Vaishali Sinha is a founding member of ReNew Power and president of the ReNew Foundation, which is the largest renewable energy development company in India, with more than 10 GW’s of operational capacity.
In our conversation, Ms. Sinha shares what the early days of ReNew looked like, how the idea came about, and what were the key inflection points in the company's journey.
Additionally, this podcast episode includes a clip of our conversation with Anand Gupta, who led ReNew’s recent acquisition efforts for Climate Connect.
Topics covered in this podcast:
[2:00] What differentiates ReNew and separates it from the competition?
[6:56] What does the digital initiative entail?
[9:47] Mr. Anand Gupta explains the culture around ReNew's innovation
[12:21] What process did the acquisition process of Climate Connect look like and how does it fit ReNew’s strategy?
[16:06] Ms. Sinha talks about the story behind Goldman Sachs' investment, an early inflection point
[22:51] What are the foundation plans for the Lighting Lives Program?
[26:53] What are the foundation plans for the ReWind Program?
[32:09] What advice would Ms. Sinha give to the younger generation?
00:06 Karan Takhar
Hello everyone. This is Karan Takhar, and welcome to the zenergy podcast. Over the past decade, India has done an impressive job of integrating renewable energy into its energy mix. For this Fulbright 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 episode, I'll be speaking with Vaishali Sinha, a founding member of her new power and president of the ReNew Foundation. ReNew power is the largest renewable energy development company in India, with more than six gigawatts of capacity. Miss. Sinha is also a leading proponent for promoting more gender diversity.
In the renewable energy sector, and partners on many initiatives with the UN for this intent. In our conversation, we will explore some of the early Inflexion points of her new power, and I also have included a conversation with Anil Gupta, who led renews acquisition efforts for climate connect. Hope you enjoy my conversation with Miss. Sinha and Mr. Gupta.
It seems like new is always ahead of the curve and has sort of a culture of innovation, and I'm trying to understand. Yes, I'd love to hear your opinion on what differentiates renew and allows it to innovate in such a way that it is able to remain ahead of the competition.
02:12 Vaishali Sinha
Yeah, I mean that's that's really a very interesting question, and sometimes I also ask myself this question there. From a time were setting up 100 megawatts seemed like a humongous task to being where we are right now, it almost seems like magic, right? It's just, uh, you know, at that time, just setting up like 50 megawatts like an impossibility, and then not only being able to do it but to be able to get into solar sector, for example, or the ground-mounted solar business in 2013, fourteen or around that time. Well, 13, we started looking at it when nothing had happened over the past 20 years required or 15 years. You know, the Jawaharlal Nehru, You know, solar mission and a lot of the companies from around the world had made investments and then, you know, half watching to see what's going to happen in India and then, you know, we start preparing, and I remember talking to someone or something like, you know, my little soda you know there's just nothing happening for many years, so what makes you feel things are gonna happen and it's a little bit like, OK, let's test it, let's throw out, you know, happening and see how it goes, but as we position that if it takes off, then we're well positioned to do things. So, I think a little bit of, I guess, being a visionary or being aware of what's happening, being able to, like I'm sure many other people got into the sector, it's you're adding ability to build a team to empower people to ensure that obviously there's a huge amount of analysis before you do, but there is. I mean, you can do the analytics and everything else, but there's also intuition and, you know, a little bit of the vision, which is required to do things ahead of time, right? And I think it becomes a way of life after a point because, you know. So yeah, it's just been, it's been interesting to see that a lot of our decisions worked, and so when a couple of them didn't work, there was a huge amount of trauma amongst people because they were not used to it, you know, they were just used to, and when something didn't happen, you know, like they just feel like, you need that. It's not even a thing, so, it just shows that I won't see this. I don't think there's anything called being lucky or not lucky, and if you were unlucky many ways and you just have to keep you have to keep working at it to make sure that you look lucky after that hard work and effort system sleeping alone. So, yeah, even like if you look at read this whole the digital initiative which we are looking at, somebody will say that, Oh my God, there's so many other challenges, there's so many megawatts support. Do we need to do this? It's kind of you think something seems unnecessary if you're doing them ahead of time, but if you have the conviction, you have the awareness, and you have the vision, and you have the team which can do it, and you have the ability to build the right team, I think often, most of all, most of the times these kinds of, You know, bets which look like funds end up being successful because a lot of thought has been given to these decisions, and at the new, we've always been doing things a little differently, with a lot of commitment, with a lot of ambition and a lot of desire to be the best and to do things in a good way, and to be the biggest and the largest, but at some point you're like, OK, we've done that. Now we just want to make sure that we are solid, and so then you start looking at other things like how we can be solid, you know, building a strong organization, making sure that you're not only a renewable energy company, but whatever you're doing, you're doing it. You know sustainability, so walking the So then, looking at the future, where is the future going? Is the renewable sector becoming digital? What owners of AI do you have? How can we leverage it? How can we save costs? How can we innovate and all of those things, you know, when you think in that way, when you think out-of-the-box, all these things seem normal, and then your kind of are so convinced that you are able to convince your board or stakeholders able to build a team, invest and make things happen that's the only way I look at it. I mean, it's just a question of for being able to, I think, a little bit out-of-the-box, and that becomes a way of life at the same time. You have to remain solid at the core of what we did so.
