Plenary session: Building Energy Ecosystem through R&D and Innovation

The session on ‘Building Energy Ecosystem through R&D and Innovation’ was facilitated by Mr. Suvojoy Sengupta from McKinsey & Company. The panel had imminent personalities from across the energy space – Dr. Anil Kakodkar, Ex-Chairman, Bhabha Atomic Research Center, Mr Lord Adair Turner, Chairman, Energy Transitions Commission, UK, Dr. Jon Creyts, MD, Rocky Mountain Institute, Dr. RK Malhotra, DG-Federation of Petroleum Industries, Mr. Adil Zainulbhai, Chairman, Quality Council of India and Mr. Saurabh Kumar, MD,EESL.

The discussion was enriching and touched upon the changing face of energy globally, energy pathways and challenges for India, R&D and innovations required and the innovation ecosystem that India needs to foster.

Mr. Suvojoy Sengupta set the context of the discussion by introducing the global energy transitions underway – transition in demand (away from US and Europe to India and China), technology (away from fossil fuels to renewable and other new sources of energy), market structures (away from regulated to deregulated). Given these transitions, he pointed out four themes for innovation in energy – decarbonization, decentralization, digitization and democratization. India, with a unique context of low per capita energy consumption but one of the biggest energy demand centers, needs to create an ecosystem that fosters innovation across these themes. To improve this ecosystem, lessons can be learnt from best-in-class innovation hubs like Singapore, Israel and Silicon Valley; they have created large innovation clusters, focused on key sectors, created a backbone of strong academic and research institutes, facilitated academia-industry and inter-industry collaboration, created access to risk capital among other things to enable innovation. While India has already pushed key initiatives like Startup India, Atal Innovation Mission, clean tech funds and collaborations with various countries, established institutes of eminence, etc. – India needs to create a holistic innovation ecosystem to prepare for the future challenges.

The panel expressed their agreement by reiterating that the future of energy is expected to change given the increase in demand from regions like India, increased focus on decarbonization, energy security and affordability. Dr. Kakodkar and Mr. Saurabh spoke about the energy challenges that India will need to address – limiting imports of energy and ensuring energy security, while improving sustainability and affordability – and the large set of opportunities to innovate that exists to innovate in oil exploration, different uses of coal, biofuels, hydrogen among others. However, Dr. Kakodkar concluded, the key lies is adapting and accelerating our resource and institutional advantages through collaboration for quick commercial deployment. Dr. Malhotra added to this discussion by taking the audience through the number of innovations already underway in the oil and gas space and the key decisions that oil players will have to take given the expectation of continued growth in oil demand due to petrochemical and ATF. Lord Turner spoke of the global responsibility to meet the goal of zero net carbon by 2060 and the need to decarbonize electricity to achieve the same along with commercial deployment of hydrogen. Jon Creyts emphasized the role of innovation not just in energy technologies, but also business systems, policies, institutional collaboration and financing to leapfrog into the energy system of the future. Mr. Zainulbhai brought a unique perspective to the discussion by emphasizing the need to not only build on the innovations happening globally, but leveraging our competitive advantage in several areas such as analytics and analytics and scaling up innovations quickly (e.g. advancements in use of LED bulbs, electricity access for BPL households, etc.).

The panel agreed that in order to meet the challenges of India’s energy future, India will need to further develop its human capital advantage to support the innovations happening across the energy space, and infuse risk capital, academia-industry collaborations, entrepreneurship and infrastructure to push the innovations to deployment and commercialization stage. For this, a combination of government and industry push will be necessary to lead the country into the energy ecosystem of the future, and the role played by startups and MSMEs will be critical in this ecosystem.

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