian electricity statistics over the coming decades and why solar is well-positioned to tap into this, plus the obstacles that the industry must overcome
[12:50] Where are the entrepreneurial opportunities for new companies in the renewable sector in India
[19:58] What insight would Mr. Khanna give to the younger generation?
[21:56] Could there be a potential US-India partnership in the renewable energy sector?
00:06 Karan Takhar
Hello everyone. This is Karan Takhar, and welcome to the Energy podcast. Over the past decade, India has done an impressive job of integrating renewable energy into its energy mix. For this Fullbright podcast series, I sought to investigate the enabling factors and potential of India's global leadership in renewable energy. With the focus on solar, this Fulbright series is broken down into Four Seasons. In this season, through conversations with leaders who have been instrumental in developing the Indian renewable energy sector, we will highlight how India has managed to integrate 35 gigawatts of solar in just a span of 10 years. We will also explore what these leaders believe the key challenge is to be as this sector further develops. In this conversation, we will be speaking with Mr. Ashish Khanna. Who is the president of Tata Power and has a background in engineering from IIT Delhi? In this conversation, Mr. Khanna gives us insight into the hurdles that the solar energy sector has yet to overcome to meet its targets, as well as the potential of renewable energy to serve as a platform to strengthen the US India Partnership our conversation concludes with advice from Mr. Khanna to the younger generation explaining how the Renewable industry is significant entrepreneurial opportunities which he encourages young people to get involved in and would like to add one very quick note we had some Wi-Fi connectivity issues for the 1st 10 minutes or so, so please bear with us as the insights shared by Mr. Khanna are too good to miss I highly recommend you listen to this audio with headphones and then everything should smoothen out after the 10-minute mark, or so I hope you enjoy my conversation with Mr. Ashish Khanna. So in a talk titled The Future of solar energy, I heard you mentioned that in the current Indian energy mix, electricity is only providing around 19% of the total energy requirements, and by 2050, this 19% is going to go towards around 49% I'm curious to hear if you can expand on these numbers and also in order for the solar sector to successfully tap into this increase in electricity consumption, what do you believe are the main hurdles the sector must overcome.
03:01 Ashish Khanna
Yeah, current, so for the projections of 90%, which is the current reality to 49%, was not mine. They both works, but we all know that obey the EV is being is actually entering into the automotive sector in the next two or three decades, yeah using partner, we also believe that, and I'm so believing that with this distributed generation which is going to play an important role In areas which are not having in this world Green connected power I think there are solutions on distributed generation. It's not for health as far as the sense of variable is concerned you have to appreciate the fact that If you look at in the last decade, it's I'm not talking about the future, but if I just look at the last decade itself the PV cost in quality price has reduced by around 86% be quiet It's primarily come because of the technology and the advancement which is happening in this particular area Today we have a cost of PV power which is the cheapest we are talking about two cents one cent in India we have 3 years since power with people are coding for next 25 years as a fixed cost there is one cent and even less than that in other part of the what is it reflecting that the cost of electricity power coming from the industry are going to go low that's a fact of life which we have experienced and that is if we consider propagated for future on a long term basis is going to remain It's not going back we are not going back from less than a cent to five cents ever even if we maintain the same technology as more and more investments are happening I am conscious and aware of the fact that this is going to go even further low you asked about the impediments. I think before the impediments, let's talk about the opportunities, the opportunity of electricity playing a very, very important and a majority role In the total energy mix I don't think, so there is any dispute about the only dispute is whether the energy consumption will grow to the level which people are projecting, but given the extreme basis point here and there I think this is going to be there. It is going to increase by about 2 and 1/2 times the advantage which we have. Today you have a renewable source which is distributed. You have a renewable source which is not dependent on any variability. Today when I set up a wind or solar plant, I don't look for a cold or oil coming from another country. I have to create a data point on how you know the sun is going to behave in a particular manner, definitely for the next 25 to 30 years. With that predictability in place, I have fidelity of my costs as well as twice the second part, which is if you ask for our impediments, I think the few points which we have to be very conscious of. We need to not overlook the quality, you know, let's appreciate the fact that the fossil fuel-based energy sources have matured for a long period of time, you know, the IC engines even frame 577 machines for gas by subcritical, supercritical boilers, and the technologies around it they all have matured for very long time now Today, all our new installations are based on federal assumptions everything is on a PowerPoint on an Excel sheet It just started to pass through a 25-year test to see whether my assumptions of producing power will remain in that manner or not or maybe so my degradation will be huge, there are other factors which I have not It can actually make the business case goes for a loss that will be a challenge, but I think the biggest impediment is that rather than going for a short-term view where I build a project and CC for the next six months, it is working we need to build projects which can last for more than 25 years the second point technology. We are focusing on how to prove that renewable is a good alternate source. An important factor is how? Let us build how renewables can align with fossil fuels for the betterment of the future. We cannot wish a cool away. We should not be doing that rather than one versus other. We need to have technologies that Coraline it for the betterment of humanity, humanity, as well as the society for which we are working. The third factor, which is also very critical, is by nature, it's an in-form power, and unless we bring solutions which are equally cost-effective and make it a 24/7 power, we are not going to help on a long-term basis, maybe we can study to a grid with my PLF of 25%, but then I have infrastructure on a transmission line which can take years so I'm going to waste