06:58 Karan Takhar
In terms of this digital initiative, can you talk a little bit exactly about what this initiative entails?
07:06 Vaishali Sinha
No, so as you know, we've also, you know, I don't even know we will fire our company as well climate.
07:16 Karan Takhar
Can we connect?
07:17 Vaishali Sinha
Yes, climate connects, and so the idea is basically to look at a lot of the work we are doing and to be able to look at use cases and ensure that we just do whatever we're doing. We can use technology to be able to do things more effectively to leverage it and to be able to save costs, to be able to identify ways of ensuring that there are greater efficiencies in what we are doing. So eventually, in the long term, you not only can-do things more effectively, I guess. Save money in when you're running projects and initiatives and so being able to leverage technology and thereby, you know, reduce reliance on, and manpower and rely more on technology to monitor and to report and so on and so forth. So that's very important for us, you know, I mean, we can lose millions of dollars a small switch goes off, or you know, if there is a little misalignment in turbine blade and things like that. So, there's lots of use cases we've listed, and we're working with Mackenzie, or we have a lab, I wish, you could have gone into work to see have a little digital lab they have around PDC center where you can actually monitor remotely all the work which is happening on our sites and be able to monitor things in real time. The bent use that data to do a lot more, as I said, and to kind of be able to work with algorithms and, you know, various other sorts of AI techniques and tools to increase efficiencies in our performance PLF, etc., so working in sustainability, so It's not only about an Excel tracker or anything, it's about how can we engage with the DNA of every department in a systematic way by using technology and digitalization to ensure that we can apply a certain model across the organization.
09:28 Karan Takhar
Let's zoom out for a second to listen to a conversation I had with Anil Gupta regarding the Climate Connect acquisition, which he led as a core member of our new strategy team. Let's hear what Anil has to say. It seems that reNew is always ahead of the curve. For example, reNew is the first company in India to have round-the-clock renewable energy and is now investing in a 2 GW manufacturing plant at what seems to be like the ideal time. So yeah, Curious to ask you, from your own experience working at renewing for these past few years, what would you say differentiates reNew and allows it to innovate in this way?
