Exclusive Interview with Dr. Ranjeet Mehta, Prinicpal Director, PHDCCI
EO: What have you found most striking since joining PHDCCI and what have been your focus areas since the beginning?
Dr. Mehta: It’s a privilege to work with 114 years old Industry body, PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PHDCCI) established in 1905 and having operations in more than 16 states of India with an International office at Bahrain to look after GCC countries. My area of work has been Infrastructure, Real Estate, Energy, Renewable Energy, Hydrocarbons, MSME, Water and Solid Waste Management, Environment and logistics. With over three decades of experience in leadership roles spread across various sectors I am handling Industry Chamber relations and working closely with both Industry leaders, Policy Makers and other stakeholders. Foremost role is to ensure the Industry’s prosperity by collectively directing the Chambers’ affairs, whilst meeting the appropriate interests of its members and stakeholders.
EO: The interim budget has allocated Rs 3,004.90 crore for development of solar power projects next financial year (2019-20) including both grid-interactive and off-grid and decentralized categories. What do you have to say about this?
Dr. Mehta: Renewable energy has been a central pillar in government’s strategy to achieve power for all and India’s commitment towards clean energy to safeguard our environment. Electric vehicles and rooftop solar plants are going to provide the much-needed respite to the deteriorating environment in our urban areas. We look forward to some equally concrete steps from state governments for promotion of rooftop solar and electric vehicles so that every common person starts adopting these life-transitioning technologies. Solar sector is facing tough competition from china and banks are reluctant to fund the solar panel manufacturers. Therefore, Industry expects some reasonable financing options for solar sector including utilization of National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF) for the promotion of solar energy in India. The amount of Rs 3004.9 crore allocated in the interim budget doesn’t seem to be sufficient unless greater focus is given in full budget once the new government is formed.
EO: World Bank approves INR 11,000 CR for improving safety of hydropower dams. Do you think it will help India to achieve its target of 5 GW of Hydro Power?
Dr. Mehta: Yes this is a good step. World Bank has approved Rs 11,000 crore under the ongoing Dam Rehabilitation and Improvement Programme (DRIP), for improving the safety and operational performance of 733 large dams across 18 states over the next 10 years. This amount is to be used for maintenance and emergency action plans, and also to be used for revenue generation at dams through tourism, fisheries, water recreations and solar and hydropower. But our hydro sector and more specifically, small hydro sector that you have mentioned, has different set of challenges such as clearance and approval procedures, land acquisition, rehabilitation & resettlement of affected people, environment and forest clearances, interstate disputes and law & order issues also come up sometimes. While geology, hydrology and topography issues are some of the leading reasons for slippage of hydro projects, local issues have also resulted in significant delays in project commissioning of the small hydro projects. But this target of 5GW small hydro by 2022 is achievable, once these issues are ironed out by center and state government as per their jurisdiction.
EO: India Argentina sign MoU on Nuclear Energy Cooperation.” What are the advantages of Nuclear Energy? Is Nuclear Energy cheaper than Solar?
Dr. Mehta: Certainly it’s a good news that India and Argentina signed MoUs during the ongoing three-day visit of the Argentine President Mauricio Macri on 18th Feb 2019 to boost cooperation in the sector of nuclear energy. We believe that nuclear power has enough positives and, is one of the most low-carbon energy sources. It is essential, to our response to climate change, and greenhouse gas emissions. Not only this we should also have a good energy mix in our total energy basket.
Nuclear power is not cheaper than solar as of today due to considerable investment to build nuclear power stations, they have low running costs and longevity – meaning they are particularly cost effective in the long run. Most of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions associated with nuclear power stations is happen during construction and fuel processing, not when electricity is being generated. Technological innovation seems to make everything — including solar panels — cheaper. Then we believe that the time will come when there will be hardly any difference between nuclear power and solar power.
EO: Small renewable energy companies to benefit from reduction of income tax to 25% for MSMEs. What is PHDCCI doing to help Startups which are mainly working in Renewable Energy Industry?
Dr. Mehta: The government had reduced the corporate tax to 25% from 30% in the Union Budget of 2017-18 for companies with a turnover of Rs 250 crore during 2016-17. Certainly this measure has benefitted 99% of the companies because most companies fall under this category. It gave huge advantage to MSMEs.
