India is a petroleum poor country. It imports $80 billion of oil every year – that is more than 1/3rd of all its imports and 100% of its foreign currency trade deficit.
However, India has an abundance of another fuel it can extract and it’s virtually free. This wonderful fuel is Sunshine! With exponentially growing improvements in technology India has the potential to leapfrog directly to a solar-based, cheap, sustainable and green energy economy. But can this be done in any reasonable time frame?
Two weeks ago, invited by my friend and entrepreneur, Vish Mishra, I went to an amazing talk by Dr. Ashok Jhunjhunwala sponsored by TiE (the Indus Entrepreneurs) and ICC (India Community Center) and learned first hand about his sweeping, game-changing efforts to transform India to a self-sufficient, green energy country at break neck speed!
Prof. Jhunjhunwala, a graduate of IIT Kanpur, has also studied and worked extensively in the US. He is the head of TeNeT in India, which does extraordinary things in communcations, energy and innovations in numerous fields. Currently he is on the faculty of IIT Madras. He has spawned over 50 companies and has been awarded the Padmashree for his invention of the micro-grid.
Dr Jhunjhunwala has been tapped by Prime Minister Modi and Power Minister Piyush Goyal to give wings to an ambitious market-based plan to meet India’s power needs and solar/green goals, far exceeding the commitments in the Paris Accords. The objective is
. 60% of all electricity generation using solar by 2025
. 100% Electric Vehicle adoption in India by 2030!
That’s right – in 13 years, Dr. Jhunjhunwala says, India will have no petroleum based road transportation! No diesel belching trucks and buses, no choking, smog-generating cars, and noisy, sooty, inefficient three-wheelers. He plans to convert 400 million vehicles, including cars, three-wheelers, two-wheelers, buses, trucks etc. to electric power – most of it generated by solar. It’s an amazing vision, but listening to him talk I could sense that it is eminently doable and his detailed blueprint for doing it is utterly practical and feasible.
Among Jhunjhunwala’s deep insights is to use DC on the electricity grid instead of AC, which is the default everywhere in the world today. He has invented the design of a 48-volt DC electrical micro-grid, powered by solar energy, which is much better suited and safe for India, and results in very much more efficient appliances in the home. Many years of engineering design and innovation have gone into this idea – see this YouTube talk for details. The bottom line is that a lot of power that is wasted in converting repeatedly from AC to DC and back (upto 50-60%) can be saved by staying with DC throughout.
In addition, the home appliances themselves are way more efficient when DC power is used. For example, a DC ceiling fan consumes 30W of power vs 72W for AC. At low speeds the savings are even more: up to 90%. For LED lighting the power consumption can be as low as 10 Watts, vs 36 W for tube lights commonly used in India. Similarly, TV’s, laptops, battery chargers and even refrigerators and air-conditioners are far more efficient when designed for DC versus AC. So the savings are multifold: 40-55% in conversion costs, and 70% in appliance efficiencies!
Dr. Jhunjhunwala says he can meet the electricity needs for a small rural or poor-to-middle class family in India (more than 650 million people!) with a 125 watt solar panel and a 500 Wh battery. The solar panel is the surface size of a medium sized dining table and the whole system can be made in India and sold profitably for under Rs. 20,000, (or about $300) and falling rapidly.
In transportation, Dr.Jhunjhunwala has much simpler designs for electric vehicles (EV’s), including cars, buses and three-wheelers, with only 20 (or so) different parts needed to manufacture, instead of the 2000+ parts for internal combustion engine cars. He sees many vehicles In India needing batteries for only a 50 Km range, which will cost about Rs. 15,000 ($250) for three-wheelers and Rs. 100,000 ($1500) for buses. This he couples with a STD-PCO type concept for roadside charging shops throughout urban and rural locations, small entrepreneurs who can charge your battery in under 30 minutes, or replace them in a couple of minutes with pre-charged ones. The running cost of a three-wheeler would be about half a rupee per km., for a bus about Rs. 3. His electric vehicles will have a long running life (over 250,000 km) and almost zero maintenance costs. These ideas are being implemented in New Delhi right now and he hopes to see the first EV’s on Delhi’s roads, including buses, by October 2017!
The most appealing thing about Jhunjhunwala’s plan is that it is not dependent on large subsidies by the government. It is a market based system and he has already got more than 50 start-ups producing battery packs, DC appliances, vehicles, and battery chargers etc. Crompton Greaves, the biggest maker of ceiling fans, is already making DC fans, which are cheaper and use only half the power of existing AC models.
I think this is the start of a paradigm shift for India. Not only does the country greatly exceed its green commitments under the Paris accords, it saves hundreds of billions on oil imports and taps the Sun for virtually unlimited energy needed for fast economic growth. It is very much in American interest to support this vision.
The Indian diaspora, particularly in the Silicon Valley, should heartily embrace this process and help with collaborations, technology, and business investments. Dr. Jhunkhunwala is very open to this and is a frequent ambassador for entrepreneurship here in the Silicon Valley.
I note that China has grown rapidly in the last two decades thanks to active involvement of its 80-million strong diaspora. The Indian population in America is tiny by comparison, but rightly positioned in technology, influence and resources to plug in to transform India, and bring Dr. Ashok Jhunjhunwala’s grand vision into reality. It’s a win-win for Indian and American entrepreneurship, and a win for a cleaner world.
(Ashok Vaish is Principal & Founder, Balanced Growth Fund, Atherton, Calif.)