10:14 Anil Gupta
Well, I think it boils down from the entrepreneurial spirit of the founder or CEO chairman of the company, and I feel like, you know, the fact that he was an early mover in the renewable sector in India starting, you know, I think 2008 when he was the Chief Operating Officer of Suzlon and then he started, you know, have started a new power I think in 2011, and this is before this sector mushroomed. So, he was at the right place at the right time, and he was able to have the support of very high-quality investors like Goldman Sachs and the Abu Dhabi Sovereign wealth fund, among others, right? So the fibery raised this large amount of capital and anticipation of the sector opening up and the fact that the sector opened up and, you know, we executed really well in the first few years of the sector one sector started moving and I think that kind of put the company in the driver seat and that's where it shows the entrepreneurial dynamism of the of the promoter of the company comes into play because he's just been relentless as far as the bread and butter execution of the companies concerned. But he's also been relentless in ensuring that no opportunity sort of falls by the wayside, you know, as we kind of scale up our renewable energy operation, so you know, whether it's on proactively finding new markets outside of India, whether it's on battery storage, on solar manufacturing, on offshore wind and other such opportunities, I think he's been fairly visionary and as executed well on any and all of these areas, and of course, you know, some of these areas haven't really worked out. So, for example, offshore wind, and this is, you know, like a publicly known fact, offshore wind continues to be expensive in India Today, right? Yet reduced on the few companies that have actually invested in sort of recording wind speeds off the coasts of Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. And these are very costly affairs in, like the millions of dollars just to do the testing and renew has done the test. Right, so even though we might not see returns from an experiment like this, today, we're out there. We're doing this. Sort of stuff. So, it just goes to show the entrepreneurial dynamism of some month, and he'll score the team.
12:20 Karan Takhar
I see. I see that makes a lot of sense. So, with regards to the recent climate Connect acquisition, which is the deal I know you were leading over the past year here, I'd like to ask you two questions about this acquisition. First, can you talk about what climate Connect does and how it fits in with ReNew's strategy? And secondly, can you give some insights into what the acquisition process looks like?
12:46 Anil Gupta
Yeah, sure. Absolutely so. Climate connects, you know, is about 45-member company. They operate out of New Delhi and Pune, but their primary tech center is in Pune, and these guys have. They've been doing rapid experimentation for the last many years. I think they started their company in 2011, and they started their company as basically carbon traders for the California carbon market. And you know, they've quickly sort of evolved from doing California Carbon trading to a bunch of other things, but most recently, over the last 4-5 years, they found a foothold for themselves, you know, in the Indian electrical or electricity and power market sector. So, what they do in India is they.
13:27 Anil Gupta
13:28 Anil Gupta
Assist independent power producers. So companies like reNew or companies that own and operate renewable energy assets so, they've assisted companies like this in coordinating with the grid in what's called scheduling and forecasting, so essentially to better integrate the variable nature of renewables into the into the electricity grid, what grid operators do is they basically they require their owners and operators of renewable energy projects, two in advance, tell the grid operators how much electricity they expect to generate and ship to the grid so that the grid can therefore manage all the different sources of energy that are being sent into the grid and deliver stable power to end customers, so climate connect facilitates that process for our power developers and and renewable energy project owners and they do forecasting, they do scheduling and they do essentially coordinate and communicate with the grid as far as that is concerned now in addition to that, they also have a suite of products for Indian distribution companies are basically electricity distribution companies. They're called discounts. So discoms are basically the utilities of India, you know, their regional monopolies typically owned by state governments, but in some cases also by private Pipe private enterprise and we have. So, climate connect basically creates software solutions forecasting solutions using big data applications for such customers in order to help these customers better sort of managing their back-end processes. So, I can get into, you know, more examples of how this works if they're interested, but that's the suite of services that climate Connect provides to, you know, energy generators and energy distributors and for renewal. You know, the reason why this made a lot of sense to us is one, of course, you know we are energy generators, and we have pretty large scheduling and forecasting bills. So we feel like it's good if we can insource this capability, but in addition to that, you know, we'd like to get a larger foothold in the overall electricity value chain in India, and climate connects seems like a great platform to do that, where we can provide services and value-added services to distribution companies beyond just supplying them Are there trans, right, so we can help them sort of managing their software, they are, you know, their processes or the back end like that's value-added service, and that's also, you know that kind of helps us keep abreast of how the power sector as a whole is going to evolve in India in the future. So that's really how it kind of fits into the scheme of things.
15:58 Anil Gupta
Now we will transition back to listen to my conversation with Miss. Vaishali Sinha. In terms of like the early days, I know you were a key member of the new founding team, of course. So you did mention the Goldman Sachs investments. Did that come about like prior to renewing having any projects, and could you talk a little bit about it? How that investment came about because just from my research and conversations I've I found out that was like a very key Inflexion point.
