Why greentech will be huge in India


It is the worst time to be in greentech in the U.S. and the best time to be in greentech in many countries outside the U.S., Ira Ehrenpreis said at an industry event earlier this year. I have thought about that sentiment often throughout the two weeks that I have spent with the Geeks on a Plane group in India.

Compared to the difficult market that technologies like clean power and water desalination face in many states in the U.S., because of India’s rapidly growing GDP, the country is quickly building out its infrastructure — including power generation and water systems. That means green technologies have the potential for a vibrant and growing market within the country. The Indian government has also taken a large role in setting mandates to push clean power from the top down.

The desire for more energy

Even in my short time in India, which was spent prominently in developed and modern areas, there were sporadic blackouts, as the demand for power in general is significantly more than the current supply of power. During an interview with execs at India’s university IIT in Delhi, routine blackouts occurred, and no one batted an eye. At the Hard Rock Cafe Mumbai (yeah, we’re the Indian equivalent of gringos) the party ended at midnight with an extended blackout.

We took a tour of GE’s renewable energy and smart grid labs, and the GE execs pointed out that the country plans to add 100 GW of power generation over the next five years, and that will be made up by mostly coal and clean power. The rapidly growing Indian middle class will soon want to consume similar amounts of power to the U.S. and Europe, and that will require this massive power infrastructure buildout.

Clean power growth

Part of this growth in power will come from clean sources. India is expected to install 3 GW of solar by 2016, compared with the 54 MW of solar installed in 2010. The government has a top-down plan to hit 20 GW of solar by 2020, and big power companies and startups alike are developing solar project development businesses.

Much of India’s solar plans are for grid-connected solar — huge utilities installing solar PV farms that will provide solar power for the grid. But there is also a potentially large opportunity for so-called off-grid solar, for medium to small businesses down to rural homes. There are hundreds of millions of people in India who don’t have access to any, or any reliable, grid power. Companies like Duron Energy are selling off-grid solar PV systems for this need.

Wind, which is currently cheaper than solar on a per kWh basis, is an even bigger market than solar in India right now. GE, which is one of the world’s largest wind blade makers, showed us its testing equipment in its labs that can help integrate wind power more effectively onto the Indian power grid. GE is also working on how to use energy storage to make the grid more reliable, as well as smart grid technology in the country.

Smart grid and clean water

The power grid is a major bottleneck for adding on 100 GW to India’s power grid, and the power companies will need to invest in making the grid much more efficient than it currently is. GE has been researching and testing smart grid technologies for the domestic market in its labs, and other companies like IBM have a strong presence in India.

However, it seems like it is early days for many international companies selling smart grid tech in India. While many smart grid companies have India on their list of potential markets, I haven’t seen as much attention on the smart grid there, compared to, say, the smart grid in China.

India’s utilities are also looking to build out clean water infrastructure, as clean running water has been notoriously poor to date. Desalination projects that can’t get funding in markets like the U.S. — where clean water pipelines reach almost 100 percent of the population — are far more economic in India. And there is a lot of money to be made in clean water: Desalination company VA Tech Wabag, based in Chennai, India, went public last year.

Given the potential greentech markets in India, we plan to follow the innovations happening on the ground in the big cities and rural areas of the country. And don’t forget to check out Panchubata, which has its finger on the pulse of the Indian clean power markets.

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