With around 90,000 MW of renewable energy already integrated into India's power grid and another 25-30,000 MW planned for integration in the current financial year, what is important is managing emissions. While dependence on coal will continue, it is important to ensure that we deploy technologies and processes to reduce emissions from fossil fuels, points out Anil Chaudhry, Managing Director & Zone President, Schneider Electric.
How is technology redefining the country's humongous infrastructure sector?
One of the enablers of our goal of $5 trillion economy would be about how we grow our infrastructure sector in the coming years. Technology can play a very big role in transforming the way infrastructure is built today. For example, residential project or commercial building, highway, bridge, metro rail or power plants... The way we conceptualise, design and engineer such projects helps save up to 25 per cent of the time and enhances productivity and efficiency. Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of things (IoT), robotics and machine learning that create infrastructure are now interconnecting the entire development cycle, which is part of the Industrial 4.0 Revolution, which makes end-to-end networking more efficient. For instance, imagine a bridge being contracted. The progress in the laying of pillars can probably give automatic signals to the agencies or teams that would be building the girders to complete the overall bridge on time. The way the Government of India is looking at upgrading urban infrastructure, these technologies can help a great deal in making even the existing cities smart with minimum disturbance to residents.
What role would effective harnessing of data play in maximising efficiencies across verticals?
Data should not be seen as a humongous challenge. I would rather see it as a precious asset for our future infrastructure growth. What is missing today is the analysis and utilisation of data. The increase in the number of connected devices, processes and industries will generate more data. If we could effectively use that information for increasing productivity and efficiency, the data will become an asset in building future industries and readiness. Take another example. Now that we all are connected through our smartphones and other devices, some of the analysts and industries are looking at how such platforms could be provided to users for free so that the company earns its revenues from the data generated by users through analytics and AI to predict the needs of particular individuals, segments or industries and then work towards creating those efficiencies ahead of the time. If you examine some of the studies that consultants and institutes are working on, they are mostly about the handling of Big Data. Today, we have 30 billion connected devices and in another five years the figure could touch 50 billion, with the total data generated in the region of 40-50 trillion gigabytes (GB) and that would be an asset. Today, if a breakdown happens in a 24x7 industry, the data coming in from the connected machines and devices can help me plan the maintenance accordingly to maintain the efficiency of the supply chain.
As part of its new policy, the Ministry of Power & New and Renewable Energy has proposed a new framework to ensure quality power to citizens. Is it adequately comprehensive given the complexities involved?
This happened after the present government achieved the milestone of connecting all households with electricity under the Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (SAUBHAGYA) scheme. It's a big achievement and was even recognised by the International Energy Agency. One of our challenges is providing 24x7 quality power to consumers and the integration of prosumers in the grid. Discipline, accountability and responsibility and distribution companies are equally important here. While the government has taken all possible measures to ensure a 24x7 power supply, there is still a lot to be done towards upgrading last-mile connectivity. Once you step out of the metros you realise that the quality of equipment such as transformers poses a challenge. Upgrading of smart grids and strengthening of the distribution grid for last-mile connectivity is one of the main aspects of the Smart Cities mission. Now, this needs to be done in tandem. In segments like telecom and digital connectivity, India has demonstrated its ability to leapfrog over many of the developed countries. However, one of the areas where we were lagging is energy & power. The government, distribution companies and industry will have to work closely to ensure that the electricity grid is strengthened through modernisation.
Even as you have committed to making "New India" energy positive, what is the future of electricity in the country?
We have taken a few calls as a country to manage an energy mix and a commitment made in 2014 to increase our renewable energy target to 175 GW. The government is on the right track with around 90,000 MW of renewable energy already integrated into the grid. And another 25-30,000 MW will get integrated in this financial year so that we reach our target by 2022. What is important in the case of a developing country like ours is that we made a very strong commitment at COP 21 to manage our emissions. I would say that our dependence on coal will continue, but it is important to ensure that we deploy technologies and processes to reduce emissions from fossil fuels. Of course, the quality of the coal and collieries need to be improved. But we will have to manage our mix of fossil, renewable and nuclear in a way that while we meet the COP 21 requirement, we also keep the needs of the country's development in the picture so that we keep growing the installed base of our energy. Besides, huge efficiency depends on the way we use energy. Although a lot of work has been done to reduce transmission & distribution (T&D) losses, however, even at the best distribution companies it varies in the range of 5-7 per cent and, at the worst, it hovers between 25 and 30 per cent. There is a huge opportunity to increase our efficiency of T&D losses. If we can utilise 20 per cent energy that is being wasted, our equation of producing more energy can become equally good. That would also mean that we would be burning lesser fossil fuels. Therefore, efficiency in the way we produce and distribute energy needs to be matched with our equation and commitment of COP 21.
What does your company perceive as some of the key areas for future growth?
Firstly, we have a fairly long-term commitment to India. We have been here for a while and have a very strong presence in the country with more than 20,000 employees at 23 manufacturing sites. With a presence in all the segments that are critical to the country's growth - transportation, mining, minerals and metals (MMM), water, energy, oil & gas, data centres, Industry 4.0 and residential. We are introducing new capabilities in the technologies that we are working on and the innovation that we are doing. We are building infrastructure and industries of the future as well as a lot of efficiencies with our digitalised solutions. We call it Ecostruxure solutions, which connects the plant to the management by using solutions based on edge control, cloud, analytics, AI and machine learning. We have to make New India not only energy-positive but also contribute very strongly to the vision of a $5 trillion economy.
Earlier this year, Schneider received regulatory approval of Rs 140 billion acquisition of L&T's electrical and automation businesses. What kind of synergies are you looking at deriving from the deal?
I won't go very deep into that. Our commitment is to the big growth in India and that is why we have invested in this particular asset. Using L&T's R&D capabilities and very cost-competitive local supply chain we propose to make India the fourth hub of Schneider Electric. We will also be serving new economies in the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia using this asset. That has been our strategic direction and we are committed to that.
The disruption caused by the fourth industrial revolution has put the spotlight on the reskilling of the workforce. How critical is it to India and how are you addressing that as a company?
I would say that the workforce skills required in the new economy are different from what was required 10-15 years ago. The definition of jobs is changing. An increasing number of openings are being created by the startup, digital and e-commerce companies. These are modern industries that would be creating the largest number of jobs. The workforce of the future would have to be digital-savvy and capable of using AI and machine learning to manage the processes. They would also have to look at upscaling their skills as the core process knowledge will be there but it would need to be regularly enhanced for digitally connected smart devices and processes. That's what we have been working on because skill development is an integral part of our overall activity. We can proudly say that over 120,000 electrical technicians were trained by us. We are now upgrading our programme to include the digital and renewable part of industrial operations in training. I am sure that with the way the government has been focusing on innovatively training the next generation of workforce, it will start producing results soon and we will be able to support the needs of the industry. Here, a very strong collaboration would be required on the new technical and digital skills between the academia and industry. That's what the government needs to look into. I understand that a full refresh of the courses is currently on.
The Union Government has announced a series of economic boosters since August. How soon do you see them as taking effect? We really appreciate and welcome those announcements and initiatives as they will go a long way in increasing consumption to positively impact the overall economic growth of the country. They will also help address some of the credit issues that were being faced by the industry in the past few months. These are good steps that need to be supported and taken forward. How quickly the economic revival would start is anybody's guess!
- MANISH PANT