16:30 Vaishali Sinha
Uh, you, as you've probably done quite a lot of research, it's spoken to a bunch of people, so you probably know that, but the wind space, it wasn't really accepted. You know, you had high-net-worth individuals who were investing in these turbines for our tax purposes, right? So that's what it does. In fact, when two months left to, you know, start this venture, yeah, we had a lot of friends in our Bundy. That's where he lived at that time, and like, how do you know? I mean, what is the business opportunity there? So really, you know, whenever people ask this, you know, both months, and I would always say, oh great. And that means it is an opportunity because people don't understand it is right. And so that's when you get into space at that time in 2009 - 2010 because there are so many ideas for being around repaid in financial services, etc., even looking at various opportunities, and so one thing I think you are very aware. Of course, that, It should not be an opportunity which is already being tried and tested. So, we have to get into an area where there is scope to kind of build the idea and get it out. Then we the first sort of mover in the space, so in a way, it is like, OK, fine, nobody knows about it. Well, if we finally have to explain it, but that's probably good news, so what in the beginning of the idea wasn't understood even by investors, they were like, OK, it's too small or venture for private equity type players, it's too large a capital requirement for VC type of investors. So, we will see nothing stuck somewhere in between. Then we went to pitch for funding, that was something which I remember as being pretty significant, but we really didn't know there. So, we, not those, it's a lot of investors, private equity venture capital the perfect strategic still looking at the space as well, so, and you know, eventually GS was the one who had experienced success in the United States in an investment in a similar type of investment. So, they were familiar, and they knew that there was an opportunity, and you know, at that time or we were in the process of putting up our first project. So to answer your question, did we have a large portfolio, you know if you're in the process of getting one project ready and we had a plan, a growth plan, and funding requirement and just wanted to keep in mind that this could give you, I mean, just the sense of interest which existed one knew that we knew what we were talking about and we had been able to convince them that the opportunity exists in India and once we were on the other side of the fence, in our side of the fence, but then you know, they were like, OK, we want to do more, and you know, they came in with the first round of funding and 2nd round of funding when we came in first, built our presence and then for other investors who came in as well. And then the Green Wave sort of picked up in 2013 and find Mr. Modi came in he committed, and he was the one who elaborated it's been problem, and see him then, and not Prime Minister, and So it's always good he'd seen us as young, aggressive, ambitious on females who wanted to do things the right way that's why I'm not sure whether it helps or not, but it is encouraging for us to have a leader who is committed, as we've seen in other parts of the past where you come from you know, it makes a huge difference when you have a leader who's committed and the leader who's not committed, but at the end of the day on the ground it's, you know, you have to fight the battle and the battle, you know, unending, you know, there are lots of challenges regarding regulatory issues, you know, land acquisition legal. Cleaned up. We should not exist, so you know, we just calling the way and making sure that more people understood that there is need for consistency and sustainability of policies because, you know, if you have investors interested in an area, you know, you have to stick with it, and you have to see the course just hand holding the points makers at the state and the center, you know, explaining to the fun providers, you know, the challenge is just basically of, you know, kind of writing the sort of the Bible for the sector on how we could develop it in India. I think a lot of us together as a team have to keep doing now earlier days, so yes, it is a very and engaged journey. And I think one thing to one point this is to remove all the time that he was scared about a couple of things here very clear like how he wanted to be distributed, and you know business are done in different ways in India. It's challenging, but we wanted to do run clean energy business, and I think this is a primary goal, and we were all very clear about that. So that that really, I mean it's that's when I think about three years, four years down the road, we figured that this is just not only value creation and not only a business, we will kind of doing, but we were kind of doing something which's really good for, you know the world at large, the planet, the next generation and all sorts of things. And that motivated us also to do more and just to see the increased by investors. It is motivated, but then again, the challenges and the battles continued. You know, where one government, people will turn on policy because the change in the government and so on and so forth, and those things are very disruptive. But how you see, you have to keep pushing in. You know, I think that's one thing about on your ship, you know, you just have to never do that. We just have to be happy then the export things, and on top of the depreciation from, I think this be, I guess, a management person in a company versus valuable venture, and that is something we stood up again.