PHD chamber has been at the forefront of promoting and supporting startups in many ways. We believe that innovative ideas by start-ups play a crucial role in boosting the economy and the industry. We always encourage people who come up with simpler but innovative ideas giving unique solutions. Our Uttrakhand chapter of PHD Chamber has entered into a partnership with Uttarakhand Government to build an incubation and angel network system to nurture start-ups and young entrepreneurs who are coming up with varied business models. We are not working particularly on renewable energy sector for startups but any sector which offers workable and commercially viable solutions.
EO: How do you see India Renewable Energy plan will contribute to Indian economy?
Dr. Mehta: As India looks to meet its energy demand on its own, which is expected to reach 15,820 TWh by 2040, renewable energy is set to play an important role. By 2022, India is targeting the installation of 175GW of renewable energy capacity, an ambitious target that will require a four-fold growth in the sector. The huge demand push from government though its programs, reverse auctions and lowering costs of turbines and solar panels have contributed to significant reduction in price of electricity generated from renewable. All this will require installations of rooftop solar, Local Manufacturing, Financial support for Deployment and Integration of Renewable Energy into the Grid, Energy Storage etc.
As of October 2018, total renewable power installed capacity (excluding large hydro) in the country stood at 73.35 GW. Off-grid renewable power capacity has also increased. With a potential capacity of 363 gigawatts (GW) and with policies focused on the renewable energy sector, Northern India is expected to become the hub for renewable energy in India. As per DIPP – FDI inflows in the Indian non-conventional energy sector between April 2000 and June 2018 stood at US$ 6.84 billion. More than US$ 42 billion has been invested in India’s renewable energy sector since 2014. In the first half of 2018, investments in clean energy in India reached US$ 7.4 billion.
EO: Fixed cost for generating Solar Electricity is still on higher side. What do you have to say about this?
Dr. Mehta: I think it’s almost at par with fossil fuels. And with the innovations in this sector and more positive disruption in solar Industry, the cost will come down further. Time is not too far when renewable energy will be cheaper than fossil fuel.
EO: Anything else you would like to add for your readers.
Dr. Mehta: The World Energy Forum has predicted that fossil-based oil, coal and gas reserves will be exhausted in less than another 10 decades. Fossil fuels account for over 79% of the primary energy consumed in the world, and 57.7% of that amount is used in the transport sector and are diminishing rapidly. Renewable energy offers a huge opportunity to reduce carbon emissions, clean the air, and put our globe a more sustainable footing. It also offers countries around the world the chance to improve their energy security and spur economic development.
The Indian renewable energy sector is the fourth most attractive1 renewable energy market in the world. As of October 2018, India ranked 5th in installed renewable energy capacity. India has tremendous energy needs and an increasing difficulty in meeting those needs through traditional means of power generation.
I would like to quote from a study produced by the University of Technology (LUT) in Finland that India has the capacity to operate entirely on renewables by 2050. The study titled The Demand for Storage Technologies in Energy Transition Pathways Towards 100% Renewable Energy for India, it details how increasing solar, wind and storage capacities would allow India to transition from its fossil fuel-heavy energy mix to a clean and sustainable alternative. Energy security, economic growth and environment protection are the national energy policy drivers of India and to conclude, there is a great potential for renewable energy in India. (Views expressed in this interview are personal.)
About Dr. Ranjeet Mehta:
Dr. Ranjeet Mehta is a University Gold Medalist & Ph. D. in Management, Fellow, International Visitors Leadership Program of US Government & a Law Graduate with over three decades of experience in leadership roles spread across various sectors. Currently, in a Thought leadership profile, handling Industry Chamber relations and working closely with both Industry leaders and Policy Makers as a Principal Director at PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry, New Delhi.
Dr. Mehta has represented Indian Industry in many Government and Parliamentary Committees and has been instrumental in addressing various policy-related issues in Infrastructure, Real Estate, Power, Renewable Energy, Oil and Gas, Water and Logistic Sectors. He has also written extensively on important matters concerning trade, commerce, and Industry. His publications include six books, more than 45 research papers, and articles in many Journals of repute, Leading National and International Magazines and Newspapers like Hindustan Times, Times of India and Financial Express. He is also a frequent speaker in Electronic and Print Media including participating in International Forums.