that just because I'm pumping clean power so Today if you look at it where I, I personally see the impediment, but when I'm talking about a hybrid project, and I have a wind coming from somewhere, solar coming from somewhere. I have an inverter in that big, and I have an inverter in the solar they are not one inverter. It can be utilized for both if you actually graph and plot a 24-hour and a 12-month current software problem, and then you superimpose on performance of the solar project in most of the cases, you will realize that then the wind is low, the solar is back and vice versa so you can actually enhance a lot better and bring it to a 50% level, see use it judiciously Today this hybrid is not actually hybrid. It is 1+1 is two. We're not joining one both of them. We are not utilizing technology to the sense of creating better solutions. Today our whole focus is towards how to reduce costs, so I think, In nutshell, we need to be much more mature. In a nutshell, we should think is best for this industry rather than just going for optics. And in a nutshell, we should pull the line rather than fighting with other social power. These are three things on a long-term on a short-term I think we need storage. We need storage very bad, very quickly I also think that we need certain policy frameworks where the renewable distribution generation is not competing with the grid. We should be able to serve the community, and then above all, we should be able to generate entrepreneurs rather than only supplying power at the household level and then saying that we have achieved over time. I think so long answer to your short course, but that's what I believe.
10:21 Karan Takhar
No very nice answer and provided a lot of good clarity, and it leads nicely into my next question, which involves entrepreneurship within the solar and renewable energy sector, particularly so during my experience engaging in India, I interacted with a lot of younger, very enthusiastic people who they're looking to get involved in the renewable energy industry and that's one of the purposes behind this these interviews is to share with them where maybe there's some opportunity for them to get involved, and I'd like to ask you If the young person would like to start a company in India Today in the Indian renewable energy sector where do you believe they should focus their efforts? Like, where's the opportunity?
11:19 Ashish Khanna
I've been saying It more often than I should, but I believe that this is the next ID for this country, and I have certain reasons funny. The first is like, you know, when I was young and when I was in college at that time, the IP was coming in, every company was coming in, and there were a lot of startups we see what was happening out there. In fact, they were established organizations like IBM and others who are very established. I called the company, and then there were startups which were growing up at that particular time. She asked me at that time, even Apple was not in the manner it was. Today there were lots of evaluation which has happened in Apple two, but yes, even those organizations working differently. Having done that, I have, I've actually experienced that how those organizations or those startups I've come up so well in the last two or three decades. I think renewable industry is also at the same level they trust you have. This some major companies which will be very soon will have their own role to play, and we will have another set of companies which are going up. If I give you an example and why do I believe this theory works is, my personal philosophy is working when I look at the top ten companies say Today in In renewable industry in this country when I look at them, or if I name them the top 10, seven of them has only emerged in the last In this decade they were absolutely nonexistent. I came back and this is, if you look at it, the amazing obligation which only happens in if you look at in similarities out there seven of them doesn't exist or not in existence It took an early 2000s and are among the top ten of these In renewable segment, some of them has more renewables as a portfolio than others who are in the industry for five decades or 10 decades and they have even more effects than then those companies, fossil fuel as well as renewable assets, put together this is what they have achieved in such a short time It is very similar to when you look at the IP industries on how so many companies in the last one or two decades have outgrown, so many were there for ages I think that Is the US where we are in in this segment you asked me where a new entrepreneur should look that, I think where, where are the strengths with for engineering this in this part of the world and what has worked well for our engineers in the past in the industry, they are in another individual and I think what would work well for ourselves Is our equipment to invest in certain technologies To invest in those technologies and come out to the solution our strength is not to build up bigger organizations In this in this space our strength of engineers has been to come out with a certain solutions. If you look labels oil, there was Flipkart, we talk about Amazon, but that's outside the world, but It's like there was Ola they are changing the model. They have changed the conventional model in which the industry works. They have changed the model where the capital is not required. How have they done it? They have done it with the technology. What has helped them there was a technology which was available, what has helped them that there was a market which was available. If I create a similar model for a current 2.0 In this place, not in Washington DC, but daily capital Today, we have an opportunity where the rooftop has to grow, you know, I'm like, you know we have very different requirements in this country where rooftop has to grow distribution generation has to grow in operations and maintenance the technology is required. We are very, very primitive. I'm saying limited from the assigned point that we are actually doing in the last one decade. We have not changed In the way that technology can be infused on. It now, these workers aren't letting a lot of it, but there could be solutions with these youngsters can bring across, which can be a game-changer for the whole industry, and that is where I'm coming from. There is an opportunity here where Internet doesn't need to 1st increase 500 pounds of his own equity and then become an interval. You can create solutions like what have been created. It might make a value addition, and what is our strength in this part of the world, especially in India? Is our services the strengths are not. In hardware strengths, our services, and we have all the right technologies to begin with, there's no reason by Individuals and entrepreneurs in this industry will not do. And this industry is not only building projects while you are many projects, so there is so much which one can do while you're operating plants too. There is so much you here for those who come forward and get a solution.