22:51 Karan Takhar
Yeah, I'm really curious to ask you because I know you work a lot on just through my conversations with entrepreneurs in the rural areas and the initiatives that you live, like the lighting, lives in the RYWIN program. So, I'm really curious to ask what the Foundation's plans are for these programs moving forward.
23:18 Vaishali Sinha
Sure, so. You know, so we started our CSR engagement by working in, you know, villages around our sites, that is a natural thing to do to ensure people who are around the sides. Just even there is a there is a feeling amongst the locals that we know we're taking something away from them because, you know, the electricity, the clean energy wasn't being used by their right then it was being fed into the grid, and so, We just engaged with them to make sure we were adding value to their lives in different ways, and we would do a bit of a survey, understand the gap areas and work on these areas from a social-economic point of view, so that was for the first two years what we did, but eventually, as we grew, we figured that we could probably do a more synergistic program where we could use renewable energy and make sure that the children and the women in the neighborhoods benefited from it. They understood what it is. What does it do? What does it do for the or the planet, and also convert the younger generation into advocates, right? Because it was going to impact them the most, and so that's how we started the lighting lives program. The idea was that there's a large part of India where schools get less than three hours of electricity per day, right? So, they like almost no electricity in many parts of the country, especially around there are sites are as well. So, the plan was basically to put a rooftop and ensure that at least in a hot 46 degrees centigrade day when children go to school, we at least have a fan so that their educational experience can be better and when they know the story behind that fan they probably get interested to know about the science of it, etc. And so that's how lighting lights program began. How can we engage students? How can they learn more about the science of renewable energy? How can they become curious then use renewable energy to set up digital labs in some of these schools so that they could have after-school classes for remedial education or for, you know, coding and other sorts of activities and so, just helping them firsthand experience the value of renewables in the harm, the sort of non-renewable energy dust to the planet? So just a little bit of education around that. In fact, it is in that context I was engaged with Bedford as well, and we are actually going to be doing a few things together or so, yeah, so, that is our lighting lives program. But as we do that, we know that in the rural area, it's usually a community engagement, so we work either with women or with children. It's not very effective unless you can engage the entire family. So, what we also do is that once school is over, we have these sort of after-school hours were Once a week or twice a week, we bring in the women for self-help book programs. Some of them are entrepreneurial in nature. Then we bring in the fathers for farming-related workshops and various other programs. Then children do what I just mentioned earlier, you know little bit of digital learning, and build a remedy in class, etc., and then in this way, we convert the entire community into believers and advocates and enable energy. So that's a lighting lights program, and then there is a rewin program, which is social entrepreneurship in Google areas. We've seen that women in rural areas are an extremely confident and strong set of women, and once you are able to get them on your side, they can really make the impossible possible, but a few things matter to them. One is that, you know, I've seen they often get intimidated by people who, you know, like if I were a city woman, I'm going and trying to convert them. They're not really interested, but you have to connect with them, and you have to show their mentors who are like them, and they have to believe that what they do, what they understand they can do, and what they do can help them become so economically self-reliant, right? So that local angle is important for them, so understanding this, we started our event program where we engage women entrepreneurs, I mean women, not entrepreneurs, and convert them into entrepreneurs or entice them into understanding How they can become entrepreneurs. So, it's like a 1 /2-year program, maybe start with about four 500 women and be, you know, sort of engage with them. We bring in mentors and various successful women from their parts of the world, like, from the banking sector, from like Non-profit organizations, and CS various obviously sorts of social organizations, to or talk to them about different ideas which make sense in the area. So, it could be hardly making, it could be uniform stitching, it becomes like that small entrepreneurial activities, and we talked to them about funding and financing and having their own bank account and then market linkages, etc. and then so we run this program with the help of NGOs etc., and then we shortlist five women who we fund for the next level for the next year where they become sort of set up their ventures. So obviously, they go through a screening process, selection process, and then they run their projects, and then they become role models and mentors in their communities, and then they, sort of. We just started getting the code here, so we're gonna see how this pans out code. It's being a bit disruptive, but then they go and ensure that other women also join this sort of journey, so that's we're even program our first set of Raven women were invited by the United Nations in Delhi at a program to talk about their journey, and it was very inspiring you see the confidence they get when they get this attention, and they feel successful, and they get support from their family members and spouses to go and, you know, become entrepreneurs. So, we've done this in a lot of our sites. 