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BW Businessworld

‘We Needed to Move Towards A New Direction Involving Greener and Smarter Energy’

Rajendra Shrivastav, President & Market Business Leader for AES India, talks to Dr. Annurag Batra Chairman and Editor-in-chief, BWBusinessworld & Exchange4Media, and Vasudha Mukherjee of BWBusinessworld, about the future of green energy and leading a business during the pandemic.

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How has the Pandemic affected you on a professional and personal level?
Professionally, AES has created digital platforms. We are accessing third-party platforms such as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which includes support in the form of mindfulness, health, consciousness, and mental well-being. We also have a comprehensive, daily updated digital platform and follow the same in 14 countries where we have business and, we provide proactive support so that the employees can work from home. They are getting vaccinated and keeping track of their health via regular testing. Overseeing worldwide employees and contractor’s health is a tough call, but thanks to our leadership safety commitment and digitization, we did it.

Personally, it was a complete paradigm shift. My workload has gone up tremendously. Productivity is sky high, but mental health still poses a challenge.

What prompted the re-branding of AES in 2021 and what does it aim to communicate?
The re-branding began in early 2019. The world is moving towards de-carbonization and 24x7 green energy solutions. AES needed to move towards a new direction involving greener and smarter energy, as well as digitization, and work with customers and partners to find an efficient solution. The company decided to move away from its old assets to nearly carbon-free solutions and assets by 2040. In April 2021 we publicly unveiled in India our new brand which reflects our values. We put safety first, the highest standard of work in whatever we do, and we work all together. The values we have, the tectonic shift we have taken, and the stories we have to tell, are all part of the rebranding and not just a new logo.

What are the top trends you see within the industry in the immediate short term?
Given that sustainability is a big driver, if you are ESG compliant and if you have achieved investment grade, the investment that can flow into your company multiplies many-folds. The companies that are not going to be ESG compliant will have way bigger challenges going forward in terms of financing and sustainability for themselves.

What are some of the unique innovations that AES is promoting for the success of its business?
We always tried to be efficient, competitive, innovative, and most reliable. But now we want to co-create the solutions with the customers, partners, and driving towards clean energy is our larger objective. The creation of solutions with customers and partners and driving towards clean energy is our larger objective. Quite often, we work with start-ups that have the potential to grow in the green space for commercialization and rapid scale-up. 

How do you think India's push toward green energy can become mainstream and substantial?
The first challenge is to rapidly roll out stable and predictive regulatory regimes and price the services reasonably. You can mainstream renewables by encouraging the integration of renewables with energy storage. There is a race to claim that solar energy is the ultimate solution since it has become so cheap. The flip side is that If the developers are not guaranteed a suitable return, there will an impairment threat to many of the investors' assets. Lastly, we need to attract and sustain investment in this segment beyond the traditional big players.

How important are private investors in the renewable energy sector?

It is true that private investment is critical for the success of the renewable energy sector in India. So far as private equity investors are concerned, they have higher return expectations, and therefore, they stay for a while, aggregate the asset, and then exit at a premium. In the long run, it will be the big players in the renewable energy sector who will hold larger assets that will succeed.

What can the government do to be an accelerator for the adoption of green power?
All the green Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) are controlled by the government and back-to-back by the distribution companies. Because the prices are going down, the government should avoid the temptation to cancel the contracts, cancel the PPA, or renegotiate the tariff. Other areas government can help includes the reasonable pricing of land and ensuring the availability of water consumption for the developers. 

What are the positive changes you have noticed over the last three decades in the power industry of India?
Foremost, the global and local financial ecosystem knows India much better than ever before. Secondly, if projects are built through a government initiative, they come up with preparedness of a level that has never been seen, in terms of land, water, permits, and single-window clearances.  Third, there is competition amongst the states to attract investment from the developers; two or three plants in any state can hugely change the ecosystem of the employment in that state. Lastly, if the regulator had not walked with us, I do not think we would have been where we are today.

As a veteran of the industry, what would be your advice for upcoming entrepreneurs in the renewable space?
There are some very interesting areas where innovation is still possible. One is a tracking system for solar panels. If you can decrease the use of water by robotic cleaning, that will be a huge upside. There are, also, not enough companies in India that can do rooftop Solar installations. The energy management system is another area that is not saturated as of now. Lastly, there is a space available for drones, given there are not enough companies that can provide this service in India.

COVID is back in full force, and as a leader of a company, what would be your message for the people?
Listen to the science, listen to the scientists, follow their prescription of wearing a mask, maintaining distance, and frequent washing of hands. Do not overrule them by your common sense. 

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Rajendra Shrivastav AES India magazine 20 April 2021