16:59 Karan Takhar
Remaining on this track of entrepreneurship in the renewable energy industry in reflecting through the lens of your own experience, if you could give one piece of guidance or advice to the younger generation who are just getting started on their own professional path, what would that be?
17:16 Ashish Khanna
I only tell them to listen to their hearts, and if their heart lies in renewables, just immersed in it, I know it is the initial setbacks, the initial resistance it does. It is non-conventional way of working, but in this world we are in the, success will come, and the future is there, you know, the only challenge which I see if I and I if I go back and I look for a goal which is more to do with other factors than my own heart in it I think I have failed I have not done well whenever I have tried to achieve something it's my first step to achieve It has taken a longer time, but it has been so fulfilling and so satisfying and so rewarding If I go back, I will think about all those decisions which I have taken because of other factors and in my business
or personal life, we go by my heart, believe me, you will get the right sense you have all the knowledge Today It is so easy to get distracted with your colleagues It's people making more money than you at that particular stage, but then on a long run you will have very amazing lines If you continue that part that's only for this my heart for them.
18:40 Karan Takhar
Very nice, and love to hear. Like in which area do you believe a partnership that could occur and for both the US and India within the renewable energy space?
18:50 Ashish Khanna
You see, Today, if you look at the way we are utilizing the critical technology, then we have one more or less which we are using for putting it on a roof or a rooftop, and then we are using the same for distributed generation. It's all cookie cutter, and it's cookie cutter only because the cost element of our of producing that panel Is lost in the current scenario. What is the advantage of this particular industry is that technology is changing very fast, everyone is investing, and It is taking very fast. I think there are opportunities, and I personally know that there are two verses doing pretty advanced work now. There are technologies which consumed a certain purpose. You know, why do we all have to only setup utility-scale projects and look at the optics Indian groups are not European peace Indian requirements are not European requirements Indian advantage with respect to providing technology and services for operation and maintenance is something which there is a strength and can be utilized across the world so there is you know, we are not the best in R&D or investments in R&D. US has been invented for most of the technology in the world, most of the you know, whether we talk of addition or anyone else the US has pioneered and in this investment in R&D and coming out with more and more inventions, they are the innovators for the world for a very long time If we take that forward and bring these trends of India in servicing it and also that is a business model for the rest of the world and also for both these countries we can explore this combination where innovation comes from US and India with their strength of servicing and then make it, or even if it did require manufacture and make it without infringing all the baking It has there are successful, I would say, examples of India-US technology transfer where patients were not infringed upon or forbid. There is a sense of respect at both sides, so if you have innovations on this particular area of renewable, whether it is wind or solar, coupled with the manufacturing in this country, which can be low cost also when we add the service aspect from India or India as well as for outside, you know, we have Africa, we have all other regions I think there is an amazing combination which is possible we have the ingredients. We have done it in the past. We just need to glue it together. It is only a matter of time, but I will feel that let it happen early Today. We are the position there goes those particular inventions and technologies are have gone beyond the lab level. They have reached the manufacturing level. You can leapfrog the next generation. Then we can set up those benefits strings here or renewals and then work out together. I think both of us are very well placed, just that we need to come together and look at both the strengths which we appreciated in the past. We have just not felt distracted in this process, and great larger business sense for both the countries. India itself, and the huge requirement and then combined with it for India and abroad It's the best of both the business world's best for both the democracies best for the world.
22:45 Karan Takhar
I hope you enjoyed that episode, and do check out the show notes For more information on my guest. See you next time.