6-7 of our sites. We started in Maharashtra. Now we have presence in Madhya Pradesh, in Karnataka, in Telangana. So these are the areas where we are ensuring we are partnering with Google Livelihood permission to engage women, so you know we have in UPD help of 50 plus self-help book domain, where they are working on various projects around farming, around small handicraft along you know, various other activities, so small steps, but like we don't know the really interesting thing and the part which I'm really excited about is again about women in energy, but this is a larger program, So what I talked about leaving is in rural India, but I we are going to be partnering with United Nations Development Programme UNDP to come up with a women's accelerator program for women in energy. So, we're going to be working with the engineers from IIT etc., and various other women who are entrepreneurs are setting up for renewable energy-related ventures like this programming, whether it is actually storage or whatever, and we are going to mentor and support them. So that's a very interesting, cool platform. I'm also associated with the United States, the USISPF where we are trying to, and I need the South Asian women and energy chapter we are, you know, we just making sure that we can get more women engaged even at revenue and other organizations we need more women in senior positions, so I'm also working to make sure we can attract more women. So we're trying to set up a portal where interesting opportunities for senior management positions are posted within. We can apply, and I think people misunderstand. The renewable space is being a hard to infra space, and so there's a little bit of intimidation about it. We want to kind of clarify that, and I do believe that we can do with many more women in renewable energy businesses, and you know, I'm sure the businesses would be way more successful evolving in there. So we're trying to, I'm trying to do my bit there as well.
31:57 Karan Takhar
Thank you so much. That was actually you answered my next question, and this is my very final, just like one-minute answer. 'cause I know you have to go, but I'm really excited to hear your response to this, so, just reflecting back on your whole professional journey and also a personal journey and maybe thinking back to the time when you were a recent college graduate what is some piece of advice that you would give to your younger self or to someone like me or even a younger woman entrepreneur who is interested in getting involved in the renewable energy space and I'm just curious as to where any piece of advice you would give to the younger generation particularly?
32:44 Vaishali Sinha
I mean, I would just say that it's it's amazing. I think you guys are very lucky you have so many options. You know, when we started working, there only two or three options, and you have to get in there, and was very competitive. Now, it's still very competitive, but there are many more options, and renewables is a pretty solid option. It's really what I hear, and I'm not seeing what I feel. What I hear other millennials and their youngsters talking to me about is more about how fulfilling it is to work in this area, and when you work, you really need to enjoy what you do that's really important, and if you feel fulfilled, it's really not a very common feeling in the workplace. You're just doing often things because you want to make money, you want to be successful, you want to go and do that MBA, you wanna do this and that. I think renewable is a place, which is sector which is very rewarding to a young woman. I would say humongous amounts of opportunities to women out there. I'd also say that challenging yourself is, you know, I mean, obviously, STEM is important, but I also want to say non-stem related opportunities are in plenty in the renewable energy space. So, look at it, it's there's lots of opportunities entrepreneurship. There's also a lot of ancillary opportunities coming up, lots of opportunities in the supply chain. So, study it and do what you're doing. I mean, you're quite a role model, so.
34:03 Karan Takhar
34:04 Vaishali Sinha
The world, so yeah, yeah, it's.
34:05 Karan Takhar
34:06 Vaishali Sinha
Amazing space and I think you will really take a good decision or, you know, kind of spending time experiencing what you did go with Covid. No, covid, it doesn't matter, but we'll be happy to have you back to spend some real time with Bill.
34:21 Karan Takhar
Thank you so much. Thank you so much for your time.
34:21 Vaishali Sinha
34:24 Vaishali Sinha
34:24 Karan Takhar
I appreciate it. I hope you enjoyed that episode and do check out the show notes For more information on my guest. See you next time.